New Scientists – from e-waste to turbines

Abstract This paper reports on a joint venture between the University of Otago’s Department of Applied Sciences and the College of Education which resulted in New Scientists: Educating the next…


This paper reports on a joint venture between the University of Otago’s Department of Applied Sciences and the College of Education which resulted in New Scientists: Educating the next generation in science and technology resource kits. These resource kits were designed, developed and produced in collaboration with primary schools. Their purpose is to facilitate student-led learning activities that support teachers in providing effective learning opportunities in science. New Scientists was developed explicitly to provide classroom teachers with a resource that supports the New Zealand’s curriculum focus on the Nature of Science. Results from this project and subsequent wiki educator hits/downloads indicate that New Scientists provides primary schools with relevant, useful and meaningful learning opportunities.

Keywords: Primary science, Primary education, Sustainability, Integrated learning, Student-led


Education in New Zealand has undergone some dramatic changes in the past few years with the introduction of a new curriculum document for Years 1-13 (Ministry of Education, 2007). The new curriculum was to be fully implemented by schools for the beginning of the 2010 school year. This resulted in a significant shift in how teachers and schools approach education, especially for science. No longer are schools selecting from a prescribed list of possible activities that students should be able to complete in a given academic year. Teachers must now to take into consideration the content material that is seen as relevant, useful, and meaningful (Sexton, 2011) to their students based on their worldview.

This curriculum change was to be fully implemented for the beginning of the 2010 school year. It has been estimated that about 50% of New Zealand teachers were unprepared for this change (Hipkins & Hodgen, 2012). One of the reasons for teachers reporting a lack of readiness was the new curriculum’s emphasis on the Nature of Science as the overarching strand for education through science.

This new emphasis no longer requires teachers to focus on the content strands of the Living World, the Material World, the Physical World, or Planet Earth and Beyond. Teachers now focus their students’ learning, using whatever science content that is appropriate, through·

Understanding about Science this requires that students are able to ask questions about the science they are doing.

Investigating in Science means that students are expanding their world through activities, play, questions and/or simple models.

Communication in Science – students are able to us the terminology and vocabulary appropriately as they discuss the science they are doing.

Participating and Contributing in Science first, students are able to relate the science they are doing to their world; and second, they are able to make decisions that impact on their world based on this science (Ministry of Education, 2007; Sexton, 2011).

Many teachers are now reporting a lack of content knowledge as the reason behind less science being included in their teaching programmes. This is compounded by the New Zealand Curriculum’s (Ministry of Education, 2007) explicit directive to incorporate student initiated topics in their teaching. This perceived lack of content knowledge is also being reported by many student teachers as they enter their initial teacher education programme (Sexton, 2010).

As an initial teacher education lecturer and facilitator of professional development in science education, I hear far too many primary teachers and pre-service teachers saying that they do not have the background knowledge to effectively teach science. Research has highlighted the need for teachers to continue with professional development once they enter the classroom (Duschl, Schweingruber, & Shouse, 2007).

Teachers’ self-imposed content knowledge limitations in science, compounded with perceived lack of resources for science, results in many students not experiencing effective learning of science (Education Review Office, 2012). Duschl, Schweingruber and Shouse (2007) highlighted that many of the key ideas of and about science may in fact be impossible without instructional support, that is, the classroom teacher. They reiterated that for science learning to successfully engage students, it must be meaningful to them and they must be supported by the teacher. Let’s be very clear here, teachers are not trying to be scientist or somehow turn their students into scientist. Teachers need to provide effective learning opportunities in the area of science.

What counts as quality and effective science in schools in New Zealand, has been highlighted in the recent Education Review Office’s (ERO) (2012) report. ERO highlighted the characteristics that were evident in the classrooms in which effective education through science was taking place. As these schools have demonstrated, their students’ evidence characteristics of students’ engagement, specifically: they like doing science; are motivated by their classroom science activities; think they are learning well in science; and are enthusiastic about doing more science (see Education Review Office, 2012). Similarly, their teachers model some of the teacher characteristics ERO identified as good practice indicators, in particular:

  1. High quality planning, including strategies for identifying and responding to students’ prior knowledge, and for teaching them the significant scientific concepts (or big ideas).
  2. Engaging practical activities that allowed students to investigate their own ideas as well as those of others these activities were collaborative, relevant, and drew on local context as well as interests of students (see Education Review Office, 2010).

This paper reports on how the University of Otago’s College of Education and the Department of Applied Science worked together to produce a resource kit (see Appendix A) that supports teachers and students in achieving relevant, useful and meaningful science. Through New Scientists:Educating the next generation in science and technology, primary teachers and their students assisted in the design, development, testing, and production of a resource kit that can be taken up and used in any school. Warrington School was approached to be included in this design project as it has a history of student-led learning with its students currently operating their own radio station and running an e-waste recovery programme for computers (see among their other enviro-initiatives.

The PH1.1 kit includes mind maps and kit construction information for the students. There is also a lexicon of terms and web links are provided to support the teacher’s delivery of this kit and students’ extension beyond this resource. This kit is now available to use by any school and has been made available to schools around New Zealand via wiki educator (see ).

Supporting Teacher Content Knowledge

In April 2011, Sir Peter Gluckman delivered a report from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisor (Gluckman, 2011), in which he highlighted the challenges and opportunities for science education for New Zealand. He recognised the changing nature of science and the role it plays in society. More importantly, he stated that “a forward looking science education system is fundamental to our future success in an increasingly knowledge based world (p. vi). New Scientists is seeking to meet the challenges and realise the opportunities for education through science.

The 5E approach (Skamp, 2004) has been shown to be successful in teaching scientific content to primary-aged students. The 5Es are: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. This approach is very useful for teachers struggling with their own pedagogical content knowledge. Specifically for this paper, the 5E approach compliments the New Zealand Curriculum’s (Ministry of Education, 2007) overarching strand of the Nature of Science for education in science. It should be noted that many teachers are getting caught up in using learning theories and approaches that try to be as student-centered as possible, forgetting that they also play a vital role in education. Teachers need to be reminded that no one learning theory or approach is perfect. Sometimes Direct Acts of Teaching: Directing, Telling, Explaining, Prompting, Modeling, Giving Feedback and Questioning (Ministry of Education, 2006) while being very teacher-centered, are necessary. Once students have the information or material that is needed to engage them, it is then appropriate to switch from teacher-centered to student-centered learning approaches. Not every lesson should follow the same routine; both students and teachers need some variety.

The first E is to engage the students. This first E aligns well with Investigating in Science as it combines an activity the students do with the chance to ask any questions necessary to overcome any initial hesitancy. The resource kit suggests giving the students the hard drive to hold and manipulate. When you bring more than one sense into the learning, you are more than likely going to have the students engaged. That is the purpose behind the “Introduction” lesson to the construction of a turbine. Students are doing the activity while they are exposed to the learning.

The three activity plans: Magnetism, Electricity, and Bearings provide the opportunities for teachers to facilitate student exploration of the concepts and materials that will be needed for the final construction of the turbine. The explore step is important as this is where the students get the chance to try things out and experience what happens. This explore step mirrors the relationship between Understanding about the Science and Investigating in Science. By undertaking these activities, students explore what different components are able to do. This in turn raises further questions students will need to explore as they seek to discover the answers. This is the intent behind Understanding about the Science and Investigating in Science. The questions generated about how, why, what if and what about as they seek deeper understanding about the science lead to further and more meaningful investigations in the science. This is the step that is more likely to challenge what the students know. Students do need to experience the “WOW” factor of science, but without the corresponding “Why this happens” discussion; these experiences are more likely only going to be seen as fun by students as there is no real learning involved.

Students need to be explicitly asked to explain their explorations. This is a deliberate step to discuss what they did and why, and what were the results of what they tried. Positive learning effects have been seen in students who use discussions as a key part of the science process (Duschl & Hamilton, 2011). The students are given the opportunity to talk about the science. This deliberate Communicating in Science allows the teacher to actually hear what students are thinking and how they are making sense of the science. This facilitates the transition into the explain step of the 5Es.

The explain step allows the classroom teacher to ensure that the terminology and science content is effectively and age appropriately understood. Depending on the intent of these activities this could be: appropriate usage of vocabulary; which materials are better; what some of the differences in materials are. The elaborate step is most likely going to naturally follow any explanations that confuse or challenge what students thought they knew. This is the point most teachers raise personal concerns over their own content knowledge. Teachers need to be reminded that they do not have to know it all, but they do have to model to students what to do when you do not know the answer. Many teachers need to learn how to say “I don’t know but let’s find out.” The lesson plans help support this by providing online resources that are easily accessible, so teachers are able to find the answers to questions that they do not understand or want further explanations around.

For the New Scientists resource kit, the final lesson plan is the actual construction of the working turbine. This activity is designed so that the students are able to reach a natural conclusion to the activities by producing their own working turbine. This may seem to be the natural conclusion to the exploration, explain and elaborate steps but it is not the final step in the 5Es.

The final E is evaluate. This is where the students need to be able to discuss what they did, how they did it and why this science is relevant, useful, and meaningful to them. Specifically, what did they do that challenged what they thought they knew? How did this impact on their understanding? as well as, What did they do that was like a scientist? This is where the teacher gets to hear all the summative assessment that is needed for these activities: What went well?; What stills need to be worked on?; and Where to next? This is all based on what the students have been discussing. Here is where the teacher gets to listen to them discuss all the science that they did and what they were able to accomplish. The final E of evaluate provides the students the opportunity to express not only what they are Understanding about the Science but also how it relates to their world and what they are able to do with the science, that is Participating and Contributing in Science.


Duschl, Schweingruber and Shouse (2007) highlighted the need for in-service teachers to continue in their own professional development. This is often easier said than done. Teachers have enormous demands placed on them for the day-to-day running of their class. I would argue that most teachers do in fact want to provide challenging and engaging learning opportunities for their students; it is just that in some subject content areas this is not that easy. Teachers, like their students, come to class with their own personal baggage and a self-perceived lack of science content knowledge is one of those obstacles (Simon, 2000). Simon (2000) concluded that teachers need to be both enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subjects so that they provide, “well-ordered and stimulating science lessons” (p. 115).

But there is more to designing a teaching and learning opportunity than just addressing each learning demand in turn as students need to be first guided and then taught how to independently draw upon and link together the big ideas (Leach & Scott, 2000). Linn and Eylon (2006) further elaborated on this issue, claiming that students tended to localize their learning in the specific context in which it is occurring when they need to integrate all the ideas. The New Scientists resource kits were developed to facilitate this integration of science with social, cultural, educational, and personal experiences (Linn & Eylon, 2006).


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