I’ve been thinking….

Friday, August 30th, 2019 | Wendy Dunn | No Comments

Actually it starts with listening, thinking, reading and then some more thinking. The nature of Science learning! This year I have had the luxury of having the opportunity to listen to the radio while I am working. I find my ears prick up and I tune in when an interesting science item comes on. Radio New Zealand is my frequency of choice. Even if it’s not yours it is well worth dipping into for anyone with an interest in keeping up with the latest Science news. They are easy listening and many of the programmes and interviews are available as podcasts (see below). The RNZ website is easy to search and there is a RNZ App if you like to listen while on the move.
Here are a few recent items that you might find interesting.

A very ugly lamb

A rare lamb was born in Rotorua that is basically bald – a lamb without wool. What would happen to this genetic rarity in the wild?bald lamb






The Mosquito.  Our deadliest predator and a fascinating discussion about Sickle cell.


Professor Timothy Winegard of Colorado Mesa University talks about the impact of the mosquito – the deadly diseases it carries have killed as many as 50 million people. One such disease is malaria. Individuals with the genetic condition sickle cell anaemia have resistance to malaria.
I found the section on American Football players who had sickle cell anaemia dying, or, coming close to dying, after pushing their body to the limit, particularly interesting. The deformed cells cannot carry enough oxygen and clog the blood supply to the muscles and tissue leading to tissue death and potentially a heart attack. Those of you who follow sport know that playing sport at high altitude, where there is less oxygen, is difficult and when players with sickle cell take to the field they are particularly vulnerable. This happens when the American Football players with sickle cell play at high altitude meaning they have to take precautions.
How did such a harmful condition end up being selected for?
Since the average age of a person with sickle cell is 23, there is enough opportunity for this trait to have been passed on before the person succumbs to the condition. It persists too because this mutant gene gave an evolutionary advantage against malaria (which must have been a strong selection pressure).

Read more here:


Ernest Rutherford

Head shot of Ernest Rutherford

Source: Wikimedia Commons


NZ Biography of the Kiwi who split the atom 100 years ago. This book was written by Dr John Campbell, a NZ physicist himself. This link takes you to the written and audio version of the interview with Dr Campbell. . A must for physics and chemistry students!



Tales from the Periodic Table

If you haven’t been following this series check it out!  Different angles on the periodic table.


and `Elemental’


The `most boring chemical element’  is a great article that highlights some of the quirky sides of the periodic table.


Lord of the Rings Fans

Peter Jackson was inspired by the black tunnel web spider of NZ when creating the spider Shelob in the movie trilogy.

close up of black tunnel web spider

Source: Te Papa


Nicola Toki of DOC has a weekly RNZ radio spot  `Critter of the Week’ that focuses on a NZ species.

Podcasts on the other species can be found here:



The Power of the Pause and Other Presenting Tips!

Friday, May 31st, 2019 | Wendy Dunn | No Comments

Most people find it daunting to make a presentation and speak in public.

This is why Toastmasters is such a popular organisation around the world. I have gathered some tips from both Toastmaster publications and members from the club I attend along with my experience in the classroom to help you out.

People join Toastmasters at all ages. They also come from all walks of life and for different reasons. Basically we are all “life long learners” – whether you are giving a speech at a wedding, managing a meeting at work or presenting your research at school or university there are many common elements of an effective and engaging presentation. For some it is overcoming Glossophobia – a fear of public speaking. For some they aren’t afraid of it – they just want to keep getting better at it!
Here are some tips on what to do and what to avoid:


✔ Have a good structure:

A strong introduction that outlines say three things you will cover. The audience can follow that and when you recap in the conclusion they feel like they have heard  the complete package.

✔ Make it memorable and real.

How can you do this – especially with a science focus? Turn it into a story that  makes it personal.

✔ Make it enjoyable for you and them!

✔ Include humour, anecdotes, body language, and props.    

This engages your audience and helps them remember it.

✔ Give your listeners some useful information they can take away with them

✔ Be enthusiastic without waffling. Be clear, concise and brief.

✔ Look at your audience – make eye contact!


X   Having detailed notes

You will get lost and start “umming” and “aaahing”.

X   Reading a script or reading off a PowerPoint word for word.

 If you have simple ideas and pictures on a PowerPoint (if you have one) or on a  card they should act as a prompt. If you read it tends to be monotonal and not engaging for the audience. The more you practice the more familiar you get  with the content.

       X   Using fillers such as “um”, “ah”, “er”, “you know”, “and”, “but”.

Practice your speech in front of someone and just get them to tally up how  often you use these terms. Using these terms devalues the rest of what you really want  the audience to hear. Just pause. Relax, take a calm breath. Slow down. It is so  powerful!

      X  Clasping your hands.

What do you do with your hands? Get someone to observe your practice and notice  this and give you feedback. What could you do instead?  Having your hands  by your side is a more open gesture.

Toastmasters have a great range of resources. Here is one on better speaking that has been republished many times over the years and while you are there check out being a better listener and more!

Past blogs that you might find useful about different aspects of presenting are:

Engaging the audience 

Once upon a time

Welcome everybody! – Some musings on introductions:

Eureka Trust Science Speech Competition resource links

TED’s secret to great public speaking

Graphic source: www.acc.ligfl.ru

Engaging Students in Science

Thursday, March 21st, 2019 | Wendy Dunn | No Comments

As a teacher it’s always great to get a few more ideas or to be reminded of some techniques you have used in the past but have dropped off the radar.

Don’t forget to model your interest in trialling new techniques and your own enthusiasm for the content. It is infectious!

So what is engagement and what does it look like?  How do you know someone  2 students by microscope in labis engaged?

Engagement is expressed via:

  • Asking and answering questions (a sign of curiosity)
  • Willingness to participate in learning activities (rather than passively being spoon fed)
  • Completion of tasks including reading and writing tasks both individually and in groups
  • Meeting deadlines, completion of problem solving tasks, and participation in discussion

Cultivating a thriving classroom atmosphere also relies on relationships within that classroom although that is not the focus of this blog.  We know that once this culture is created students are more likely to take risks and let’s face it risk taking is essential in science – the willingness to try something new, often fail and learn from this.

An example of testability of the scientific method in the cultural context from NZ Science Teacher

Similarities: Both Indigenous Knowledge and Empirical Science involve repeated practical tests and are based on the “test of time”. Pasifika people were able to make repeat voyages.

Differences: The principle difference is that tests of IK largely involve trial and error, while ES tests are ideally conducted in a laboratory/in the field with strict control of variables.

Giving opportunities for choice can increase engagement:

  • What variables do they want to control in an experiment? (see examples below)
  • What current event do they want to present to the class?
  • What element of the periodic table do they want to research?

Using topics students are passionate becomes a great context for teaching Science content.

e.g. Climate Change.  Many students took to the streets to take part in a global student strike in March 2019.

Juniors look at elements, compounds, states of matter, the water cycle and atmosphere.  Sources of carbon dioxide, methane and then problem solving – What action can they take as individuals, a class, a school, community that makes a difference?  Perhaps use Tony Ryan’s Thinking Keys for some ideas on how to extend exploration with engaging activities.

Seniors you could explore the importance of variation within a changing environment.  Already we are seeing evidence of some species living at higher latitudes and altitudes.  Which species/groups of organisms are more vulnerable to the rapid environmental change?

Whatever strategies we employ for Maori and Pasifika students will also benefit other students. This excellent NZ Science teacher article has more detail.  Below are some of their contextual examples.

Essentially, using relevant contexts will make science education more appropriate.  The areas of environment including ecology, medical and pharmaceutical knowledge along with genetic modification are key areas for Maori. There are, of course, many other applications in the Science Curriculum.

Examples from NZ Science Teacher:

  • Investigate colour differences in flax varieties and the influence of soil, climate, disease, and pests
  • Investigate time taken for yogurt to “go off”. Variables include temperature, flavour and brand.
  • Discuss cultural weapons and how they were used when discussing ‘force and energy’

Try to remember to get the students involved in preparation of activities rather than passively participating – e.g. writing quiz questions, not just doing a quiz.  Practicals, group work and activities that require problem solving and critical thinking are crucial.  Include some movement where possible.

Employing differentiation strategies (e.g. Jigsaw) allows you to group by learning style, Learning Map Theory graphicor topic or simply a chance for students to take ownership of their knowledge by becoming familiar with it and teaching others, often several times. This repetition is key along with reciprocal learning and teaching.  If catering to learning styles then different presentation styles can be employed.

What else?

  • Think, pair, share
  • Flash cards
  • Science facts in cards: sort into piles: I know, I sort of know, I didn’t know. Do at start and end of topic.  Do on own or in pairs – discuss and explain your understanding or lack of for each fact.  What do you have in common?  Where do you differ?
  • Word games to help with Scientific symbols and terminology: Hangman, Pictionary, Bingo, Scrabble, Odd One Out, Charades, and online versions e.g. Kahoot and Quizlet
  • Word parts: Lots of scientific terms can be broken down. Students get 2-3 parts that they have to match up along with a definition, e.g. Prefix = Photo (light), Synth (make), isis (process).  Helps them identify new terms in the future.  Students can relate to other languages.
  • Supply terms which students must place in order (e.g. smallest to largest: cell, tissue, organ, organism) either as cards on desk/board OR they hold them up and arrange themselves in order. Then make sentences linking terms or explaining the relationship with examples.
  • Online Science Games. Try this or this NZ site – don’t underestimate how even some of the simple ones are actually very useful to a range of ages and abilities
  • Use of Aps in the classroom. Students can explore cells, use light meters.  I like this one
  • Students identify and share good science feeds to follow on Twitter
  • Analyse a movie for its scientific accuracy. Check out 10 STEM ones here (first few are for younger viewers but the supporting ideas are good for the others)
  • Field trips, Virtual Science fieldtrips and practical work
  • Thinking maps to link between concepts. There are also sites students can create online
  • Write learning objectives as questions at the start of the lesson. Draw attention to them so that students know what is happening and why this strategy will help their learning.  Check understanding with students answering questions at the end.

Another article in NZ Science Teacher focuses on Physics.  It gives a strategy to enable structured explanations as DELA (Define, Explain, Link, Answer the question).

“The student must not imagine physics as a process of ‘finding the correct formula to use, rather they must experience the need to understand physics”.

Whakataukī (proverbs) are a key part of Māori culture.

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei.

Aim for the highest cloud so that if you miss it, you will hit a lofty mountain

Try creating a proverb for some aspect of science e.g.  ‘He who gains speed most quickly will have the greatest acceleration.’

Further Reading

Wendy Dunn  Bsc.DipTchg
Science Teaching Co-ordinator