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Further support for school science education

Collaboration provides further support for school science education

11 June, 2007

Closer collaboration between AgResearch and the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute will bring more opportunities for secondary school students and their teachers to understand the biology behind agriculture and human health.

The institutions announced the closer collaboration at the AgResearch media dinner, on the eve of the 40th annual National Fieldays last night in Hamilton.

Alongside the joint research the organisations will develop an extended science education programme for secondary schools based on the Liggins Education Network for Science (LENS) programme that has been established at the Institute. It will incorporate the AgResearch education initiatives that are already taking the science behind modern biotechnologies to secondary schools.

The collaboration will soon be further extended through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding that builds on an already productive relationship between the two organisations, both of which are founding members of Epi Gen, an international consortium that is exploring the new science of epigenetics, which examines how environmental factors affect gene expression in humans and animals.

Liggins Institute Director, Professor Peter Gluckman, believes it is essential that young people understand science and how to use scientific knowledge if they are to operate effectively in 21st Century society. “There is no more important machine that they will ever drive than their own bodies – they need to know how to get the best out of their body,” he says.

“Understanding the science that makes us what we are and how we live in our world is central not only to our health and well-being but to our primary industries, strategies for environmental management and sustainability, and economic development.”

AgResearch Chief Executive Dr Andrew West says New Zealand scientists have a reputation for providing international quality research.

“This research has underpinned the success of our pastoral sector for decades. As the importance of the pastoral sector grows, through increased demand for primary produce around the world, it is vital that we continue to support the pastoral sector with outstanding science.

“The passion for science often begins at an early age. By working with schools we can help inspire students who show an interest and encourage them to continue their studies,” he says.

The LENS programme was established just two years ago when the Prime Minister opened the Sir John Logan Campbell classroom at the Liggins Institute. It provides opportunities for school students and teachers to learn about the latest advances in the life sciences within the context of current, applied biomedical research and links directly to the secondary science curriculum

The programme has been enthusiastically embraced and endorsed by local educators. In 2007 more than 100 researchers from The University of Auckland interacted with 1600 students from 40 schools in the Auckland region. This year over 2,500 and 250 teachers will participate in LENS programmes.

The AgResearch Education service began in 2007 as a part of the company social responsibility commitment. The service is provided by Education Advisor Colin Nicol, a teacher with 20 years experience in schools in New Zealand and abroad.

“I travel to a variety of schools and provide teachers and students with information linked to the curriculum on the cutting-edge, world leading research being carried out at AgResearch,” says Colin Nicol.

This service has been very popular with schools to the extent that in 30 weeks last year Colin visited 2,500 students and 100 teachers ranging across Years 1-13 in 55 schools from Kaikohe to Oamaru.

LENS Director Jacquie Bay is an experienced senior science teacher and curriculum manager. “One of the greatest joys – and challenges- of teaching biology today is the constant need to keep abreast of the current research,” she says.

“Biology is a science that is advancing at an accelerating pace and these advances in biological knowledge are a core part of the school curriculum. This, together with the global shortage of science graduates, the under-representation of Maori and Pasifika in science communities and the challenges of environmental management and adverse health statistics in NZ, present compelling reasons to be fostering interactions between scientists, teachers and school students.”

LENS and AgResearch Education will mark the beginning of their collaboration by holding a symposium for teachers and a seminar for senior science students at Mystery Creek today, Wednesday 11th June. The programmes for each will utilise the current educational and scientific expertise of both organisations.

“This is a major step forward,” comments Ms Bay, “we look forward to working with schools in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty as we work on increasing the availability of programmes to this region.”


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