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Richard Hendra’s six months as a plant biologist

Bay of Plenty teacher Richard Hendra now has a better understanding of how science is done and what it’s like to be a scientist.

Bay of Plenty teacher Richard Hendra took part in the Science Teaching Leadership Programme in 2015, working in a Plant & Food Research lab.

“A day in the life of a scientist is very varied and involves many different skills. Scientists are innovative, creative and need to solve problems while collaborating with many other scientists,” he says.

Why did you work at Plant & Food?

The Science Teaching Leadership Programme is set up so teachers can work alongside scientists and take part in real research projects. It’s then a natural step to take that experience back to the classroom to benefit the students, and take a lead in science at our schools as well. I also built some great relationships with the local science community.

What projects were you involved in?

I worked on kiwifruit and avocado primarily. One project investigated how water moves through kiwifruit vines that have been grafted onto different root systems. We took samples of the sap during the day and used data loggers to measure the pressure inside the plant.

The second project was studying avocado – why so few of the flowers turn into fruit. We were also interested in why trees can produce heavy crops one year but a lot less the following year. Some people think that the amount of water available to the plant and how cold it gets overnight may be causes for this pattern, but we wanted to find out more.

What was one interesting thing you learned?

It was good to work in a commercial lab on crops that are important to our region. What I was researching was directly relevant to the growers that are basically outside our door.

I definitely have a better idea of how science works in the real world now. I learned what it takes to collect and analyse the data you need to make decisions. Small research-based changes can make a big difference to the productivity of an industry or how well it can stand up to a disease outbreak.

Where do you work?

My role is Teacher in Charge of Biology at Tauranga Girls' College.

How has working at Plant & Food changed how you work with students?

Of course the reality is that not all my students will become scientists – many of them may not study science beyond Year 11. But I hope that when they finish their formal education my students can look at a story in the media and have enough background in science to question if it’s correct or not.

These days I give out less content but push students harder to look at things in different ways. I also begin with a practical activity more often. The other day we made different fizzy drinks then looked at the science behind it. I asked students to come up with a question, such as what tests could we use to find the best one.

More information

The Science Teaching Leadership Programme is a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funded Curious Minds initiative, managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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Science Teaching Leadership Programme

The Science Teaching Leadership Programme is a Curious Minds initiative that places science teachers alongside scientists to gain hands-on experience of how science works in the real world. Teachers return to the classroom to lead improved science teaching and learning in their schools. Find out more


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