When science teacher Andrea Tritton started hearing anti-vaccine theories in her class, she rejected the program for two weeks.
It was early 2021, before the Delta outbreak hit Auckland and plunged Hobsonville Point High School, like others across the city, into disruption for months.
A few junior students had started to voice concerns about the Pfizer vaccine, including the misrepresentation that mRNA vaccine alters DNA.
âI basically quit what I was going to do, and instead our whole class spent two weeks learning about vaccines, finding out what those conspiracy theories were and discussing them. “
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JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON / STUFF
House of Science provides ‘science kits’ to schools across New Zealand to promote science literacy
The class explored the question of how viruses work, what a vaccine is, beliefs and ethical issues regarding mandates.
Most of the conspiracy theories circulating had dissipated, Tritton said.
“I’m not trying to make students believe they believe something, but we have to provide them with a range of information and perspectives, and give them the tools to understand where the real science is here.”
For her, being a science teacher in a global pandemic has made the subject more relevant and cutting edge than ever.
Although changing, science was traditionally seen as an elitist subject, Tritton said, and that had excluded some people.
âYou have a bunch of people who haven’t done a lot of science in school, and they see that as something they’re out of touch with. “
There have been recent concerns about science scores in schools with Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores in 2018 showing a decline in science scores for 15-year-olds, and d ‘significant differences in results between the top 10% of students. science students and the poorest 10 percent.
Thirteen-year-old students had their worst math and science scores in the Trends study from the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), released in 2020.
But a test score may not reflect science literacy or students’ ability to think critically, teachers Thing spoke to say.
University of Waikato Honorary Fellow Alison Campbell created a biology blog for scholarship students, but she also now spends her time debunking the pseudoscience that is pouring into her inbox from others.
The science education expert said the wave of conspiracy theories was not just about what scientists knew, but also how people approach the influx of information presented to them.
People had to constantly check their own biases, to see if a study was peer-reviewed, if it was scientific consensus, or out of left field.
Teaching science at the ‘crucial’ start
House of Science chief executive Chris Duggan said teaching science earlier in life could prevent people from becoming uninformed adults.
There was a lack of science resources in primary schools and some teachers did not feel comfortable with the topic, she said. Although primary levels are supposed to teach science, this is not always applied.
The National Student Achievement Tracking Study, conducted by the University of Otago in 2017, found that only 20% of students were successful at the science curriculum level – the worst of all subjects.
âIt’s truly mind-boggling that this core area of ââthe curriculum isn’t taught well at all. “
The educational charity is providing science resource kits to 500 schools across the country, offered in Maori te reo and English, with topics such as forensics, environmental DNA, microorganisms and climate change .
Duggan said there was “a lack of scientific knowledge throughout the community, from young people to retirees.”
Students at Naenae Primary School recently used House of Science environmental DNA kits to study the water quality in the local stream.
Maani Te Hau, Vanessa Mill and Tamiah Samoa, who are part of the school’s Maori immersion unit, used the kits, which will be sent to a lab and the results revealing the life that crossed the stream.
Te Hau and Mill said math is their favorite subject, but science is also popular – and they enjoy learning more about the environment.
âWe don’t really know what’s in the water, so it’s good to know more,â Te Hau said.
“If we pollute the waterways animals will die or we will drink poor quality water,” she said.
Duggan said it was “crucial” that all young children had the chance to learn about science.
âBy the time the kids are 10, they’ve kind of decided what future career they can see themselves in. If they haven’t been exposed to science by then, it’s highly unlikely that they will follow. [that] career path.