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Science education

NZCER has considerable expertise in science education. Our work programmes in the last decade have spanned assessment resource/test development, and research-based curriculum support. They include the following:

Science Curriculum Support

This 2011-2013 programme of work comprised three MOE-funded projects which were focused on: science curriculum implementation; science community engagement; and e-learning opportunities in science. The research and resource development was carried out in partnership with the University of Waikato and Learning Media. The conceptualisation and design of five Science Capabilities for Citizenship was a significant output. (Other outputs are listed at the bottom of this page.)

Assessment Resource Banks (ARBS)

A large bank of science items has been developed over several decades. They have a focus on assessment for learning and provide feedback to teachers about potential next learning steps for students. The most recently added items are online and have student response functionality. Current work is focused on linking these to the science capabilities.

National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA)

This work is undertaken in partnership with the University of Otago. The NZCER science team took responsibility for the conceptual design of the most recent round of assessment in science, which had a focus on science capabilities. The primary output is a report to MOE that documents patterns of student achievement in science at year 4 and year 8. The team has also drawn on the data base to produce two additional reports: Insights for Teachers; and Science in the New Zealand Curriculum: Understanding progress from levels 2-4.

The NMSSA team is currently developing an online assessment tool to support school-based curriculum inquiry in science at years 7 and 8. The tool allows schools to investigate how their students achieve on items that are similar to those used in the NMSSA science assessment. Reporting associated with the new tool will provide diagnostic information and next steps to inform programme design. The tool will be made available on the ARB website.

Science Thinking with Evidence (STwE)

There are two science assessment resources in NZCER’s collection of standardised assessment resources. Junior Science Thinking with Evidence is designed for students in years 4-6 and is an online resource. Science Thinking with Evidence is for students in years 7-10. There are both paper and online versions. The junior resources are the most recently developed and have an explicit focus on assessment of science capabilities.

Science Engagement Survey

The Science Engagement Survey is a free online tool to help teachers find out how students perceive their science learning in class. There are two versions of the survey: one for Years 0 to 4 and one for Years 5 to 10. The team envisaged that this tool would be withdrawn once Junior Science: Thinking with Evidence was published but popular demand to keep it going resulted in a commitment to maintain its availability.

Revision of the Tokelau Curriculum in Science

In partnership with Kahu Education and Evaluation Associates, this project is aligning science in the Tokelau Curriculum with the New Zealand Curriculum. Big ideas in science, the Nature of Science strand, and the contextual stands of the New Zealand Curriculum are all being integrated into descriptions of student learning and progression at each year level. At senior levels, there is also a focus on assessment, and emerging developments in the review of NCEA. 

Related research

A new book about Teaching for Complex Systems Thinking will be published in mid- 2021. It is not exclusively about science, but includes many science examples. A free preliminary publication is available here.

Outputs from the science curriculum support projects (2011-2013)

Other initiatives to support the main work programme have included:

Recent Science education research publications

Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins, Sara Tolbert, Bronwen Cowie, Pauline Waiti
Research report - 2022
Author(s): Ally Bull

This report comes from an exploratory project looking at professional learning and development for primary science teachers.

Research report - 2016
Author(s): Ally Bull

Science capabilities are a set of ideas for teachers to think with about science education. This paper explores what student progress  in developing capabilities might look like and draws on student responses from a small research project with students from Years 1-10.

Research report - 2015
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad, Chris Joyce and Rosemary Hipkins

This  2015 report updates the findings from a large multi-method study of environmental education in New Zealand schools, done in 2002-2004. The update report will be of interest to schools and environmental education providers and stakeholders who support schools.



Research report - 2015
Author(s): Chris Joyce

This is a presentation by Chris Joyce which draws on data from the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) 2012 science assessments. The study assesses 2000 students at Year 4 and Year 8 level. The presentations explores what the assessors found and what the findings mean for teachers and students.

Conference presentation - 2015
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad, Cathy Buntting

This discussion document was developed in 2013 to support teachers and others to engage with findings from the e-in-science research project, carried out by the University of Waikato and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research under contract to the Ministry of Education.

Professional learning resource - 2013

This is a summary of the main points from the discussion sessions at the NZCER conference: Building future-oriented science education in Aotearoa New Zealand, held in October 2014.

Conference proceedings - 2014
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad

This presentation explores the range and nature of partnerships that are occurring between schools and the science community.

Conference presentation - 2014
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins and Chris Joyce

This is a summary of a  presentation given at the NZCER's future-oriented science education conference in October. Rosemary Hipkins and Chris Joyce draw on a number of resources to showcase some of the science education work going on to support schools around the country.

Conference presentation - 2014
Author(s): Sabina Cleary

This is a presentation on science PLD, given by Sabina Cleary of the University of Canterbury at the Building future-oriented science education in Aotearoa New Zealand conference in October 2014.

Conference presentation - 2014
Author(s): Ally Bull

This was the keynote presentation given by NZCER senior researcher Ally Bull at the NZCER conference, Building future-oriented science education in Aotearoa New Zealand, held in Wellington on 21 October 2014.

Conference presentation - 2014
Author(s): Ally Bull

This paper explores the issues around professional learning and development (PLD) for science and makes suggestions for a rethink of PLD approaches to science in primary schools.

Paper - 2014
Author(s): Jane Gilbert and Ally Bull

This paper makes the case for deep and radical change to New Zealand's approach to science education. It discusses the implications of recent science education research and policy work, and argues New Zealand still has a long way to go to developing a future-oriented science education system.  It explores what needs to change and contains suggestions for some first steps.

Research report - 2013
Reflecting on purposes for learning science
Author(s): Lorraine Spiller and Rosemary Hipkins
Research report - 2013
e-in-science: Future-oriented science learning
Author(s): Cathy Buntting and Rachel Bolstad
Research report - 2013
 e-in-science: Developing innovation
Author(s): Cathy Buntting with Bill MacIntyre, Garry Falloon, Graeme Cosslett and Mike Forret
Research report - 2012
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad & Ally Bull with Sally Carson, Jane Gilbert, Bill MacIntyre, and Lorraine Spiller
Research report - 2013
Author(s): Jane Gilbert

School science, the ‘smart’ economy, ‘networked’ science and ‘wicked’ problems: Is there a connection? Should there be? In this article in NZ Science Teacher, NZCER chief researcher Jane Gilbert explores changes to the work of being a scientist (and to the world of work generally). The article is available here.

Journal article - 2012
e-in-science: Scoping the possibilities
Author(s): Cathy Buntting
Research report - 2012
Science community engagement with schools
Author(s): Ally Bull with Rachel Bolstad and Lorraine Spiller
Research report - 2012
Curriculum support in science
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins and Edith Hodgen
Research report - 2012
Author(s): Jessica Hutchings, Katrina Taupo and Alex Barnes

Te Wāhanga has been working with the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR) on a project about future food technologies and Māori well-being. It explored the question of how can dialogue with diverse Māori communities suport sustainable decision-making on future food technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, sustainable agriculture and functional foods. Working with kaupapa Māori principles, we interviewed Māori scientists, government workers and whānau.

We produced a four page brochure on the findings from the project (which can be downloaded below). This research is part of a wider project called Coming to the table, Sustainable decision-making for future food technologies. 

Research summary - 2012
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad, Magdalene Lin
Research summary - 2010
Author(s): Ally Bull, Chris Joyce and Lorraine Spiller
Working paper - 2011
Author(s): Miles Barker, Rosemary Hipkins and Rex Bartholomew

This paper explores what a focus on the Key Competencies might mean for the learning area of science.

Research report - 2004
Book chapter - 2003
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins, Ally Bull, and Chris Joyce
Journal article - 2008
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins
Journal article - 2009
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins and Natasha Kenneally
Conference paper - 2003
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins
Conference paper - 2002
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad and Rosemary Hipkins
Conference paper - 2005
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins and Natasha Kenneally
Research report - 2003
Author(s): Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Baker, R., Jones, A., Barker, M., Bell, B., Coll, R., Cooper, B., Forret, M., Harlow, A., Taylor, I., France, B., and Haigh, M.
Literature review - 2002
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins, Josie Roberts, Rachel Bolstad, and Hilary Ferral
Research report - 2006
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad and Rosemary Hipkins
Research report - 2008
Author(s): Jane Gilbert, Rosemary Hipkins, and Garrick Cooper
Conference paper - 2005
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins
Conference paper - 2002
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad and Rosemary Hipkins
Research report - 2003
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad and Rose Hipkins
Research report - 2004
Author(s): Rachel Bolstad, Bronwyn Cowie, Chris Eames, Miles Baker, Paul Keown, Richard Edwards, Richard Coll and Neil Rogers
Research report - 2004
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins, Wendy Stockwell, Rachel Bolstad and Robyn Baker
Research report - 2002
Author(s): Ally Bull

This report sets out to both inform NZCER’s ongoing work in the area and to contribute to a wider debate about how primary science education in New Zealand might best be strengthened. We describe what we think quality primary science education looks like, and suggest some strategies through which this could be achieved.

Research report - 2011
Author(s): A. Bull, J. Gilbert, H. Barwick, R. Hipkins, and R. Baker

Research report - 2010
Author(s): Rosemary Hipkins

Journal article - 2010