Takahē resource builds conservation knowledge for biology students

Issue: Volume 98, Number 7

Posted: 3 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9tgN

A newly released resource from a Wellington ecosanctuary is helping teachers deliver curriculum content while also teaching students about real research happening in New Zealand.

ZEALANDIA’s new education resource focuses on the iconic takahē, a species the Department of Conservation calls a ‘conservation icon’. These native birds have been at risk of becoming extinct and were at one point thought to already be so.

Onslow College was one of the schools to pilot ‘Where have all the takahē gone?’ last year with Year 12 students. Biology teacher Jan Szydlowski says he wanted to give students a real life context and the opportunity to focus on important aspects of ecology, such as conservation.

“As biology teachers we’re all concerned about our biodiversity and what’s happening to our flora and fauna; we feel it’s a valuable context to use,” he says.

“It would also give our students some idea of the challenges for us to become predator free by 2050. Is that something we should really aim for anyway and is that money well spent? There’s a lot of good, real discussions that can happen from that.”

Critical thinking

The resource leads students through a research investigation looking at the impacts of introduced mammals on the communities where takahē live. This includes whether current strategies used to conserve takahē are effective and cost-efficient by teaching them how to think critically. Sharing information with local community groups and collecting and analysing data from Trap.NZ allows them to engage in citizen science.

“There’s suggestions of setting up tracking tunnels, monitoring pests, doing five-minute bird counts and there are suggestions on how to create debate around certain issues,” Jan says.

“Students need to collate and collect information and use that to justify the reasons why they see a specific pattern. Most of the patterns they’ll be looking at is the impact of some kind of pest control in an area and seeing how that affects predator population and takahē population.”

One of the subjects within the Living World strand of The New Zealand Curriculum is ecology, where students gain a better understanding of ecological principles as well as their relevance and significance to society.

“This directly allows students to get a better awareness around ecology and conservation, but also it teaches them a lot of skills that they’ll need later in life – critical thinking, analysing and interpreting data, and justifying decisions based on evidence. There are science capabilities that are not explicitly mentioned in the curriculum but are very important in terms of making our students educated citizens.”

Localised curriculum

The resource helps teachers to create a localised curriculum, Jan says.

“It doesn’t take too much time for us to implement it and it also makes it easy for new teachers to take something like this and make it their own. There’s a lot of scope for people adapting the work to suit their needs and their students’ needs.”

He is currently working on modifying the programme to best suit his 2019 cohort.

“I might modify an activity to make it more accessible to some of the students who are finding it difficult. That could be done by just changing the language, maybe structuring it a little differently,” Jan says.

“You start off with having a foundation and then with time you can make changes that you see fit.”

He plans to take his class on a trip to ZEALANDIA to get first-hand experience with takahē and encourages other teachers to take their students on similar learning activities where possible.

“They have the expertise but also they have the real workings of a sanctuary; it’s restoring and conserving and getting involved with the people who are in the front line, so that makes it much more meaningful.”

Real-life science

‘Where have all the takahē gone?’ was created in collaboration with the Department of Conservation’s Takahē Recovery Programme and Science Learning Hub. ZEALANDIA Ranger Education and Youth Sue Lum first began working on creating the resource when she was a teacher herself.

“I was looking around for examples of things that would suit the concept of a community study but using real-life contexts, real-life science that’s actually happening and is relevant and interesting for my students,” she says.

“In 2012 we did it while I was still teaching and then in 2013 I came to work in education at ZEALANDIA and we’ve been offering the study here since then.”

The resource is usable across a number of different levels and is available to all teachers across the country.

“We’re expecting it to be something that will be used on a scale quite a bit bigger than just Wellington.”

Resources for teachers

Where have all the takahē gone(external link)?’ 

Assessments related to ‘Takahē – an introduction’ are available on the Biology Education Association of New Zealand’s(external link) website. These have been quality assured by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. 

The science capabilities in The New Zealand Curriculum(external link).

How schools can partner with community organisations and develop local curriculum(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:58 am, 3 May 2019

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