Mussel biology workshops give students a taste of life as a scientist  

29 May 2023

It’s been an intensive two weeks at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park in Nelson with senior high school students donning lab coats and conducting their own experiments on mussels and spat.

A two-day, Level 3 Biology Workshop is offered to all secondary schools in Te Tauihu thanks to a collaboration between Cawthron, NZ Marine Studies Centre (Department of Marine Science at Otago University), Sanfords and NMIT Te Pūkenga. This supports students and teachers to complete work for NCEA Level 3 assessments.

This year has seen more than 60 students from Nelson College for Girls, Golden Bay High School, Kaikōura High School and Tapawera Area School complete the two-day programme, guided by tutors Steve Cutler, Glenis Paul and Rick Field.

Kaikōura High School student Zoe Boyce used the opportunity to run experiments on mussel feeding when they are exposed to different temperatures of seawater. This has relevance to identifying the best locations around Aotearoa New Zealand for growing mussels and the impacts of our changing climate.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Zoe. “It feels good to be working independently and feel like we’re doing something that’s smart and sciency.’’ Zoe is considering further study in health sciences at university when she leaves school.

Golden Bay High School student Alicia Anton said she could definitely imagine herself working in a laboratory following her experience in the workshop. “It’s my first time in a real lab. It’s fun.”

Her study involved monitoring the heart rate of spat in different environmental conditions. “I didn’t expect heartbeat and movement to be as connected as they were.’’

Kaikōura High School science teacher Jo Fissenden said the workshops were a highlight of their Year 13 biology curriculum, giving students the chance of one last school trip away before they moved on to the next stage in their lives.

“We love it because we’ve got nothing at home where they are doing anything that’s real science. They get here and feel like a real scientist.’’

The workshops had grown to be a lot more “slick” over the years. The zoom video lesson that tutors ran with classes prior to their arrival at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park was really useful to prepare students, she said.

Golden Bay teacher Mark MacKenzie said it was “a whole lot more enjoyable” for students to be in a properly designed wet lab environment, speaking with experts and seeing lots of working scientists and cool young people working in the field.

Students also got to tour SPATnz and had presentations from Cawthron and NMIT scientists while at the Aquaculture Park.

girl working by computer and microscope

Image: Cawthron Institute. Golden Bay student Alicia Anton works on her mussel biology project at Cawthron Aquaculture Park.

Students standing in front of algae bags

Image: Nelson College for Girls. Nelson College for Girls students touring SPATnz during their Year 13 Mussel Biology Workshop.

three tutors standing infront of whiteboard

Image: Cawthron Institute. 2023 Year 13 Mussel Biology Workshop tutors Rick Field, Steve Cutler and Glenis Paul.

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