A Canterbury teacher who believes every student deserves a champion and is devoted to sharing her research and knowledge with other teachers around the country, has won the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize. 

Dr Michelle Dalrymple, Mathematics and Statistics Faculty Head at Cashmere High School in Christchurch, uses engaging and novel ways to connect her students and other teachers into mathematics and statistics.

Dr Dalrymple’s nomination for the prize says her teaching stands out because it is strongly based on cutting-edge mathematics and statistics education research, while maintaining originality, creativity, and fun with strategies that are relevant and inspiring for her students.

It says Dr Dalrymple continually strengthens her pedagogy using best evidence from research and shares her expertise to grow the skills of her team and teachers in Canterbury and throughout New Zealand with her popular workshops.

Dr Dalrymple says a fundamental part of her teaching is incorporating whanaungatanga, or teaching through relationships.

“It’s so important that students feel safe and cared for and trust me, and know that I will never give up on them and I want them to achieve the very best they can.  I can’t expect them to take risks to make mistakes and push themselves unless that relationship has been formed.”

While Dr Dalrymple is passionate about the “beauty and excitement of maths and stats”, she acknowledges it’s not everyone’s favourite subject and for students who struggle it’s important to find ways to build learner confidence.

“We want our students to be mathematically and statistically literate so that they gain the knowledge to make good decisions in life.  It’s also really important they have an experience in our classes that allows them to realise they can do maths.”

Dr Dalrymple incorporates examples from everyday life in her teaching and says maths technology programmes designed to engage students are very successful “to get them talking about maths and seeing things in a different way.”

“With statistics the power is in being able to tell the stories in and behind the data so quickly and easily with technology.”

Her dogs are even involved in exercises like random sampling by video, which has been a hit with her students and on her blog which she shares on social media.

“The students enjoy it, they get hooked in with humour and quirk and real applications. We’re just starting to see how much technology can add value in the classroom in so many different ways.”

Dr Dalrymple says she takes inspiration from late educator Rita Pierson whose mantra was that every child deserves a teacher that won’t give up on them. Her team regularly reflects on this and the importance of the balance between having fun and building relationships while working in the curriculum.

Dr Dalrymple says it’s important for her to keep learning and innovating.  “I love being inspired in lots of different ways. I listen to podcasts, read blogs and enjoy watching other teachers teach and going to workshops.

“I am always looking for new ways to do things and for cool examples that I need to capture and bring in and discuss with my students.”

She has bought overseas mathematics experts to New Zealand, runs training workshops and visits other schools to share her knowledge, shares her blog and regularly networks with other teachers in the field.

Dr Dalrymple has been the recipient of two fellowships, including the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s Endeavour Teacher Fellowship in 2014. She is affiliated to several national and international mathematics teacher bodies and on the International Data Science in Schools Project.

The Endeavour Teacher Fellowship opportunity, now called the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, came after the Christchurch earthquakes which badly damaged Cashmere High School and impacted on the community.  “I was coming off a pretty tough few years here.  I was able to have reflection and refresh time to think about my leadership, my pedagogy and do a lot of learning. It was an amazing opportunity.”

Dr Dalrymple says it is an incredible honour to be the first mathematics and statistic teacher to have won a Prime Minister’s Teacher Science prize.

The $150,000 prize will go towards the rebuild of Cashmere High School’s mathematics and statistics block. “I will be working with our principal and our board to ensure we make some good decisions to use the money to help improve students’ outcomes in maths and stats at Cashmere.”