House of Science Wairarapa Launch – Spreading science learning across the region

Hayden Maskell, for REAP Wairarapa

12 September 2019

What do skeletons, bouncy balls and red cabbages have in common? They’re all part of the new House of Science boxes making their way into schools across the Wairarapa. Wednesday marked the official launch of House of Science Wairarapa – Te Whare Pūtaiao o Wairarapa, a programme that aims to lift science education in primary schools. Held at Greytown’s The Offering cafe, last night’s event gave educators a chance to see the programme’s famed blue boxes for themselves, and even try out some of the experiments.

General manager Amanda Taylor, who has a doctorate in molecular medicine and is credited with making it the fastest House of Science launch so far, said the success so far is largely down to “an incredible group of volunteers”. These include principals and teachers, who collect and deliver the distinctive blue boxes, and who help restock them for distribution to more schools.

House of Science CEO Chris Duggan, a passionate former secondary school science teacher who is also a finalist for the 2019 Women of Influence awards, started House of Science as a way to help primary schools access science teaching resources. “I saw so many kids coming into high school and saying they had never done science,” she says. “By the time kids are 13, it’s practically too late.”

The lack of exposure to pūtaiao (science) education is shown by the statistics: according to Ministry of Education data, 80% of primary students are below the expected learning level – making it the country’s worst subject. The biggest obstacle to meaningful science teaching for schools is the cost of science resources, most of which spend the majority of their life in a cupboard. While urban schools often engage in resource sharing and off-site classes, these are infrequent, and much harder to access in rural areas.

With its long history of supporting rural education and strong relationship with schools across the region, REAP Wairarapa provides support to the House of Science Wairarapa board, with schools liaison Trudy Sears serving as a member.

A charitable trust, House of Science Wairarapa relies on a mixture of grants and business sponsorship as well as a small contribution from schools to cover its costs. Carterton District Council, South Wairarapa District Council, Masterton District Council, Trust House Foundation, and the Community Organisation Grant Scheme all top up the funding, and local business are
also starting to get on board with sponsorship.

Duggan is confident that Government funding is in line for the future, given an increased focus on science education nationally. The House of Science project is closely aligned not only with the NZ Curriculum and Ministry of Education National Education Goals, but also with the Ministry of Primary Industry’s science roadmap – te ao tūroa – in meeting the future needs of New Zealand economy.

House of Science kits contain everything the kaiako (teacher) needs for the module – from LEGO bricks to red cabbages, model skeletons to bouncy balls – and the instructions for every experiment are provided in both English and Te Reo Māori on the same card. Of the over 300 schools accessing House of Science boxes, 10% are Kura Kaupapa Māori, and many of the experiments link to the myths, legends and discoveries of Māori scientists. The modules cover all of the key areas of science learning, including chemistry and physics, while also approaching new and important questions, including finding alternative protein sources to feed a growing population. The kit for that topic even includes a box of crickets for students to sample.

Blue boxes are booked through the House of Science website; since July 2019 they have been distributed across the South Wairarapa, but are expected to be in Masterton schools from term 1, 2020, and the Tararua district after that.
While the benefits for students are clear, it’s also making a huge impact on kaiako. “The kits give teachers the confidence to create their own experiments,” says Duggan. “I might be doing myself out of a job, but I suppose that’s the whole idea.”