Marine science extension programme inspires gifted students

Issue: Volume 103, Number 2

Posted: 22 February 2024
Reference #: 1HAfCd

For more than 20 years, gifted school students in Otago, Canterbury, and Southland have been able to explore their interest in the marine world through science extension programmes run by the University of Otago’s New Zealand Marine Studies Centre (NZMSC).

Surveying the intertidal zone using Marine Metre Squared.

Surveying the intertidal zone using Marine Metre Squared.

Mentored by postgraduate students, gifted ākonga can experience an authentic research environment through laboratory investigations, coastline fieldwork and expeditions aboard a research vessel with the NZMSC.

Their science extension programmes focus on in-depth projects that blend marine science and the nature of science. The programmes range from one to five days and cater towards specific levels between Years 6 and 12. In 2023, the themes were:

  • Expedition: Deep Thought (research vessel experience for Year 11).
  • All about Rimurimu (kelp research programme for Years 9–10).
  • Science and the Sea (variety of marine science projects for Years 6–8) .

Activities ākonga have been involved in are diverse and range from transect surveys on the research vessel Polaris II , to researching the outlook for kelp forests, to the link between plankton and birds.

Gooseneck barnacles found during rocky shore survey.

Gooseneck barnacles found during rocky shore survey.

“Doing field work is a great and fun experience, and working alongside the mentors is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says one student who participated in ‘All about Rimurimu’.

Hand-on experiences

Hanna Ravn is the professional practice fellow currently managing the NZMSC science extension. She says the programmes were developed for students who were identified as gifted in the sciences and needed more hands-on experiences.

The projects relate to the expertise of the postgraduate mentors. The hands-on experiences begin with ākonga being informed about the equipment available and the areas currently being researched, and then they decide what they are interested in.

“They come up with questions and turn them into hypotheses, they gather their gear, and they help form field plans. When we go into the field, we guide them along the first rounds of surveys that they do. Then we stand back so they have a full hands-on research experience, led by themselves. We support them whenever needed but they get to be the decision makers in all these steps.

“We always aim to spend at least one full day doing field work. For example, if they are researching sharks, they’ll drop baited video cameras under water from wharfs or boats. Some students may be surveying sea lions on the local peninsula and some will be working on the beaches surveying biodiversity in the intertidal zone,” explains Hanna.

Ākonga learn how to turn their questions into hypotheses and can sometimes struggle if their findings disprove their hypothesis.

“A tricky thing for them is learning to accept that what they thought was going to happen in their research, may not actually be the result. That’s a big experience for them, and especially for older students who very much have a mindset that if something turns out to not be right, then they have failed. We show them that ‘failing’ can make it more interesting!”

Diversity important

Participants can be selected by their schools or can self-nominate, and Hanna is adamant that ‘giftedness’ is not just about being good at maths and standard classroom science. She says it needs to include consideration of all aspects of giftedness signalled on Te Kete Ipurangi.

Working on data identification and analysis.

Working on data identification and analysis.

“There has been a tendency to take the top maths students and send them to science extension programmes they don’t have a passion for. When sending out applications forms, we’re clear that this is also for gifted students in terms of being creative, active in conservation and marine science, and who want to come out and do some research and make a bit of a difference,” she says.

Hanna says they had a student apply through self-nomination for a senior programme, but the application wasn’t supported by his school’s gifted coordinators.

“To us, it was a strong application, he ticked the Ministry of Education’s criteria of being keen and interested and had hobbies like spear fishing and diving. He also did well in biology at his school. We accepted him and he did a physical oceanography project, probably one of the most highly technical projects we have, with a lot of statistics. He played a big part in carrying the team through that.

“It was interesting for us to see that there was someone who was not seen as gifted but was exactly the kind of person that will get a job in marine science – he had passion and grit,” she adds.

In the past two years, NZMSC has linked some of the extension programmes with Coastal People: Southern Skies (CPSS), a National Centre of Research Excellence that has core values based on kaitiakitanga and mana.

It’s a collaboration connecting universities and communities across Aotearoa New Zealand and the South Pacific.

“For these programmes, participants work alongside scientists and local iwi connected to the research they are doing, and all projects are with a focus on a taonga species.

“For example, in 2022 it was Year 9–10 students doing ‘All about Pāua’, which was linked to pāua conservation. Our fieldwork was in Karitane around the Huriawa Pā site, led by local kaitiaki Brendan Flack and scientist Dr Gaya Gnanalingam,” explains Hanna.

NZMSC has been running specific programmes for Māori and Pacific students, with some programmes such as research into pāua in 2022 and the theme of rimurimu in 2023 having a larger te ao Māori influence.

For information about the NZMSC programmes, see link).

For information about Coastal People: Southern Skies, see link).

Investigating pāua behavioural responses in the lab.

Investigating pāua behavioural responses in the lab.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:43 am, 22 February 2024

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