Connecting the world through science

If your kids are studying science, it’s likely they’ll be learning at a high school level from someone trained by adjunct professor at the Wellington Faculty of Education, Dr Azra Moeed.

Indian woman wearing a navy cloak with orange flowers, with skulls of animals in a cabinet behind
In 2016, Dr Moeed won an Ako Aotearoa Award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching for her teaching skill. In 2020, she became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to science education and the community.

She is proud to say she has trained 386 secondary science teachers, 70 of whom are still teaching in greater Wellington, and who she is still in touch with.

Dr Moeed came to New Zealand in 1975, and through a wide range of roles, she has taught science to children and adults of all ages, from 2.5 years old to her age, which she remarks is “considerable”.

“When I came to New Zealand, the most fascinating thing for me was that everyone knew some science. Whether it was the lady who made the tea in the tea room, the farmer, or the farmhand putting up fences, they all knew and could apply science,” she says.

She joined the Wellington College of Education , which later merged with the Faculty of Education, in 2000 where she was involved in primary and secondary science teacher education.

“After 46 years of teaching, my philosophy is you must care about the children or students and care about their learning. The age of the learner doesn’t matter. If you care about them, you will look after their wellbeing, their emotional, social needs, and their cognitive needs. You will take care of that person.

“And if you care about their learning, you will plan well, you will teach well, you will support well, and you will assess well. I am grateful to the University for letting me be the teacher I have always been.”

One of her past student teachers, Richie Miller, works now at Newlands College along with a number of other Te Herenga Waka alumni who went through Dr Moeed’s course. He agrees that building relationships with your students is extremely important, saying, “Azra is the teacher that makes you feel as though she is the relative you never knew you had.”

Dr Moeed has been pushing for changes in the way science is taught since completing her PhD research into the links between learning, motivation, and internal assessment in year 11. Her research found what is not assessed is not taught, leading to her conclusion, “assessment should only ever come before learning in the dictionary, and nowhere else.”

She says, “It has taken 10 years for a change to NCEA to happen. The first thing they did was redo the achievement standards—then they decided to reset the curriculum.

“I’m very hopeful about the curriculum realignment. People will hopefully realise assessment matters, but learning matters a bit more.”

Dr Moeed hopes, though, that as the Ministry refreshes the Curriculum, they don’t get lost trying to fight over what is knowledge. “I spent six years in a Te Kura Kaupapa school researching science education from a mātauranga Māori perspective. And what I learned there was the importance of connectedness. Māori look for connection in everything. And with what has happened with assessment, that connectedness in the discipline of science has been lost. And that’s huge.

“If you are going to be a science teacher, you have to think about a connected world.”

Mr Miller currently works with Dr Moeed and others on a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project (led by Dr Cathal Doyle from the Wellington School of Business and Government) that researches the use of online citizen science projects within the science curriculum. “Azra’s consistent motivation has challenged me to create what she would call ‘hands on, minds on’ experiences.

“Azra is a champion of looking to the local environment and community to promote student engagement in science. During my teacher training, Azra first seeded the idea of learning science through a traditional Māori hāngī. Newlands College now has an annual hāngī as part of their Level 1 NCEA curriculum.”

Another of Dr Moeed’s former students, Matt Easterbrook, is the current Head of Biology at Burnside High School in Christchurch. He says, “Azra’s influence on my teaching practice has been huge. Her research-based approach to teaching and learning has stuck with me throughout my career. Her practical approach to teaching that allows students to learn science through engaging lessons is one key aspect of teaching that has stuck with me. We need more Azra’s in this world.”

Dr Moeed has recently signed a publication agreement for a book of stories from her teaching career, which will come out later this year. Its working title is ‘Kia ora, Precious Jewels.’