The science education special interest group was established in 2011 and aims to foster quality research in areas relevant to science and pūtaiao education in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Our network welcomes policy makers, primary and secondary teachers, early career researchers, students and student-teachers, lecturers and scholars at universities, and other professionals with an interest in learning from science education research.

It is anticipated that participants will use the SIG as a means to connect and collaborate with colleagues from around the country and internationally. Within the SIG, our aim is to create opportunities to share research in a supportive environment in order to build research capacity and nurture emergent and early researchers in the sector.

The Science SIG promotes the growth and development of science education research as a critical and integral part of wider educational research and source of information for the sector. We encourage science education researchers to share and disseminate their work in science learning communities and to wider audiences.

2020 Convener: Simon Taylor


Executive members: Robyn Caygill and Carrie VanderZwaag


Science Education SIG activity 2022 - 2023

Members of the Science Education SIG collaborated to write a collection of papers for a special edition of the Assessment Matters journal. The collection had its genesis in developments and dilemmas that arise in the highly liminal space between curriculum and assessment. While assessment challenges were the focus, the science curriculum provided the context. Click here to view full information.


This symposium was hosted at Auckland University of Technology on the 30th September 2019.

Many thanks go to Jane Gilbert, Ally Bull and the team of presenters hosting the symposium event, and importantly creating the unique opportunity for participants to discuss the future of science education. It was a most stimulating day with diverse perspectives.

Thanks to Rosemary Hipkins who has compiled the following notes that bring together ideas from the symposium to explore: Post-normal science education: what might it look like?

Rose’s notes on the symposium

At the end of a busy day in which many different ideas were explored, everyone agreed that there was a need to process and share the ideas, and keep the conversation going. However, we ran out of time to agree on a specific process. I have picked up this challenge and distilled all the papers presented, along with what I was personally able to capture of the table conversations, to arrive at the summaries that follow. 

The ideas are presented as a series of inter-related conundrums to support ongoing debates. There are seven of them. No doubt others will think of more – or see some of them from different perspectives to me. I got some feedback to the notes, but not enough to say that the following represents a consensus view. A summary prepared by Ally Bull, written specifically for a teacher audience, can be found on the Science Learning Hub

Seven challenges in brief

Challenge 1: We need radical change in science education, not just tinkering at the edges. Specifically we need to urgently rethink the purpose(s) for school science learning.

The conundrum: How do we create the sense of urgency that will compel people to accept the need for change (and actually follow through by making changes)? How do we confront the “dragons of inaction”?  (a phrase used by Thomas when presenting his paper on climate change).

The opportunity: Is the moment now when climate change is beginning to cause many of us to rethink taken-for granted aspects of our lifestyles (but not nearly quickly enough) and enabling us to make critically informed changes?

Challenge 2: We need students to be/become complex systems thinkers

The conundrum: Could we inadvertently contribute to the impression that science is no more trustworthy than any other knowledge source, especially when we see many people falling back on false assurances for leaders who promise that the old certainties still hold, despite all evidence to the contrary?

The opportunity: If we follow a principled process to reduce science content while maintaining a focus on important “big ideas” we can make space for building systems thinking capabilities and awareness along with epistemic knowledge about science.

Challenge 3: We need to introduce a more robust epistemic element into science learning. One specific need is to keep the integrity of science in cross-disciplinary inquiries.

The conundrums:  There are three inter-interrelated conundrums here:

  • How can we build a stronger focus on epistemics when many secondary teachers lack the necessary expertise and experience, and feel most comfortable teaching the (safe) settled knowledge products of past science activities?
  • Is it realistic to expect primary teachers to have the disciplinary knowledge needed for epistemic conversations, when science is only one of the learning areas they must teach? (Can the model provided by the “science capabilities” help overcome this dilemma?)
  • At what stage of their schooling are young people developmentally ready for these sorts of conversations? How might we know?

The opportunity: the need for more/different PLD was a focus of table group conversations, with the science capabilities seen as providing one means of making some inroads into the challenges. How to “rebalance” epistemic and other aspects of science education could provide a productive focus for conversations about the need for change.  

Challenge 4: We need students to build an appreciation that they are part of the natural word, not separate from it, and all our actions have profound effects well beyond our imagining.

The conundrum: How can we counter the distancing effects of consumerism and urbanization that precludes meaningful encounters with natural environments for many students and when the traditional treatment of science knowledge (e.g. in textbooks, exams) “others” knowledge of natural phenomena?

The opportunity: New pedagogies such as Imaginative Education and teaching for complex systems thinking can help. This challenge also potentially provides an authentic way of bringing in indigenous knowledges into science education conversations (see next conundrum). 

Challenge 5: We need to be more respectful/humble about the contribution science can make to solving the complex dilemmas that confront us in the Anthropocene.

The conundrum: How can we respectfully draw on other knowledges, in particular indigenous knowledges, and specifically Mana ōrite mō te mātauranga Māori, in non-binary ways?  When worldviews clash (as will be inevitable) how to we better support epistemic conversations that help students to think about parallel ways of seeing the challenges, and to bring more flexible and open-minded thinking to bear?

The opportunity: we have already outlined the need for a greater emphasis on epistemic conversations (which was a strong thread through many of the papers). The next challenge provides another angle for this conversation.

Challenge 6: We need to shift to a more collectivist process for ethical and practical decision-making, so that individual persons do not need to be solo “filterers” of multiple and often-conflicting information inputs. 

The conundrum: How can we achieve this shift in an age of social media that is underpinned by neo-liberal assumptions of the primacy of the rational self-interested individual whose goal is to acquire more for themselves?

The opportunity: the need for a fundamental re-examination of the purposes of science education was a clear thread throughout the day.  An explicit focus on building capabilities for ethical thinking could also help. Knowledge-building pedagogies also have an explicit focus on building ideas in the spaces between individuals (but see also the final conundrum in this set).

Challenge 7: We need teachers to be actively experimenting with new pedagogical approaches, and to become skilled curriculum designers.

The conundrum: Teachers need to make pedagogies their own in order to be confident and responsive in using them, but how can we ensure they do so in ways that maintain fidelity to the intentions and ideas that underpin any specific approach?    

The opportunity: Several contributors described new pedagogical approaches such as learning through games, knowledge-building, imaginative education, integrated learning in contexts such as exploring socio-scientific issues. The research and experimentation is happening—our challenge might be to support and share these ideas in ways that encourage deeper thinking about purposes for learning in general, and using the specific strategy in focus in particular. That is, curriculum design thinking needs to be more explicit.


The symposium speakers are listed below. Hyperlinks are included where a paper has been posted to the NZARE website.  If there is no hyperlink, this means that the paper is probably undergoing further work for possible publication in an academic journal, but feel free to contact the author for a copy of the paper that was presented at the conference if you are interested.

Also check out the Science Learning Hub to access the summary of the day that has been written for a teacher audience.

Jane Gilbert: Re-balancing science education for the Anthropocene era.

Sally Birdsall: Re-envisaging science education: learning for an uncertain, complex future.   

Access Sally’s paper here

Rose Hipkins: “Platforming” the science curriculum: a strategy for reframing content.  

Access Rose’s paper here

Ally Bull: Re-imagining school science for the Anthropocene.

Access Ally's paper here

Michael Johnston (with Edit McIntosh): The role of epistemology in science education.

Kelly Price: Addressing misinformation and pseudoscience by fostering meta/macro thinking in school science.

Simon Taylor: Knowledge-building as a future focused pedagogy in science classes.  

Access Simon’s paper here

Thomas Everth: On the urgent need for a National Climate Science Education Initiative for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Siu Kit (Dennis) Yeung: Gamification for future-oriented science education.

Danielle Myburgh: The reality of the future focused science classroom.


SIG Meeting at Conference 2017

Robyn Caygill and Carrie Vander Zwaag were elected as co-convenors of the Science SIG.


Curriculum Matters article

Members of the Science SIG had a paper published in Curriculum Matters: “Towards a systems view of science education in New Zealand” (see Thanks to Cathy Buntting and Bronwen Cowie for organising and authoring this article

This article draws primarily on a policy discussion hosted by the New Zealand Association of Research in Education’s (NZARE) Science Special Interest Group at the 2016 national conference, arguing that an ecosystem view of science education is a useful metaphor when considering both what is being done to implement the vision for science education as articulated in The New Zealand Curriculum, and where some of the gaps continue to exist.

Input from Dayle Anderson, Ally Bull, Robyn Caygill, Rose Hipkins, Elaine Khoo, Victoria Metcalf, Azra Moeed, Kate Rice, Craig Rofe, Mira Peter, Georgina Stewart, and Carrie Vander Zwaag at the NZARE forum formed the basis of this work.


The Science SIG hosted the research strand of SCICON 2016, the bi-annual conference for science teachers in Lower Hutt, in July 2016. The collaboration with SCICON is intended to make the research-practice nexus more visible. The theme of the research strand, 'Shaking up science education' builds on the Conference Theme of 'Earth shattering science' and recognises the large number of individuals and groups involved in innovative research projects across New Zealand - from teaching inquiries undertaken by teachers in their own classrooms, to national initiatives seeking to inform science education and the Government's goal of a more scientifically engaged public. 


The SIG has also been represented on the  Science in Society Reference Group for the strategic plan, A Nation of Curious Minds: He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara, released on 29 July 2015. More information


July 2014. Otago Boys' High School, Dunedin (follows on from SciCon Conference)

The Science SIG hosted a day-long symposium in Dunedin on 9 July 2014 at the end of Scicon. The theme for the symposium was: Circuit breakers - rewiring science education.

The first part of the day included ten-minute presentations from a number of our colleagues within the science education research community. The second part of the day included a presentation by Angela Clemens from the MInistry of Education and Olivia Paterson from MBIE on the Science in Society Challenge. They willingly faced a wide range of questions, but were in the unenviable position of not being able to reveal changes to the Strategy that had been made subsequent to the consultation process. 

2013 Science SIG Symposium

Held Tuesday 26 November 2013 at University of Otago, College of Education, Dunedin

 Science education and science communication - learning from each other.

This year's hui took place in the context of broader socio-political discussion about the National Science Challenges.

Given that the focus in the 'science leadership challenge' is on STEM education AND science communication, the programme for the day included invited contributions from the field of science communication. The intention was that discussions during the hui will focus on what science education might learn from research in science communication.

May 2013

The science SIG hosted an afternoon’s discussion just prior to the annual conference of the Australasian Science Education Research Association (ASERA) in July 2013 in Wellington.