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Meet Year 9 dean and senior chemistry teacher: Amy McLennan

Experienced educator Amy McLennan performs outstanding work with our New Zealand Chemistry Olympiad students and is instrumental in preparing our Year 13 cohort for success in the NZQA Scholarship chemistry examination.
Year 9 dean and senior chemistry teacher: Amy McLennan

Her father was a university chemistry lecturer, and her daughter is a strong chemistry student – clearly, Amy McLennan’s innate passion for science runs in the genes.

Since gaining her teaching qualification 20 years ago, Amy’s love of chemistry has inspired multitudes of high school and tertiary level students to fire up their Bunsen burners, with many of them going on to achieve remarkable things.

What inspired your journey to become a science teacher?
I think my father had an influence on me as he was very committed to being an effective university-level teacher. As a child, I always thought I’d be a teacher. So when I finished university, it seemed to be the logical way to combine my interest in science and my wish to work with people. I feel a sense of achievement that I’m still working within the education sector more than 20 years later. It shows I made the right choice!

You’ve been at ACG Parnell College since 2014. Where were you before that?
After gaining my BSc (Honours) in Biological Sciences and PGDip Teaching (Secondary), I launched my career as a biology and chemistry teacher at Onehunga High School. In my second year, I was made Assistant Head of the Science Department, and by my third year, I was Head of the Science Department.

Before coming to ACG Parnell, I spent seven years as a Professional Teaching Fellow at the University of Auckland. I worked in the Faculty of Engineering, co-ordinating, lecturing and tutoring in a first-year engineering course.

ACG Parnell appealed because of the high academic level expected and the independence given to senior students in preparation for university.

What’s it like studying chemistry at ACG Parnell College?
Students certainly find learning chemistry challenging, but I hope very satisfying if they take it throughout their senior years. The progress students make, particularly in terms of their practical skills, is significant. For example, most Year 11 chemistry students start the year being able to perform a simple test-tube experiment or heat a substance over a Bunsen burner. By the end of their three years, they can independently perform techniques such as titrations or make an organic compound using the reflux technique, such as making aspirin.

I try to do as much hands-on practical work with my classes as I can, as chemistry and science are best learned by doing and experiencing for oneself. I like to get students working in groups to learn from one another, and I ask lots of questions to get them to think more deeply about the learning material.

How important is chemistry in setting students up for the future?
Chemistry is a very important area to be confident in for students wanting to study or work in the sciences, whether that be engineering, medicine or within a pure science discipline. It’s often thought to be the central science, joining together physics, mathematics, biology and the earth sciences.

You play a pivotal role in preparing students for success in the NZQA Scholarship chemistry examination. Tell us more.
Cambridge curriculum chemistry is very transferable to NCEA Scholarship. We have a programme in chemistry that helps Year 13 students transfer their chemistry knowledge from Cambridge to the way it’s examined in Scholarship. It’s quite student-directed and largely runs as an online programme. In 2020, we had eight students achieve Scholarship level in chemistry, with one Outstanding Scholar.

And what about your work with New Zealand Chemistry Olympiad students?
The Olympiad allows keen Year 12 chemists to expand their knowledge and experience. First, we support them to gain entry into the training group. We’ve had many students participate in this group over the years, with a good number earning a top Gold Award in the entry test. The students are then supported to sit another assessment to join the training camp for the Olympiad team. Again, we’ve had a pleasing number of students attend the camp. And although an ACG Parnell student has yet made the team of four to represent NZ at the International Olympiad - it’s something to aim for in the future.

Many of your students have enjoyed great success in chemistry. What have been your proudest moments?
I’m always proud when students achieve Scholarship and strong Olympiad results. And I felt very proud of a student who was accepted to Oxford University and went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry there. However, what makes me the proudest are students who try very hard and overcome difficulties to succeed.

Where can we find you when you’re not at school?
I have two teenage children, so I enjoy spending time with them and my husband. My kids are into lots of sports and activities, so many weekends are spent on the sidelines watching cricket and football! I love sport myself and played hockey for many years. I still run to keep fit.