An unusual food plight known as Zebra Chip Disease has helped offer a unique insight into the scientific world for a Tauranga teacher.
Richard Hendra, from Tauranga Girls' College, will head back to the classroom having spent the last two terms of 2015 working alongside scientists at Plant and Food Research in Te Puke learning more about what scientists do.
Mr Hendra was one of 12 teachers from schools around New Zealand completing phase one of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme. The programme arranges for teachers to work alongside scientists to gain a deeper understanding of New Zealand's overarching science curriculum strand, called the Nature of Science, as well as undertaking leadership training.
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"I had an expectation of working on just one project but in reality I worked on lots of different things, including learning about a threat to potato crops that can drastically reduce yield called Zebra Chip Disease," Mr Hendra said. "It also causes chips to go a dark stripey colour when fried."
During Mr Hendra's time at Plant and Food he also researched whether water availability and temperature had an effect on the flowering of avocado plants.
A day in the life of a scientist is very varied and involves many different skills. Scientists are innovative, creative and they need to solve problems while collaborating with many other scientists on a day-to-day basis.
Mr Hendra learned that the avocado flowers had both functional male and female organs.
"I spent a lot of time tagging flowers and on the intricate task of collecting ovaries from flowers."
In addition to learning much more about plant physiology, Mr Hendra also now had a much better idea of just what a scientist did.
"A day in the life of a scientist is very varied and involves many different skills. Scientists are innovative, creative and they need to solve problems while collaborating with many other scientists on a day-to-day basis. On top of that, scientists have to write reports and also chase funding for their research," he said.
Mr Hendra said he was looking forward to getting back to his school and students and putting what he had learnt into action.
Mr Hendra and the other teachers will begin phase two of the programme, which involves working with students, staff and their local communities to improve science teaching and learning.
An integral part of being selected for the programme was that schools or science departments and their nominated teacher committed to science being a major professional learning focus, where the quality of science teaching and learning was significantly enhanced.
Minister of Science and Innovation Steven Joyce launched the programme early last year and it is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.