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Primary teacher wins top science prize


Dianne Christenson says that science can engage children across curricula and can build in a relevance to learning, as well as a cultural connection.

Christenson – a primary school teacher from Koraunui Primary School, Lower Hutt – is the recipient of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize.

When Education Aotearoa first caught up with Christenson she and her students were on a night field trip collecting baseline data in the Stokes Valley stream – which included counting invertebrates and measuring water quality as part of a freshwater project on the health of local streams. The school works in with other groups and councils to do this and has received some funding for this.

The stream has been modified for flood protection to stop flooding but part of the learning is about how you can live in an environment and create a balance for humans, animals and plants.

The cultural aspects of science are important too, she says. At her school – which has a whanau and Pasifika unit – they can access and develop the traditional stories and legends and bring these into the study of science.

“We can say – in order for our ancestors to migrate to New Zealand they had to have some of the skills we are teaching you – like being a great observer. The children see a link there and it opens a pathway – they think “well if my ancestors can do this, so can I’.”

Christianson is the curriculum leader for science at her school and is the first primary school teacher to win the $150,000 award.

Under her leadership, students at Koraunui School work in the garden, the river, the ocean and the kitchen, getting the opportunity to explore, take risks, get used to failure and have fun while they’re doing it.

Christianson had careers as a geologist and a farmer before training as a teacher 14 years ago.  She has been at Koraunui School for 12 years. Projects initiated by her have including having  beehives at the school, making and selling natural balms and creams, students building a shed to store garden tools, supporting the establishment of a school taro patch and cleaning rubbish from local waterways.

Dianne Christenson with Prime Minister Bill English. Photo by Mark Tantrum