Omata School deputy principal Pat Murphy is back in the classroom this week after spending the past six months scouring the slopes of Mt Taranaki as part of a science fellowship.
Mr Murphy, who has been teaching for 35 years, said the Primary Science Teacher Fellowship he did with the Department of Conservation was amazing.
“You are walking around from Holly Hut to the display centre on a beautiful fine day – that is just a great experience that I’m being paid to enjoy,” he said.
“Of course there is also the downside, when there is snow on the mountain and weather conditions aren’t pleasant, and only the truly committed people are out doing their job.”
The fellowship, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand. It is designed to allow teachers to work alongside professionals doing science-driven work and take back their experiences to the classroom.
Mr Murphy worked alongside the Department of Conservation’s Taranaki biodiversity assets supervisor, Emily King.
“It has been a real privilege to be there because one of the things that I have learnt is that the people at DOC are very passionate and dedicated.”
Mr Murphy said one of the most fascinating projects he had witnessed involved the plant Melicytus drucei, found only on Mt Taranaki.
“It’s a rare plant that is only found . . . around the edges of the Ahukawakawa swamp up on the mountain. It’s unbelievable really, but it’s the only place that it has ever been identified.”
He also worked on the endangered Dactylanthus taylorii, which is reliant on host plants for nutrients and has nectar-rich flowers that are like lollies to possums.
Stainless steel cages are to be placed over the plants to keep out possums, which pluck the flower at the root.
Mr Murphy said he had learnt how to operate a GIS mapping system, logged different species of plants, searched for Maui’s dolphin and helped with fish surveys.
“I’m going back into my classroom motivated to do new things, change our slant on science and get the children engaged, and encourage them to be interested in science.”
This article was published in The Taranaki Daily News on Wednesday July 31, 2013