Teacher bases winning ways on developing curious minds

The winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize is Carol Brieseman, a primary school teacher at Hampton Hill School, Tawa, Wellington.

A Wellington primary school teacher, who has won the 2018 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize, says igniting students’ natural curiosity and inspiring them to constantly question events around them is key to their life-long learning success.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented Carol Brieseman, of Hampton Hill School in Tawa, with the prize at a ceremony in Wellington. It awards $100,000 to the school and Brieseman receives $50,000.

“I love tapping into kids’ curiosity. There is an untainted awe about the world that kids display and I love being able to nurture this. It’s so important for them to be able to make scientifically-informed decisions at this age, and right through life,” Brieseman says.

Brieseman’s Year five and six students know that there is no such thing as a dumb question and if their teacher doesn’t know the answer, they can work it out together, ensuring the richer the questions, the deeper the understanding.

“If a child doesn’t understand something, it is not their fault and I just need to find a different way of explaining the concept,” Brieseman says.

“The key to enthusing them is smart planning, picking up on activities or events that they are interested in and knowing the curriculum really well.”

Brieseman says one topic can be integrated into all aspects of the curriculum, using discussion to promote oral language, testing and research to develop science capabilities, report writing to improve literacy and gathering data for use in statistical investigations to feed into maths.

“Children gain confidence in so many learning areas by doing a hands-on science experiment. For some, when they improve academically and experience success, we are not having to manage their behaviour because they’re engaged in learning.

“I encourage them to think like a scientist—gather evidence, develop opinions, observe, predict and remain curious.”

It is vital, Brieseman says, to build relationships with kids and let them know how much you care, along with helping them understand the world around them so they can make critical decisions and choices based on knowledge.

Brieseman has 30 years teaching experience. Her interest in science was further enhanced when she won a Primary Science Teacher Fellowship to study with crown research institute NIWA for six months, which included time on a research ship in the Southern Ocean. She developed an education programme based on Argo floats, which measure the temperature, salinity and velocity of the ocean. She incorporates Cartesian diver experiments to demonstrate the principle of buoyancy and has developed a website relating to Argo floats. As a result of this work, Brieseman was invited to present educational workshops in France.

She has also been involved in an initiative through Victoria University of Wellington looking at how Online Citizen Science projects can be used to help students engage with real-life science, is a member of the Capital City Science Educators group to support science teachers and educators, and the National Primary Science Teacher group.

Brieseman supports and mentors teachers at Hampton Hill and other schools. Her science experiments at staff social events create fun amongst her colleagues and give them simple ideas for their classrooms, making the learning accessible to all students. The science challenge evenings for the school community that Brieseman devised are a highlight of the annual Science Week activities.

Other initiatives instigated by Brieseman include the installation of solar panels, a school vegetable garden with worm farms, compost bins and student-designed water tanks, a green-house made from recycled bottles, a human sundial and a five senses garden. An area of land that was previously out-of-bounds has now been opened up with a bush walk through the native trees, with weta hotels and insect boxes.

It is likely all Tawa schools will benefit from Brieseman’s win. School principal, Kelly Barker, says Hampton Hill could use the $100,000 for its own necessary resources but she plans to use some of it to share Carol’s knowledge to grow science capabilities across the Kahui Ako or cluster of schools in Tawa.

Tawa has six primary schools that contribute to one intermediate and one secondary school.

“I want her to be able to share her effective practices across all schools so we can see consistency in our kids going into the next stage of their education. She is a real taonga treasure that we need to share, she is an amazing resource, to grow science capabilities,” Barker says.

“Across the school her contribution is invaluable. Carol has completely changed the way we think about our curriculum and has contributed to the change in the way we teach and learn at our school.”