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The Gardens School - Chris van Tonder

2023 | Ecosystem monitoring with AUT’s ‘Living Labs’ programme.


Name: Chris van Tonder

School: The Gardens School

Host: Auckland University of Technology Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, School of Science 

Region: South Auckland

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The Gardens School is participating in the Science Teaching Leadership Programme to develop school wide programmes that will equip their students with the necessary skills and knowledge to become future leaders in the field of science. Through the creation of a Living Labs enviro programme at Tōtara and learning within their school garden, TGS wants to use authentic science experiences to drive their WINGS learning values for all their students.

This will give them the opportunity to engage in hands-on science learning, collaborate with peers and experts, and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, the implementation of a more structured science programme will hopefully help boys develop their literacy skills indirectly, by encouraging them to read and write about science-related topics.

Chris has a passion for all areas of science and loves to apply science to ‘Big Idea’ projects - be it building catapults; sculpting elephant toothpaste volcanoes; or dimming lights using pencils! He not only does this because it’s great fun, but also to foster the same love for science in his students. Chris strives to bring alive the extraordinary science of the seemingly ordinary things and processes all around us. He has opted to participate in the Science Teaching Leadership Programme without reservation because he views the programme as a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire new skills, as well as refining existing skills, to achieve his goal of igniting a passion for authentic, meaningful science for both students and teachers.

Chris’ placement will have him participate in AUT’s School of Science’s Living Labs programme, where he will participate in ecosystem monitoring at their three restoration sites – Te Muri, Pourewa and Pūkorokoro. His involvement with the programme will include opportunities to work with students and faculty staff, attending undergraduate and post- graduate lectures and laboratories, participation in field and lab based research, and interacting with students and researchers in academia. A large component of Chris’ placement will see him contribute towards collecting data at the three restoration sites to monitor key ecological indicators such as: water quality; soil health; biodiversity; and invasive species.

While placed in the Living Labs programme, Chris aims to acquire the knowledge, insight and skills needed to run a smaller version of Living Labs back at school, where students can participate in ecosystem monitoring at their local school garden and Tōtara park. He has already made valuable connections at AUT that have opened the door to potential future collaboration between TGS students and AUT’s Living Labs programme. He views his placement as an excellent vehicle to help drive a science programme back at school that: links with what real scientists are doing now in Tāmaki Makaurau; creates an authentic local/school science curriculum; highlights the important environmental issues that need to

be addressed now; and allows for students to-do hands on, meaningful science. Chris wishes to not only help foster the development of our future scientists, but also to produce scientifically literate citizens, capable of critically engaging with current and future global issues.