Teacher’s winning ways develop curious minds

Issue: Volume 98, Number 5

Posted: 20 March 2019
Reference #: 1H9sR2

The winner of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize says that igniting students’ natural curiosity and inspiring them to constantly question events around them is the key to lifelong learning success.

Hampton Hill School teacher Carol Brieseman loves tapping into kids’ curiosity.

It is important for students to be able to make scientifically informed decisions, starting at a young age and right through their lives, the Wellington primary teacher says.

Her Year 5 and 6 students know that there is no such thing as a dumb question and if their teacher doesn’t know the answer, they can work it out together – ensuring the richer the questions, the deeper the understanding.

“If a child doesn’t understand something, it is not their fault and I just need to find a different way of explaining the concept,” she says.

“The key to enthusing them is smart planning, picking up on activities or events that they are interested in and knowing the curriculum really well.”

One topic can be integrated into many aspects of the curriculum, using discussion to promote oral language, testing and research to develop science capabilities, report writing to improve literacy and gathering data for use in statistical investigations to feed into maths.

“Children gain confidence in so many learning areas by doing a hands-on science experiment. For some, when they improve academically and experience success, we are not having to manage their behaviour because they’re engaged in learning,” Carol says.

“I’m thinking particularly of one child who just did not enjoy writing; however, we were doing a whole pile of things on oceans and Argo floats and the kids were making Cartesian divers. He was really interested in this hands-on learning, how to make a Cartesian diver, troubleshoot why they weren’t sinking and floating when they needed to be, explaining what happened and how to make one.

“From that he came out with a fabulous piece of procedural writing and then, because he got the success in that, he became more confident in his writing ability.”

It is vital, says Carol, to build relationships with kids and let them know how much you care, along with helping them understand the world around them so they can make critical decisions and choices based on knowledge.

“I encourage them to think like a scientist – gather evidence, develop opinions, observe, predict and remain curious.”

Science challenge evenings

The science challenge evenings for the school community that Carol devised are a highlight of the annual schools’ Science Week activities.

“Week 3 Term 2 every year is national Science Week. We have experiments run throughout the week just because it’s Science Week, just for the sake of science. In the middle of the week we have a science challenge night where we have some sort of fun challenge where parents and kids come together; they team up and they make things – maybe a balloon-powered car or a bridge that can take the most weight,” she says.

“It’s a wonderful way to build up the community and the science.”

Other initiatives instigated by Carol include the installation of solar panels; a school vegetable garden with worm farms, compost bins and student-designed water tanks; a greenhouse made from recycled bottles; a human sundial, and a five senses garden. An area of land that was previously out of bounds has now been opened up with a bush walk through the native trees, with weta hotels and insect boxes.

Endothermic reactions with baking soda and citric acid.

Ideas for teachers

Carol began hosting science experiments at staff social events to encourage her colleagues’ interest in science and give them simple ideas for their classrooms.

“When we have a social time together at the end of the day to wind down, I’ll pull out a science experiment of some sort that we can do together, a simple one that they can do back in their classroom or just for themselves, to keep science in the forefront,” she says.

“They can be things like a jumping candle; it could be swinging a cup of water around on a tray, flying tea bags, Cartesian divers or how many people can stand on an upside-down trestle table with balloons underneath it.”

Carol also supports and mentors teachers at Hampton Hill and other schools by modelling lessons, providing observational feedback or working with teachers to plan lessons.

“As well as that, I have teachers who come from the Royal Society’s Science Teaching Leadership programme,” she says.

“What I really want to try and do is ignite their own passion for science and build their confidence so they then can go and do it in their own classrooms.”

It is important for teachers to make sure any negative experiences they may have had with science do not inhibit their teaching, Carol says.

“I find that if they have had a pretty negative experience for themselves, they will avoid it unless it’s really needed to be done. Your own experience, shouldn’t hinder developing those kids’ own curiosity.”

Funds to be shared

It is likely all Tawa schools will benefit from Carol’s win. School Principal Kelly Barker says Hampton Hill could use the $100,000 for its own necessary resources, but she plans to use some of it to share Carol’s knowledge to grow science capabilities across the Kāhui Ako or cluster of schools in Tawa.

Tawa has six primary schools that contribute to one intermediate and one secondary school.

“I want her to be able to share her effective practices across all schools so we can see consistency in our kids going into the next stage of their education. She is a real taonga [treasure] that we need to share; she is an amazing resource to grow science capabilities,” says Kelly.

“Across the school her contribution is invaluable. Carol has completely changed the way we think about our curriculum and has contributed to the change in the way we teach and learn at our school.”

Engaging with real-life science

Carol Brieseman has 30 years’ teaching experience. Her interest in science was further enhanced when she won a Primary Science Teacher Fellowship to study with Crown Research Institute NIWA for six months, which included time on a research ship in the Southern Ocean.

She developed a programme based on Argo floats, which measure the temperature, salinity and velocity of the ocean. She incorporates Cartesian diver experiments to demonstrate the principle of buoyancy and has developed a website relating to Argo floats. As a result of this work, Carol was invited to present educational workshops in France.

Carol has also been involved in an initiative through Victoria University of Wellington looking at how online citizen science projects can be used to help students engage with real-life science. She is also a member of the Capital City Science Educators group supporting science teachers and educators, and a member of the National Primary Science Teacher group.

For more information on the Argo Floats education programme(external link) 

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

Posted: 12:19 pm, 20 March 2019

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