Research a lesson for teacher
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.’’
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.