STEM teachers learn and network at UC

An exciting Professional Day for STEM teachers at UC attracts over 70 secondary school teachers from South Island high schools.


An exciting Professional Day for STEM teachers hosted by the University of Canterbury on 12 Nov, 2019, attracted over 70 secondary school teachers from South Island high schools.

It’s so important to facilitate collaborations and ongoing communications with local school teachers. Education is a critical part of our jobs as University academics, and school teachers are our colleagues and partners in this space. Their passion for their subjects feeds directly into their impressive work with students. Our relationships with teachers provide great opportunities for UC students to interact more with schools in our community, and grow as people.

UC’s Colleges of Engineering; Science; and Education, Health and Human Development jointly created a professional development programme showcasing the interdisciplinary nature of UC subjects, with several choices to suit particular areas of interest. This Professional Day for STEM Teachers was organised with input from teachers and academics alike, which is partly what made it such a successful event. 

Key outcomes

  • Sharing new ideas for STEM teachers to take back to their students
  • Providing opportunities to network and meet with UC staff
  • Growing and developing relationships within our community of educators

Keynote session

Alexia Hilbertidou (GirlBoss NZ) set the scene with an excellent keynote session. In her talk, Alexia challenged the status quo of girls in STEM education, emphasising the work we need to do to improve the poor STEM enrolment figures for girls at a tertiary level particularly in computer science.

“Alexia was inspiring! Such a relevant keynote speaker to have and strong links between schools and tertiary education… We need to work on the disconnect between the two levels.”  

Panel discussion

A panel of UC academics discussed a range of issues on how to engage students in STEM learning. These included how to maintain engagement and interest in the classroom, the benefits of interdisciplinary learning, and how to support students who might not be academically prepared for the classes they are in.

The panel featured Associate Professor Ben Kennedy (School of Earth and Environment), Professor Tim Bell (Computer Science and Software Engineering), and Associate Professor Sara Tolbert (School of Teacher Education), facilitated by Dr Chris Astall (School of Teacher Education).

Workshop sessions

Interactive workshop sessions in a selection of topics ran concurrently through the day, covering topics like:

  • How New Zealand native plants interact with contaminants in our waterways, and their potential to improve water quality and economic outcomes for landowners
  • Investigating photosynthesis using encapsulated algae
  • The Design Cube Challenge, using design to come up with innovative product solutions for various people and settings
  • Studying erosion processes using various physical simulation models and exploring modern survey methods (such as drones and LIDAR)
  • Applications of data science, machine learning and AI for automating systems
  • Exploring the functional parts of a solar-powered electric vehicle in a manner that includes core theory aspects of NCEA Physics 3.6
  • Medical physics and medicinal chemistry, emphasising the health sector and the development of new sustainable therapies within a socially responsible context
  • Vacuum forming and 3D printing made for the classroom
  • Virtual fieldtrips on earthquakes, a hands-on demonstrations of natural hazards for classrooms and the interactive cross-disciplinary role-play game Magma drillers save Planet Earth

Participants enjoyed breaks between workshop sessions for lunch and afternoon tea. The day finished with a networking drinks session with participants and UC Staff: a great way to discuss activities of the day, connect and cross-pollinate ideas. 


At the end of the day, we were stoked to hear some great feedback from those who attended:

A fantastic initiative. Loved the cross-disciplinary nature of the day… Great to network with teachers from across the spectrum too!
Burnside High School

It was great to see so many UC staff and really loved the food/drinks that were offered to us. It was also so cool to see UC be so supportive of allowing us to bring students in to see the facilities and they gave us lots of lesson ideas which is exactly what I hoped for!
Haeata Community Campus

Overall a very worthwhile day! It was quality PD.
Timaru Boys’ High School

A huge thanks to everyone involved in giving up their time and expertise in making this a productive day for all who attended.
Riccarton High School

Thank you; a day of great content and tone.
Christchurch Boys’ High School

Thanks to all our participants for making the Professional Day for STEM Teachers 2019 a great success! We are looking forward to hosting the event in 2020: watch our Outreach page and Facebook for updates. For any enquiries, get in touch with us at