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Nurturing scientifically literate citizens

If the goal is to nurture scientifically literate citizens, what do teachers need to do to help make this happen?

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In 2015, 32 schools across the North Island accessed Primary Science Professional Learning and Development (PLD) in order to develop teacher confidence and capability in the teaching of science. The intention was that teachers and students would develop science-specific ways of working and thinking. The PLD consisted of two strands:

  • in-depth model with facilitators working individually with primary schools supporting their science education professional learning and development
  • cluster model which offered groups of teachers a workshop series and online support as part of disseminating the information about the Science Capability Framework.

As a result of the PLD, students and teachers confirmed the variety and frequency of science learning opportunities has greatly increased. The increase in the incidences of science being taught contributed to teachers developing more clarity about what progress in science looks like when the Nature of Science is the focus.

Who was better off?

As a result of the PLD, students and teachers confirmed the variety and frequency of science learning opportunities has greatly increased. The increase in the incidences of science being taught contributed to teachers developing more clarity about what progress in science looks like when the Nature of Science is the focus. 


Most schools acknowledged the importance of having senior leadership and principals attending and participating in the PLD. Senior leadership in 67% of schools were more aware of teacher strengths in science and were working to identify ways of capitalising on this in-house strength.


Highly effective teachers were identified as those who understood and made provisions for engaging priority learners, and who trialled approaches that address diverse needs. These teachers also demonstrated sound science content and pedagogical knowledge, and planning their reflected the Nature of Science. Highly effective teachers also saw the need to move from content-driven assessment to assessing the development of Science Capabilities.

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Teachers explore critique and sense making in easy-to-provide experiences

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Animated discussion as teachers discuss potential explanations of observations

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Teachers get down to observe coloured cold water on top of salty water

There was an increase in reported instances of 'hands-on' learning opportunities for students rather than teacher demonstration or knowledge acquisition. As one teacher observed, Hands-on experiences help with language development, helping students to be able to articulate ideas and provide a framework for thinking. We find students have more to say and write.

Instances of science being taught 2015

A comparison of Time 1 to Time 2 teacher data shows:


  • 267% increase in teachers reporting that they provide opportunities for students to learn about how science works


  • 132% increase in teachers reporting that students talk together in science – asking each other questions and explaining their ideas


  • 99% increase in teachers reporting that they ask students to explain their thinking in science.



As well as increased opportunities to learn in science, schools also reported that student voice is more acknowledged and used in planning for science. They also reported more student talk, questioning and hands-on/minds-on engagement during science learning activities. Teachers are now more likely to act on student wonderings and encourage the sharing of ideas through student inquiry.

Students attitudes 2015

A comparison of Time 1 to Time 2 student data shows:

  • 81% increase of students reporting that, in class, they do lots of science


  • 55% increase of students reporting that, in class, they often talk about what science is

Challenges recognised

Sustainable improvements in terms of science content and pedagogical knowledge for individual teachers takes time. Barriers to sustainable improvement in science education include:

  • Leaders and teachers limited knowledge and understanding of the purpose of science in NZC
  • Teachers limited of understanding of the Nature of Science strand
  • Low levels of investment in PLD resulting in lost impetus and coherence
  • high staff turnover, particularly in senior management
  • limited resourcing including the provision of time for PLD and science teaching and learning


Learning talk: Opportunities for students to talk are really important. They need time to talk their way to understanding and making sense of the world. Teachers report that in-class modelling is great for them to see the importance and value of this student talk. Facilitators offer ideas to teachers of how to make this talk visible through a range of digital platforms and tools that enable sharing beyond the walls of the classroom.

Schools coming together: As we move forward into Communities of Learning (CoL), opportunities will be sought to work in transparent ways across groups. Online communities are seen as a step along the way. The Science Happening Community website is a way of sharing ideas, and of modelling a scientific disposition, explicitly identifying opportunities from daily life to engage in: I notice, I think, I wonder. This offers teachers a chance to see what it means to have a scientific disposition and judging from the number of views (more than 20,000), teachers are noticing. More on-going conversations between teachers have been mentored in the VLN groups spaces.

Science Google website

Where to from here?

The development of cluster models to provide individual teacher PLD in science, and the development of ways of working with networks of schools will become an integral part of the Primary Science PLD.

On reflection

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The identification of progress in science has been greatly supported by the use of the New Zealand Council for Education Research’s (NZCER) paper, Capabilities for living and lifelong learning: What’s science got to do with it? Resources such as, NZCER Library of experiences and Science Capabilities (TKI) are also being used by schools to identify next steps for teaching and for students.

How do we know we are nurturing scientifically literate citizens? When students were asked, “why science learning instead of Googling it” their responses were, If you just do it on Google, it’s not science because you haven’t learned anything you’re just telling them and You can do it on your own... if they just tell you it it’s not science, you’re just been told the answer; if you do it you can find out the answer for yourself.

For more impact see the infographic data for 2015 and more for information visit the Science in Primary Schools page or contact Anne Barker.