Science literacy initiative bears fruit
There were posters, presentations, keynote speakers and product displays – everything one expects at an august academic gathering.
The scene, however, was the Remuera Intermediate School Hall where the warmth of the welcome belied the crisp July evening and dispelled any notion that science was stuffy or irrelevant. Instead, families and friends gathered appreciatively to share the discoveries that Year 7 students had made about the nature of food and the science behind its effects on our bodies.
The symposium “The Science behind Nutrition” was masterminded by teacher Patsy Hindson who heads the school’s science programme. Last year Patsy spent five months working with Liggins Institute scientists and LENScience Director Jacquie Bay on a Royal Society of New Zealand’s (RSNZ) Fellowship programme for primary school teachers. The experience not only widened her own scientific horizons but allowed her to explore ways to engage her students – and fellow teachers – in understanding the scientific concepts that underpin our daily lives.
“Children are fascinated by science,” says Patsy, “and teachers need to tap into that curiosity and motivate them with lessons that encourage discussion and investigations.
“The Nature of Science strand in the curriculum is intended to develop children’s understanding of science as a process and a culture – rather than acquisition of facts,” she adds. “It means setting learning in contexts that are relevant to the students and their stage of development; enriching lessons with real science and scientific language, encouraging students to engage in the scientific process of asking questions, finding evidence, then using and sharing their experiences.”
She believes the key is having access to scientists and scientific knowledge, so the idea of the symposium was to get scientists and the community together with students to share what they have been doing in relation to the science behind nutrition.
“As a school, we have done starch testing, vitamin C titrations and looked at the digestive system in all its glory. Individual teachers have taken the unit further with their own lessons and students have all undertaken their own nutrition investigations in small groups.”
Keynote speakers at the symposium were Remuera Intermediate parent and University of Auckland Professor of Nutrition David Cameron-Smith and Goodman Fielder food technologist Nurul Kusumaningrum. Prof. Cameron-Smith, who is based at the Liggins Institute, quickly engaged his whole audience as he discussed how food influenced health and the “what, when and whys” of eating. Ms Kusumaningrum explained how science and creativity came together in her job developing “safe, delicious new foods that people will love”.
Alongside the scientists, the students, whom Patsy introduced as “creative thinkers and collaborative workers,” explained the hypotheses, investigations and results of their of their explorations of the science of nutrition - and what they could conclude about such things as the effects of some foods on heart-rate, sports and intellectual performance, and the relationship between a food’s colour and its vitamin C content.
Jacquie Bay comments that in our increasingly complex world, building a scientifically discerning society is crucial. Understanding the process of science and how scientists reach their conclusions is important for everyone.
“Getting children to present their learning is a powerful way to increase uptake and understanding,” she says, “as well as a valuable means of engaging the community. Patsy has done a fantastic job of bringing ‘the nature of science’ to life for students, teachers and families. We look forward to observing its ongoing impact.”