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Teacher Confidence Could Turn The Tide On Declining Sciences Results – Impact Report

80% of our Year 8 students are achieving below the desired level in science (ERO)

  • 7% of primary school teachers* do not teach science in any of their classes, and just 22% teach the subject regularly, but the appetite for science education is strong, with 90% of teachers wanting to teach it more often
  • 95% of primary school teachers who completed a PLD (Professional Learning and Development) workshop by Nanogirl Labs report increased confidence and willingness to add science teaching into their classrooms

Amidst sharply declining results in science, New Zealand students are disengaging with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects at primary school, leading to fewer students going on to study these areas at secondary, NCEA and tertiary levels[1].

Dr Michelle Dickinson (PhD Engineering) Co-Founder of Nanogirl Labs, together with Dr Kate Sparks (PhD Marine Biology) Science Educator, have today published an impact report based on their research called Hands-on STEM professional development program for teachers in primary schools across New Zealand, detailing the effectiveness of training for boosting primary teachers’ confidence in science.

The report contains the outcomes of a large, multi-year professional development program for primary and intermediate teachers, based on pre and post-training surveys with over 420 primary school teachers.

Teachers were surveyed about their confidence, readiness and opportunities to teach science in their classrooms, as well as the impact of taking a Nanogirl Labs professional development workshop.

Negative experiences with science in primary school have previously been blamed on teachers’ lack of skills and subject-matter knowledge, however the report finds that a teacher’s confidence in and attitude towards science also plays a crucial role.

These findings follow the recent Education Review Office (ERO) report which found that 80% of our Year 8 students are achieving below the desired level in science, and that the performance of Year 9 students has declined. The need for STEM-qualified workers, on the other hand, is so large that it has been estimated that a 34% increase in STEM tertiary graduates every year would be needed to meet the growing demand[2]

Nanogirl Labs has been delivering hands-on STEM focussed PLD workshops to primary school teachers since 2017. Taught by trained STEM professionals, these workshops are designed to increase teachers’ confidence and knowledge around science topics and science teaching by giving teachers the opportunity to carry out hands-on experiments for themselves.

Starting with basic experiments, the workshops work towards building up science experiment skill levels with the goal of supporting teachers to try a practical science lesson with their class. These PLD workshops have reached over 1000 teachers across New Zealand, 30% of whom taught in low socio-economic communities (classed as decile 1-4).

Dr Michelle Dickinson says, “New Zealand’s ability to lead in science and technology-based industries depends on a steady supply of science-literate and STEM-qualified workers, a journey which starts in primary school. Implementing professional development in STEM subjects for all primary school teachers can help to strengthen the development of the next generation of thought leaders and innovators.”

“What we have found confirms international research which shows that low teacher confidence is one of the main reasons why primary school teachers do not teach STEM subjects in their classrooms. One of the ways we can help to change this is by empowering our teachers to up-skill in what can sometimes seem like an intimidating field. With targeted investment we can help to increase student and teacher engagement with science at primary school and create a strong foundation for our young people to build on.”

Funding for STEM PLD is a struggle for many schools across New Zealand and additional funding support will likely be required to achieve sufficient upskilling of teachers in STEM fields.

Currently there are 42 schools who have requested a Nanogirl PLD workshop but are not able to financially make this happen. Nanogirl has partnered with Bright Future Trust to help fund some of these visits. For more information and to learn how to help more schools access these workshops please click here.

[1] Murphy and Beggs 2003

[1] Augustine 2005, Xue and Larson 2015



  • Impact report – Hands-on STEM professional development program for teachers in primary schools across New Zealand – available on request.
  • *In total, 424 teachers answered surveys delivered before and after attending a Nanogirl Labs hands-on STEM PLD workshop. 50% of these teachers were from decile 1-3 schools, 29% from decile 4-7 schools, and the remaining 21% were from decile 8-10 schools. The teachers that responded to the survey had 14 years teaching experience on average, but this varied widely from 0 - 50 years. 85% were female and 15% male which matches the gender diversity within the teaching profession estimated by Statistics New Zealand

[1] Murphy and Beggs 2003

[2] Augustine 2005, Xue and Larson 2015

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