Teacher becomes big cheese

A Tararua teacher knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to hand-crafting halloumi, blue cheese, brie, camembert, manchego and mozzarella - and she plans to teach her students.

Tararua College head of science Nicki Harding is one of 11 secondary school teachers selected by The Royal Society of New Zealand to undertake a scientific investigation through its Endeavour Teacher Fellowship.

The fellowship's focus is to provide educators with an opportunity to enhance their teaching, and their students' learning, through tackling a research task.

Harding is half-way through her two-term project developing a pilot plant for artisan and small-scale cheese production.

She is working alongside Massey University Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health senior dairy technology lecturer Rod Bennett.

Harding, who has a bachelors degree in zoology and a masters in wildlife management, said it was nice to have a break from the classroom to try something new.

"You get to do all that professional reading that you don't have a lot of time to do when you're running around at school," she said.

"The one thing I have found different is when you're at school you're doing a million and one things at a time and here there's some space to focus."

As well as visiting commercial cheese manufacturing companies and artisan outfits, she has been involved in trialling and developing different cheese technology equipment and production techniques, including making manchego - a Spanish sheep's milk cheese. "It's neat to be in those type of artisan cheese places and learning the skills as well - it's great to read about it, but being able to do it is a whole other thing," she said.

After taking an evening class in cheesemaking years ago, Harding said her interest was sparked about the science and how it could be applied to teaching school-aged students.

Yesterday she worked on an easy recipe for making halloumi which her year 11 students could master in a food technology class, including a step-by-step video.

Learning the details of how to make cheese, and the science behind it, means she's been able to develop practical and useful teaching protocols to use in the classroom. "I have a lot of different ideas of what I want to do, and not just with science, but with the department and school," she said.

The fellowship sees her take part in professional development programmes, including week-long leadership courses.

Royal Society of New Zealand public engagement manger Richard Meylan said the aim was to take excellent teachers and give them up-to-date knowledge and experiences that could translate to the classroom.

Manawatu Standard