Member profile - Zachary Robertson

Part of my professional life was spent as an educator, a teacher. While my teaching career was in the tertiary sector, I can still recall being a student, enduring the 700 years I spent in High School. At least it felt like that. The improvement of teaching techniques has always been a source of interest to me, and I often read articles about teaching innovations, techniques for greater classroom engagement or improved learning environments. For example, I am currently enamoured with something called Kahn Academy, an innovative, free online teaching method which turns traditional classroom teaching on its head. I am always looking for ways to create those “incredible teaching moments”, which I hope students will recall, long after the lesson is over.
What was always elusive was a reliable method of measuring the end product. In setting up courses we focused on lesson plans, technical terminology and required concepts for exams. We measured teaching success mainly through test scores, future job or university placements or what percentage of the students ended up in prison. Easy metrics to compile, but not why many professional teachers got into the business in the first place. We wanted to inspire an interest in our topic and foster a passion for learning, as well as have them pick up skills useful for a lifetime. I am not sure how often we accomplished that goal.
The Australasian Fishes project has done bio blurbs of project participants who were/are High School students, such as Georgia Poyner and Yann Kemper. The reason I find these young naturalists so inspiring was they demonstrated a passion for nature, and a thirst for more knowledge. Something I so wanted to inspire in my students. While writing the Bios, I enjoyed their palpable enthusiasm for the project and for science. They appear to find great joy in the natural environment and were self-motivated to constantly learn more about it. In many cases, while their passions are supported by family, they often used a more solitary approach, spending more time exploring the natural environment and less time in front of screens then their typical peers. This month’s bio blurb, is about Zachary Robertson @fiestykakapo, a High School student in Auckland, New Zealand, who is passionate about nature. He has contributed substantially to iNaturalist and Australasian Fishes, submitting over 1,200 observations for iNat and has recorded an impressive 12,824 identifications. He is ranked 15th in Australasian Fishes in identifications, assisting in 5,373 IDs.
Zach outlines his passion for nature by saying, “I have always seemed to have an interest in nature, at a very young age it was marine and as I got older, my interest in NZ birds grew lots. My focus again started to shift when I got involved with Auckland Council about a new population of rare giant kokopu. I found it with my brother in our local stream (sadly the population in the stream no longer exists).”
Fortunately (for us), he was eventually introduced to iNaturalist software by his mother, who recognised his self-motivated passion to learn and thought the program might continue to nurture his interests. It proved to be a further catalyst, fanning his interest in nature. Upon being shown iNat, Zach recalls, “I uploaded my first observations, some marine things. My interest in marine life was revived as I realised how little species I actually knew, so after some research on how to use iNat, I started adding some IDs. I purchased ‘Collins field guide to the New Zealand seashore. After a year or two, I have become addicted to adding ID’s and Observations. Only recently I have started photographing and learning about insects, birds and plants. My main focus is still in marine biology, my time is mainly divided on my mood, but typically will research marine until I get bored, then will switch to something else to entertain me. I work completely alone, beside my parents who take me to beaches etc … but I have met up with a fellow young iNat user from Auckland which has been good fun.”
In order to reach such an impressive number identifications Zach has the discipline to invest significant time for citizen science. He examines fish images 2-3 times a day but sometimes more often. He says, “I love it when users add heaps of images that I can go through and identify. I am kept interested by unusual/rare observations, and what information I can gain out of pictures, then to be able to find the species myself.” This should be rewarding for those in the project who submit images, knowing they are not only advancing the citizen science of the project, but also promoting the passion of some of the younger project participants.
Zach reminds me of the importance of developing an engaging and memorable educational highlight as a teaching tool. This is evident from his appreciation of iNaturalist from the perspective of a student and his recognition that it is a living science project. He participates in other nature projects, mostly marine based (marine reserve projects, marine eggs, etc.). He enjoys the fact he can “meet” other interested citizen scientists. He says, “I love iNat for the reason that no matter who you are, or where you are from you can connect with other people with things you are interested in and enjoy. Clinton Duffy (@clinton) has been a huge help for me, in tips on identifying and finding fish, as well as other advice. I would suggest new people on iNat should use the explore page to help them get familiar with particular species, and should ask heaps of questions. (Note: I must be very annoying for Clinton because I always ask him questions, but it helps me learn extremely well)”. Don’t worry, Zach, many of us are indebted to Clinton Duffy for his assistance and support of the project.
Zach is getting more and more interested in photography, and he uses the ever-popular Olympus TG-6. He says, “It works extremely well for rockpools as it is small, light and can fit in small rockpools, plus it is waterproof so no extra accessories needed. I personally struggle taking pictures of moving fish when snorkelling so have asked others for help (which I have gotten). I would totally recommend the TG-6 but after every use of water it should be rinsed and cleaned. I have forgotten a few times which has led to salt build up and can cause the zoom button to be faulty.” It seems he is learning about photography as well as marine fish.
Zach can still recall what it was like to be a beginner in the iNaturalist universe. He encourages others to join the group, but knows it is not easy in early engagements with the project, as you are in a world of experts, which can be intimidating. Zach says, “Advice I would give to novice users would be to ask questions, I personally love it when new users ask me what influenced my ID, so I suggest that new users do it as well. Sometimes IDs can be complicated and articles can be shoved in your direction, and being relatively new/unexperienced it can be hard to understand documents and articles. When I come across an article, I try to break them down and do my own research. For developing ID skills I read lots of books, when I finished a book I would head to the reference section, and get some more books from the library. Once IDing lots, I became familiar with certain species and it became lots easier, but I still struggle with some groups but it is ok to struggle as it is more to learn.”
Students like Zach are very inspirational to those interested in education. We suspect he will continue his education beyond High School, as he is thinking about going to Uni in New Zealand. He notes that is still two or three years away. In the meantime, he continues his formal education by taking extension sciences, maths and geography courses, and his informal education through the iNaturalist community. It is highly likely Zach will be engaged in sciences during his tertiary education. As educators, we strive during our professional careers to create significant, pivotal learning moments for our students. Moments when a special, life-long passion or interest is sparked and which would guide their professional interests for many years. Such moments are rare, however, through projects like Australasian Fishes, and the network of people who support our project, we see an example in Zach, where a student’s natural interest in nature can be fanned and fostered by citizen science. They appear to love learning and develop the skills to find answers to their own questions. They will learn how to access world experts, both professional and citizen scientists. A great skill developed from a simple enquiry, such as “What fish is that?”. Who knows, through projects like Australasian Fishes, students can develop a lifelong pursuit for the preservation and protection of nature. Well done Zach.
For those interested in creating such inspirational moments for education and work, I'd recommend an excellent book on this subject, The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted by markmcg markmcg, February 21, 2022 01:38

Comments

Nice one Zach, you are well on the way to becoming a great marine biologist :)

Posted by lachlan_fetterplace 6 months ago (Flag)

My thoughts exactly @lachlan_fetterplace. :)

Posted by markmcg 6 months ago (Flag)

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