Nayland’s very own mad scientist


Despite only joining Nayland last term, new science teacher Sterling Cathman has proven to be very popular already. With his unconventional teaching methods, paying attention in class has never been so much fun!

Mr Cathman’s characteristic American accent is as pungent as ever, despite him moving from Minnesota to New Zealand about 25 years ago. Nelson drew him in with its beautiful outdoors, and most of his time off is spent tramping, skiing, playing tennis, paddling, mountain biking, and yachting.

Mr Cathman first started teaching 10 years ago at Boys College and has since taught at Youth Nelson and primary schools all over the area. In fact, Mr Cathman has been instrumental in pioneering science education in primary schools nationwide. He’s also starred in his ‘Mr Science’ shows while on tour, performing all over the country.

He’s found his various teaching-based occupations over the years all very rewarding. “It’s kids learning about the real world, and just having them go ‘whoa,’” he said. “I’m a bit of a child myself, I haven’t grown up.”

Mr Cathman’s love of teaching science stems from his own fascination with the subject. “It’s about learning everything. That’s what I like. You do art in science, you do maths in science, it’s just all about learning.”

His teaching methods aim to showcase the idea that learning can be fun, as well as useful. “Some areas of science can get really academic and complicated – sometimes [students] just need something that relates to their life. That’s my job, to make it something they want to participate in.”

From teaching primary school aged kids right up to secondary level young adults, Mr Cathman finds that students’ enthusiasm for science is universal. “The same stuff works!” he said. “Tornado tubes for example, I do it in Year 1, and I’m doing it in Year 11 and they’re still like ‘wow!’”

His classes involve everything from popping popcorn and learning about states of matter, to building popsicle stick catapults and learning about elastic potential energy. And being a natural performer, he certainly appreciates a bit of pizzazz. “Exploding things and setting things on fire, that’s what people wanna do!” he said.

While the more traditional may be skeptical, this approach to teaching has served him well. “Sometimes students don’t even realise that they’re learning stuff,” he said. “And that’s what comes with engagement, it’s not always in a book or on a piece of paper, sometimes it comes with using your hands and doing experiments or building something.” 

By student reporter Maya Jayasena