PM’s Science Teacher Prize: Dr Angela Sharples

The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes were announced today, & among the winners was my good friend & colleague Angela Sharples, who was awarded the Science Teacher Prize. Angela & I have worked together to prepare NZ’s teams for the International Biology Olympiad since 2004, during which time I’ve seen first-hand just what a superb teacher she is, & how much time & effort, passion & care she gives to all her students. Lucky is the school that has Angela on its staff! Anyway, because I was one of Angela’s nominators & because it’s so important to recognise teaching excellence in all its forms, I thought I’d share some excerpts from her citations here 🙂

Over the years I have had many opportunities to watch Angela working with students, using a wide variety of teaching tools in effective lessons that are tailored to the needs of her students. For students aspiring to join New Zealand’s Biology Olympiad team this has included organising and administering on-line tutorials – the only way to reach students from up and down the country. Angela supports all her students to reach the high academic standards that she expects, modelling these standards in her own practice and actively encouraging questioning and critical thinking. .

Angela joined the staff of Rotorua Boys’ High School several years ago, when senior Biology class sizes had been dropping for some time, and turned this around. Interest and demand are such that the school now has L1 Biology classes, and the number of students achieving excellence grades in this subject has markedly increased. She has rewritten the senior Biology curriculum and also all the internal assessment tasks, and the fact that the moderators agreed with all teacher judgements reflects how well she performed this huge job.

She also directs the Accelerate & Curriculum Enrichment program at RBHS, with a number of new initiatives that are intended to inspire younger students to continue with their science studies in senior school: for example, a 3-day geology trip for the year 9 ACE students that takes them from Waiotapu to White Island, learning about plate tectonics and volcanism as they go. In another project Angela worked with SCION staff to develop an enquiry-based learning community project for ACE students, which allowed the boys to do field research and generate valuable data that contributed to the work of the Kokako Recovery Trust.
Angela also takes her senior Biology students on residential field trips to Leigh Marine Reserve and Tiritiri Matangi Island, and to the lab-and-lecture program we run for year 13 students at the University of Waikato. As one of the leaders of this program I can say that Angela’s sound curriculum advice has been invaluable in fine-tuning this program to the needs of those attending. In fact, she is enormously generous with help and advice, providing collegial support to teachers throughout the Rotorua region and beyond.
Angela is an amazingly passionate educator and donates a large amount of her time to fostering excellence in Science education in New Zealand both regionally and at a national level, often working late at night and through the weekend. Not only is she pivotal in the New Zealand International Biology Olympiad (NZIBO) and Chair of Science OlympiaNZ but she is also a member of the Biology Educators Association of New Zealand (BEANZ) Executive Committee and a National Marker. And in the Rotorua region she freely shares expertise with colleagues in other schools, as well as being the regional tutor for Scholarship Biology.
Angela has been involved with NZIBO since its inception in 2004. Initially she was in charge of examinations and the practical training camp, but she took over as Chair in 2007. The NZIBO programme reaches out to gifted and talented biology students around the country, although its effects are much broader than this. All students taking part in the NZIBO tutorial program gain learning and problem-solving skills (in additional to tertiary-level knowledge) that will stand them in good stead in future study.
This program culminates in the International Biology Olympiad, held in a different country each year. The Olympiad attracts a huge amount of attention overseas and the competition for medals is intense. New Zealand has won medals every year since first competing in 2005, and every year the medal tally has improved and the world rankings of New Zealand students have increased, with Jack Zhou winning New Zealand’s first ever Gold medal at the 2011 event in Taipei. The international success of these students is in no small part due to Angela’s development of the training and selection programme.
Angela herself is well known and respected amongst biologists around the world and has accompanied the team and sat on the international jury six times in the last seven years. (You can look at this programme in more detail at Angela gains a huge amount of pleasure from seeing our students do so well in such a significant international competition, and I know that she is most proud of the fact that the number of students participating in the NZIBO programme has grown every year, as has the number of schools choosing to enter students since she became Chair. She has moved NZIBO out of the initial development phase and into a secure, established phase, both financially and in terms of profile, that will ensure the secondary school biology students of New Zealand benefit from this programme for years to come.
She is also having an effect – not least through working with several Universities in delivering the NZIBO program – in improving engagement between the secondary and tertiary Biology sectors. I find that her willingness to share knowledge and experiences in successful secondary teaching has had an impact on delivery of the first-year biology programs that I coordinate, with the very positive spin-off of enhancing our ability to bridge students into the next phase of their education. For this reason alone I regard her as a leader in education in this country, and for this and all the other reasons detailed above, I very strongly support her nomination for the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher’s Award.
Angela, I just don’t know how you find the time to do all this – but I’m enormously grateful that you do! And I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you as we begin the build-up to New Zealand’s hosting of the 2014 International Biology Olympiad.


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