Teacher cast alongside ‘highfalutin’ scientists’

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When Wanaka Primary School teacher Sharon Pendlebury talks about science she shares a secret —she didn’t really enjoy science at school.
‘‘I didn’t see myself as someone connected to science at all’’.
Since then she has found great joy in teaching science toher young pupils.
In 2016 she was one of the teachers on The Royal Society of New Zealand’s science teaching leadership programme, spending time with scientists at The New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research in Clyde.
When she was first selected for the programme it was a daunting experience.
‘‘At the beginning, I remember just standing in the rooms at the Royal Society in Wellington feeling like a fraud.
‘‘I was thinking, ‘I’m just a primary school teacher. I’m not very good at science really, I just love teaching it.’.’’
Mrs Pendlebury shared her experience of being selected for the programme at an event in Wellington last month staged by non-profit organisation Story Collider, which features personal stories about science.
‘‘I was standing on stage with just a microphone, alongside a neuroscientist who lectures at Victoria University and a maths professor [who] lectures at Massey University and couple of others — all these highfalutin’ scientists and just little old me.’’
She linked her story of discovering her love of science to the transformation of a caterpillar to a moth.
‘‘I still felt like I was in a bit of a cocoon stage, really, in that I was still learning things and growing.’’
But she sees herself differently now, and one of the keys to unlocking science was finding connections to the local environment.
Pupils at Wanaka Primary School were involved in projects that linked science with their region, including research on water, and the relationship between ultraviolet intensity levels and temperature. Her 5-year-old pupils were ‘‘naturally curious, they are not afraid of making mistakes, they want to experiment, and they want to get hands on’’.
‘‘You don’t have to have all the answers to be good at science, or to encourage other people to be good at science.’’