Innovation STEMs from passion

Issue: Volume 97, Number 11

Posted: 25 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9jMD

Teacher Nick Pattison talks about inspiring students, learning while teaching, and dreaming big.

Ormiston Junior College students work with community and industry partners to take their STEM learning into the real world.

Learning Designer of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) at Ormiston Junior College and creator of New Zealand’s first STEM immersion class Nick Pattison has a deep passion for the field, despite coming from a background in a different field.

“I was an athlete when I was younger, I played baseball – I wasn’t doing science experiments.”

Yet Nick is at the forefront of progress in New Zealand’s STEM education and attributes his enthusiasm for the subject due to his atypical background.

“Learning with the students, that’s the exciting part. I think if I was a sciency person I would kind of have the answers to everything, but I’m still like a little kid where I’m super-curious about everything. As soon as you stick me in a room with some experts, I just ask a million questions because I’m not an expert. I think that’s what has hooked me into STEM.”

Nick began New Zealand’s first STEM class while teaching Years 5 and 6 students at Rongomai School. The course was trialled with Māori and Pacific students who were not achieving well academically.

By making learning relevant and localising issues, Nick was able to engage students while also building their confidence.

“You could read all this different research and all these cool projects that were going on all over the world and it just was a natural step to get into that type of teaching,” he says.

“The class itself was really successful, I got a text from one of the mums saying her kid’s gone on to take a bunch of science courses later on in intermediate. So that was kind of the epiphany that this could really work for kids.”

The school worked with industry professionals to achieve outcomes such as creating a device for scientists to use to test for plant pathogens and discovering a new fungus, which the students were able to name after themselves.

After helping another school to set up their own STEM programme, Nick moved on to work with the STEM course at Ormiston Junior College (OJC).

Having seen the younger students at Rongomai succeed in their collaborations with community and industry, Nick advocated for the students at OJC to also take their STEM projects further.

“Now these kids are finding a community issue, they’re applying STEM and they’re creating a sustainable business model around it.”

One of the projects students are currently working on is creating a virtual reality game in conjunction with the University of Auckland, which allows students to react to an emergency situation, such as an earthquake or flood, in a physically and emotionally safe space.

STEM in your school

Nick’s advice to other teachers who are interested in using STEM to inspire students is to give it a go and understand that you don’t have to be a subject matter expert.

“Worry less about the concept and more about the overarching capabilities, especially within science and tech. You don’t just have to teach them content anymore, you have to teach them how to apply logical thinking towards creating knowledge.”

Nick also stresses the advantages of localising curriculum around content that matters to the community and is relevant for students.

“The general idea is that it’s a real working environment with young adults and so they start to take way more ownership, they are way more independent and organised.” 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:10 am, 25 June 2018

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