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Budding scientists test the water

Students love interacting with the environment, says Kevin Archer, and he should know – he’s been teaching for 45 years.

Kevin Archer and Lachlan Stewart test water clarity.

As the Taranaki Regional Council’s Education Officer for the past 12 years, he says students plunge into the Council’s hands-on schools programme, with freshwater stream studies being his most popular lessons year-round.

“I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like this – thousands of them. They all love going into the stream. This is the real McCoy,” says Mr Archer.

Recently he led several Highlands Intermediate School classes at Huatoki Stream.

He explained how settlers and nearby schools used the stream, and why the Huatoki isn’t typical of most Taranaki rivers. Then it was down to business, with lessons on gauging streambed composition and streambank vegetation, and the water’s flow, clarity, conductivity, PH levels and temperature.

“Ten to fifteen degrees is what fish like,” he told his young listeners.

Finally, the students gathered riverbed samples.

“The presence or absence of macro aquatic invertebrates tells us an awful lot about the quality of the water in the stream, and the other day we found 17 different species at the site, which is a record for me,” says Mr Archer.

“There’s a move in science involving the community in getting scientific data. It’s called citizen science, so this is a stepping stone towards that.”

Science specialist teacher Pat Swanson is a firm advocate of Mr Archer’s classes.

“Kevin’s a great facilitator for this. He’s enthusiastic, he’s got a lot of knowledge. It’s a programme that he’s refined over the years… and he gets the kids involved,” says Mr Swanson, who teaches at Highlands Intermediate School.

“It’s learning in action, and kids learn and observe a lot more when they’re out there doing that. Once they start getting in there and looking at the animals and that, they’re super-engaged, and they’re starting to recognise that they’re doing things that scientists do all the time – looking for explanations, testing, making observations...”

Mr Archer’s field trips are held at rocky shores, riparian fencing and planting projects, streams, and Pukeiti, Tupare and Hollard Gardens. His theory classes cover those subjects as well as Civil Defence, public transport and various environmental topics.

For details about the Council’s schools programme, go to www.trc.govt.nz/schools-programme/ and to book Mr Archer well in advance for lessons or field trips, email kevin.archer@trc.govt.nz.


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