PM’s science teacher of the year makes science fun!

science teacher

A teacher in a Catholic secondary school is the 2022 Prime Minister’s Science Prize science teacher of the year.

Dr Doug Walker​ is Head of Science at St Patrick’s College, Wellington.

He won one of five prizes awarded to top emerging and established researchers, science communicators and educators.

Walker’s teaching approach is varied and fun. It has seen increasing numbers of pupils continuing with science during his 11 years at St Pat’s.

The number of senior students taking science has increased 60 percent, with more achieving UE each year.

“It is great to see a lot more akonga (students) pursuing science and getting excited by it,” Walker said.

When he noticed that many lower achieving students at his school were dropping science from year 11, he made changes.

He introduced new general science subjects and a pathway to study and gain UE science in 2017.

That involved developing a new general science course.

He also collaborates with other organisations such as Wellington Zoo, Te Papa and NIWA. This way he brings science out of the classroom and into real life.

Experimental fun

Hands-on experiments, exciting demonstrations and getting students involved in making predictions are the cornerstones of Walker’s science teaching philosophy.

As president of the New Zealand Association of Science Educators, he has built a large following for his online videos. These showcase explosive experiments and NCEA exam paper tutorials.

He said making science hands-on with practical experiments and a little competition helped to engage students.

“I get a real kick out of developing new demonstrations in my spare time and building toys that will help engage students with their learning.”

He’ll be donating the Science Teacher Prize – valued at $150,000 – to St Pat’s. It will go towards buying new learning equipment for his school, as well as visiting other kura to learn from them.

Science teacher shortage concerning

Walker is concerned about science education in general, however.

He’s the president of the New Zealand Association of Science Educators.

Schools across New Zealand have faced a consistent shortage of physics and chemistry teachers, he says.

“Over the last two years, it’s certainly been harder than ever to recruit good science teachers. While it’s always been a challenge, it’s been more so in the last two years.”

It stems in part to the salary options for science graduates in New Zealand who could go into lucrative engineering or medical careers.

Walker says he’s heard of schools re-advertising for positions multiple times, asking retired teachers to come back for a term, or putting in non-specialist teachers, say a maths or biology teacher, to fill the gaps.

“You see the lack of consistency coming through in results, very detrimentally.”


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News category: New Zealand.

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