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Barbara Ryan

Barbara Ryan
Hillcrest Normal, Hamilton
School Level
Middle primary
Number of years teaching

Curriculum area in which you teach biotechnology

Science and Technology

Favourite aspect of teaching biotechnology

Biotechnology is developing and evolving all the time in the real world. Over the last 10 years, in particular, many exciting new and innovative developments have been made in this area. Students are amazed by latest developments and it is fun to share and explore the latest findings with them.

Most successful biotechnology teaching activity

This year I have helped some teachers teach a unit that I wrote on automatic milking systems (AMS) for 7 and 8 year old children. First, the students had to have a clear understanding of current dairy trends. Part of this included visiting a dairy farm. Then they were amazed to learn that AMS farms don’t need people to milk the cows; that the cows milk themselves. The students learned about cow behaviour and how the training of the cows is an important part of the technology of AMS. The resource material, which includes a focus story and video clips, is on the Hub and is called Robotic Milking. For this level, the teachers showed the video clips through a data projector to the whole class and included lots of class discussion. The children were then given a scenario where they had to build a model of their own automatic milking farm. The models, made from cardboard boxes with tooth picks for fencing, were very impressive. The children’s work and knowledge at the end of the unit also impressed Dexcel scientists (who manage the only AMS farm in NZ — the Greenfield Project).

Favourite biotechnology teaching contexts

I have enjoyed exploring robotic milking with young children. I have also enjoyed looking at aspects of biocontrol - possums, the clover root weevil and using endophyte in ryegrass to ward off grass eating insects. Nutrigenomics (Health and Food) is also an interesting topic to explore.

Biotechnology contexts to investigate further

I am always keen to know about any new developments in biotechnology. I know there are a lot of things in the pipeline, and little snippets often come through in the news items on the Hub. I like finding out about health benefits and was interested to find out that a healthy sugar and sweetner alternative is being worked on (developed from Chinese fruit). Probiotics is also another recent area of interest, where ingested friendly bacteria will act to maintain a healthy intestinal tract and help fight illness and disease. Issues of health are relevant to students, particularly in light of the obesity problem in school children that the Government has highlighted in the last few years.

Favourite biotechnology resources

I have used the biotech resources on the Biotech Learning Hub both in a classroom context and in teaching via video conference. I used the Hub to become familiar with biotechnology contexts which I then introduced in teaching. For example, for a video conference with 11-12year olds, three of us presented a topic called Body Invaders. I talked about the biocontrol of possums, while the others explored xenotransplantation and positive bacteria (BLIS) used for healing sore throats. We used the resources on the Hub for our own content knowledge and then presented with some play acting using masks and other props and artifacts that we’d made.

I am also aware that places like AgResearch are an excellent resource for current investigations. At some stage I would like to teach a unit on the biocontrol of the clover root weevil and I know AgResearch would like to be involved. AgResearch could help with current information and setting up clover root weevil colonies. Doing this unit could also help them because the children’s investigations could inform AgResearch as to how far a parasitiod wasp (controlling the clover root weevil) has spread.

Links with the biotechnology community

I am currently a New Zealand Science, Mathematics & Technology Teacher Fellow. I have visited Dexcel's Automatic Milking System farm and was subsequently involved in writing the Robotic milking focus story. Other industries I have spent time in were AgResearch and HortResearch (now called Plant & Food Research). As mentioned above, I was involved in biocontrol in AgResearch. I learned about the biocontrol of the clover root weevil; how a parasitiod wasp has been introduced into NZ to kill the Clover root weevil. It is an interesting story and one that could easily be incorporated into a classroom programme which AgResearch would be happy to help with. I intend to put a unit and story about this on the Hub. I also spent time looking at the biocontrol of ryegrass eating insects and wrote a story - Amazing ryegrass. At HortResearch I worked with scientists in the new area of nutrigenomics. I helped them to separate out the components of kiwi fruit. These components will eventually be tested on genes. The end result is that people will know what food is benefical (or not) to them personally. It could lead to tailor-made diets for optimum health. Any of these stories are ones that I could and will share with children as teachable units.


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