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Giving young scientists a boost

Budding scientists in Wairarapa have had a huge helping hand from the charitable trust House of Science over the past four years.

So much so that 90 per cent of the region’s schools are now part of the charity’s distribution network for science resource kits, which come complete with lesson plans and equipment.

House of Science Wairarapa general manager Amanda Taylor was inspired to kickstart the local movement after hearing the charity’s national director, Chris Duggan, on the radio.

“It made me wonder why there wasn’t anything like that in Wairarapa, as my eldest was just about to start school,” Taylor said.

“My husband said, ‘Well, somebody needs to do something about it’.”

It turns out that somebody was going to be Taylor, who along with her husband, rounded up people to form a local board, and by mid-2019 the first resource kits were in schools.

“We loaned the kits while we organised our own sponsorship,” Taylor said.

“I live in Greytown, so we began in South Wairarapa, as we didn’t want to spread too far too fast.”

Eventually, word got around the local education network and today 33 schools in the region are part of the scheme, which caters for students at a primary and intermediate level.

There are about 36 different resource kits, all of which contain the necessary equipment, materials, and lesson plans that are then loaned to schools on a two-week basis.

These lessons ensure younger students have a solid grounding in science, which Taylor said can make or break future decisions on taking science in high school.

“Lots of kids think only chemistry is science. They don’t understand that agriculture is a science, or engineering,” Taylor said.

“They have an idea of you working in a lab, and that’s science, so it’s about introducing them to a whole range of things they probably didn’t realise was science.”

Taylor said there is research indicating that by the time a child is 10, they have already ruled out particular career pathways.

“So if they think that they can’t be scientists by 10, then they won’t. If they’ve shut that door and said it’s too
hard, then it’s over.”

Schools pay a membership fee but, as this only covers about 10 per cent of the charity’s costs, House of Science relies on grants and sponsorships from local businesses to operate.

Mieke Couling, a teacher at Tinui School, said the kits are “brilliant”.

“They’re very hands-on, so the kids love them,” he said.

“We can teach this stuff, but we don’t have the time and the resources to put it together, so it’s great that they come all set with everything.”

As a rural school, Couling said the drop-off and return of the kits can be tricky, but that Taylor puts in a huge effort to make it work.

Solway College teacher Pat Beech said that the kits have been a “lifesaver”, and that another benefit is Wairarapa-specific lessons.

“There’s a really good one about pests, and another one looking at plants and produce and agricultural products,” Beech said.

“Lots of the girls who come from farms can link the ideas they’re learning about, so it really is relevant.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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