Science and culture help estuary and build school kaitiakitanga

Issue: Volume 98, Number 14

Posted: 16 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9x2W

A Tauranga primary school is leading the way as kaitiaki of the Rangataua Estuary, thanks to a grant that saw teacher Chris Dixon working alongside local scientists in the field for six months.

Kaesharn sifts through sand to find living organisms to be identified, counted and recorded on data sheets.

Maungatapu School is part of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme (STLP), which is funded by MBIE and managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The programme, which focuses on developing the skills and confidence of a teacher as a science leader, has involved 156 teachers from 119 schools since it began in 2015.

“I don’t have a science background, so I had to find a way to grow my own knowledge of teaching science as a primary school teacher where there’s not that much support to grow your own knowledge of science,” says teacher Chris Dixon. “The programme was just fantastic for the fact that it put me with scientists in the real world.”

Maungatapu School sits on a peninsula that reaches out into Tauranga Harbour. The school’s mission statement is ‘He tauira whakapakari nō Te Ao Tūroa – Our environment nurtures our learners’.

Chris was hosted by the University of Waikato’s Coastal Marine Field Station (CMFS) in Tauranga and worked alongside scientists doing research such as measuring nitrogen changes in water. He also attended a University of Otago course on building leadership skills.

“Considering our school is right on the estuary, I was able to work with scientists who are involved in estuary projects and monitoring and then I could bring that to our school. As a teacher I can see my kids are out there in the estuary, playing, fishing in the harbour. It’s really opened my eyes to the science that’s happening there and how I can I bring that into the children’s education,” he says.

Environment nurtures learners

Since returning to the classroom, Chris has taken up a science leadership role and initiated the Rangataua Estuary Monitoring Project, which will go schoolwide next year. Students are supported by scientist Emma Richardson, who is working with five schools monitoring different locations in the Tauranga Harbour.

“The end goal is to report back to the council and our local marae and community regarding what’s changing, what’s happening and our concerns about the estuary,” says Chris.

“We’ve taken the monitoring project and built on it and really made it really part of our school. We see a lot more value on using that space to connect to our Māori learners, especially with a mātauranga ā-iwi Māori perspective that we can use.

“When we go down there, we say, ‘hey this is our area, we’re checking that it’s healthy, we’re looking after it, we’re the kaitiaki’. So the children are just automatically picking up rubbish. We are teaching them why it’s important to be kaitiaki and what their role is in keeping this area healthy and clean and making sure it’s here in years to come,” he says.

Iwi lens, western lens

Nearly half of Maungatapu School’s 550+ students are Māori. It’s a dual-curriculum school, offering families the option of enrolling their children in full-immersion Māori or mainstream classes.

The estuary project brings both curriculums together to combine two perspectives, says Chris.

“We’ve got the local marae, Ngāti He (Maungatapu) and Ngai Te Ahi (Hairini), who, when they come down to the estuary, are monitoring from a mātauranga perspective (body of knowledge originating from ancestors), which is a different way of studying the health of the estuary. One of the elders from Ngāti He/Ngai Te Ahi was telling me that the speed at which one of the species of snails retract when touched tells him how healthy the estuary is.

“Whereas from a western perspective we would go down and do the testing and measure the nitrates in the water.
“We can go to the estuary with a mātauranga iwi lens and a western lens and we can have our children immersed in a cultural experience and a science experience,” he says.

Transforming science

Maungatupu School has looked at how its science programme can contribute to broader curriculum learning.

“We have found a way to make science the focus in the classroom at primary school. By using an authentic context, we are bringing all those learning areas into this one project, which so far has been absolutely fantastic,” says Chris.

“Without the programme, we wouldn’t have had the time, energy or resourcing to really transform science at Maungatapu School. The more we look at it, the more ideas we get.”

Inspiring young scientists

“If the tāhuna [estuary or sandbank] is healthy, then so are the people,” says Maungatapu School principal Tane Bennett.

While the children have many opportunities to get involved in hands-on science, the school’s strategic plan includes developing a space where children can easily get involved in STEM-learning activities.

“The space will allow our children to develop problem-solving skills, collaboration and key competencies,” says Tane.

“We need to upskill our learners now to become problem-solving designers of the future.”

Chris wants his students to have science-related experiences that they can link to higher education.

“If they’ve never had an experience at an estuary, never used a microscope or an identification book, it’s hard to know if they will enjoy biology. Why would they choose that subject? It’s trying to give them those real experiences, so they can go further because, yes, we do want them to be pursuing science careers.”

A key objective of the programme is to lift science engagement with the local community and Maungatapu School has done some great work connecting ngā tauira (students) with local scientists through their estuary project, says Jenn Corbitt, Science Teaching Leadership Programme Coordinator.

“We want to create scientifically literate kids. The programme is all about getting good quality science teachers into schools and doing things where the children have some agency and control, with the goal of inspiring them to become scientists in their local community,” says Jenn.

Applications for 2020 close on 11 September 2019. Interested schools can apply through the Royal Society Te Apārangi website(external link).

Using science in daily life

The science learning area in The New Zealand Curriculum promotes the idea of developing citizenship capabilities. Students (citizens) need to be ready, willing, and able to use their science knowledge in their schooling and their everyday lives.

This is important so that they develop the broad science capabilities they’ll need to participate as critical, informed and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role.

For more information:

What the students say

We love getting our hands dirty and finding interesting things. You get an answer you can rely on. Drew, Year 5–6

Working with Emma teaches us about things we don’t know, and she’s there to answer questions. Sean, Year 5–6

We can bring stuff back that we can look at under the microscope. Then we can observe them better and can find out more information. We already know the scientific name for anemones. Ruby D, Year 5–6

We observe things we would never have noticed usually – I didn’t know the pits were made by stingrays until Mr Dixon showed us. Now I see them every time I go to the estuary. Ruby W, Year 5–6

The equipment we were lucky to get helps us monitor the estuary. We use the drone to take photos to see if the channels change, or the bushes. We use the microscope to look closely. Lexie and Sean, Year 5–6

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:15 pm, 16 August 2019

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