Re­search a les­son for teacher

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

An in­ner-city sci­ence teacher is look­ing for­ward to head­ing back to the class­room af­ter spend­ing two terms bat­tling a dev­as­tat­ing to­mato pest.

Bar­bara Lowther has spent the last few months test­ing meth­ods of bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol of the psyl­lid, oth­er­wise known as the jump­ing­plant louse, un­der the Pri­mary Sci­ence Teacher Fel­low scheme ad­min­is­tered by the Royal So­ci­ety of New Zealand.

The scheme has taken Mrs Lowther from her class­room at St Joseph’s School in Grey Lynn to a lab­o­ra­tory in Ta­maki where she joined a team of re­searchers look­ing at the dam­age done to plants by the tiny louse.

The psyl­lid af­fects widely com­mer­cially grown veg­eta­bles like potato, to­mato, cap­sicum and egg­plant by in­ject­ing a bac­te­rial pathogen and lit­er­ally suck­ing the life out of the plant.

As part of her re­search Mrs Lowther in­ves­ti­gated po­ten­tial bi­o­log­i­cal con­trols of the pest as an alternative to in­sec­ti­cides that are cur­rently used.

‘‘Peo­ple think you can spray it and walk away, but you are in­tro­duc­ing chem­i­cals to the ground and on to the plants and there are con­trols al­ready in na­ture that you can use – you just need to find them.’’

Her role in the project is wind­ing up this week but Mrs Lowther says she is ex­cited about shar­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence with the en­thu­si­as­tic stu­dents at St Joseph’s next year.

‘‘Not only have I been look­ing at the psyl­lid which causes a lot of dam­age to plants and is a mil­lion dol­lar prob­lem, but I’ve also been look­ing at en­vi­roschools and that’s what I want to take back.

‘‘I can’t take the psyl­lid back but I can take back the knowl­edge about in­ves­ti­gat­ing and re­search­ing.’’

Mrs Lowther was one of 13 pri­mary school teach­ers from across Auck­land who were awarded the fel­low­ship this year.

The scheme be­gan in 2009 with the aim of de­vel­op­ing teach­ers into sci­ence cur­ricu­lum lead­ers, Richard Mey­lan of the Royal So­ci­ety of NZ says. ‘‘We hope the ex­pe­ri­ences the teach­ers have dur­ing their fel- low­ships will have a long last­ing pos­i­tive ef­fect on sci­ence teach­ing in th­ese pri­mary schools.’’

Mrs Lowther says she is pleased about the push for sci­ence through pri­mary schools. ‘‘You want kids to be cu­ri­ous and in­ves­ti­gate and try and find the an­swers – and know what they are talk­ing about.’’

Pho­tos: DANIELLE STREET

Branch­ing out: Sci­ence teacher Bar­bara Lowther has been re­search­ing the psyl­lid louse as part of a fel­low­ship pro­gramme. In­set: The psyl­lid louse has a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on to­mato plants and other re­lated va­ri­eties.

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