In May 2009, I visited Otago University and met with 3 scientists who had expressed an interest in getting involved with the Science Learning Hub. They each told me the story of their research, and straight away, a collection of resources about conserving some of our most unique and endangered animals started to take shape.
The scientists and their research
Dr Phil Bishop is passionate about frogs and their conservation. His research into metabolic bone disease and chytrid fungus is both interesting and cutting-edge. I thought his story would appeal to students, in particular his purpose-built frog tanning salons used to treat a bone disease affecting our native frogs.
Associate Professor Alison Cree has been working with reptiles and amphibians since she was a student. Her research focuses on the reproductive and thermal biology of reptiles. This sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but the ideas behind it are quite easy for students to understand and relate to basic life processes. For example, one of the projects she led investigated whether the temperatures in Otago would be too cold to establish a new population of tuatara.
Dr Kelly Hare works predominantly with skinks in captivity. She is trying to find out which conditions produce the healthiest individuals for future translocations. I thought her research techniques would be interesting for students, especially as one of her projects involves chasing skinks down a reptile racetrack in order to find out how fast they can run.
These 3 scientists are also actively involved with Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a 370-hectare mainland island 20 minutes’ drive from Dunedin. Predator-proof sanctuaries are a key part of conservation efforts in New Zealand and also found all over the country. I thought including Orokonui in the context would therefore appeal to students who may have visited other ecosanctuaries.
When writing this context, I focused on 2 main underlying themes:
- What makes our native reptiles and amphibians unique and why are they so endangered?
- What is the actual science behind efforts to save them?
The articles that look at the science ideas and concepts provide more information about the key ideas explored in the research stories:
- Threats to native reptiles and amphibians
- Captive management for conservation
- Conservation rankings
When writing the student activities for this context, I worked with a primary school teacher to create a varied set of activities, for example, a hands-on activity where students create a lizard-friendly habitat, an interactive Venn diagram comparing skinks and geckos that can be used on an interactive whiteboard and a physically active simulation for the whole class where students take on the role of a native frog, native bird or introduced mammal.
This context supports NZ Curriculum levels 3–4:
- Nature of Science: participating and contributing. Use their growing science knowledge when considering issues of concern to them. Explore various aspects of an issue and make decisions about possible actions.
- Living World: life processes. Recognise that there are life processes common to all living things and that these occur in different ways.
- Living World: ecology. Explain how living things are suited to their particular habitat and how they respond to environmental changes, both natural and human-induced.
- Living World: evolution. Explore how the groups of living things we have in the world have changed over long periods of time and appreciate that some living things in New Zealand are quite different from living things in other areas of the world.