Getting Students Outside, Connecting Science with Place

Burnside Primary School kaiako Bianca Woyak has won the Prime Minister’s Te Puiaki Kaiwhakaaho Putaiao Science Teachers Prize for her success in engaging her students’ enthusiasm in science with a wide range of local topics taught outside the classroom.

“Getting them outside in nature and exploring nature and therefore appreciating it as well and looking at their local environment is really important. It’s hugely inspiring to see the difference in the children who usually don’t shine when they are inside the classroom doing regular learning. You get them outside, you get them doing hands-on things, and they come out of their shell and they see that they have things to offer the rest of the world and it’s been really cool to see the change in the students.”

Bianca is employed as a full-time science specialist, teaching environmental science across the whole school from Years 1 to 6, which she feels very fortunate to be able to do. This has led to changes to the whole school science curriculum to include local knowledge and learning. “It really puts an emphasis on our tangata whenua and their place in our curriculum and our history,” Bianca says.

The school is part of the Enviroschools programme and students are involved with a range of projects including testing water from the local stream, growing and planting natives with Eco Action Nursery, flax weaving from harakeke growing on site, growing and eating kai with Garden to Table, beekeeping with Bee Awesome, waste management, bird studies including the annual Garden Bird Survey, and tracking and trapping as a predator-free school.

In addition to these activities, Burnside Primary is likely best known for its B5 Project ‘Burnside Brings Back Boulder Butterfly’, a local butterfly species. The project started as the students were inspired about searching for insects and identifying them.

“They were looking at monarch butterflies and when they found out that they were a self-introduced species, helped by us planting swan plants, they wanted to know whether there were any endemic butterflies in Canterbury,” Bianca said. “I asked Ruud Kleinpaste and he talked to Brian Patrick, who's a butterfly specialist, and they told us about the boulder copper butterfly. It’s endemic to Canterbury so is only found here, but it's really quite rare because we've destroyed their habitat. So the students decided that they wanted to bring the butterfly back.” 

They created a special habitat at the school and reintroduced the butterfly with a special welcoming ceremony with local iwi. The butterflies have thrived at the school and so they are now working with other schools in the region to translocate the butterflies, so those schools can become satellite sites.

Bianca’s passion for teaching environmental science is driven by a desire to prepare her students for a difficult future where they can hopefully make a difference.

“Students are going to face huge challenges in the future with climate change. In order to get them to love and understand nature, you need to get them outside, have them valuing our precious taonga and understanding nature, so that in the future they can be leaders for change.”

This story is a summary of the media release produced for the announcement of the 2021 Te Puiaki Kaiwhakaaho Putaiao Science Teachers Prize. You can view the full article here.

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