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Young researchers explore their world at Hokianga’s first-ever science festival

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Students react as House of Science founder Chris Duggan turns film containers into miniature rockets. Photo / Peter de Graaf

A new education program aims to improve Northland kids’ scientific literacy and encourage their natural curiosity.

Primary and intermediate age students from 15 Far North schools so far – mostly in Hokianga but also rural Kaikohe and Kaitaia – are taking part in the nationwide House of Science program.

The not-for-profit scheme provides teaching kits and supports teachers who lack confidence in teaching science.

The results of the kids’ investigations to date were showcased at the first-ever Hokianga Science Festival at Rawene’s community campus on Wednesday.

Projects focused on topics such as kauri dieback, making “elephant toothpaste”, growing sunflowers, electrical conductivity, whether toothpaste protects eggshells from the effects of sugary drinks, and finding out what kind of milk makes the best ice cream.

Ōmanaia School student Taumaia Hoet, 12, shows how citric acid and hydrogen peroxide can be used to make
Ōmanaia School student Taumaia Hoet, 12, shows how citric acid and hydrogen peroxide can be used to make “elephant toothpaste”. Photo / Peter de Graaf

House of Science founder Chris Duggan captured the kids’ attention with demonstrations of gravity-defying water, miniature rockets made with film containers, and a couple of basic household ingredients.

Five schools took part in the festival, which was initiated by the Hokianga Community Educational Trust and hosted by Ōmanaia School.

Trust secretary Janine McVeagh said the event aimed to promote science teaching and boost interest in the subject.

“I hope more schools will get excited about science and pick up the kits. I hope teachers will get excited too and want to get involved, without adding to the burden they already have.”

Ōmanaia School students Taumaia Hoet, 12, and Willow Robinson, 13, show how citric acid and hydrogen peroxide can make
Ōmanaia School students Taumaia Hoet, 12, and Willow Robinson, 13, show how citric acid and hydrogen peroxide can make “elephant toothpaste”. Photo / Peter de Graaf

McVeagh said many rural schools struggled to teach science.

“It’s important for society to have people that understand science, but it’s also important that rural kids have as well-rounded an education as everybody else.”

She hoped the festival would become an annual event. The trust covered the costs this year but outside funding would be needed if it grew bigger.

Duggan said she’s seen an uplift in science since the resource kits became available in Hokianga.

“Teachers are often very nervous about teaching science because they lack the confidence or they lack the resources. I think we are losing science literacy. Covid was a bit of a wake-up call and showed just how important an understanding of science is.”

Students react to a miniature rocket demonstration during the first-ever Hokianga Science Festival.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
Students react to a miniature rocket demonstration during the first-ever Hokianga Science Festival. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Asking questions, which was the basis of science, was crucial to development, she said.

“It’s a critical platform for learning. It’s not the fault of teachers that it’s being ignored.”

Duggan was impressed that the students of Te Kura or Panguru presented their findings entirely in Te Reo. She also liked the fact that the event was a festival rather than a competition.

“It’s a celebration of science and that’s cool.”

Ōmanaia School students Kahu McVeagh, 12, and Dougie Korewha, 11, use a battery and light bulb to test the conductivity of different materials.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
Ōmanaia School students Kahu McVeagh, 12, and Dougie Korewha, 11, use a battery and light bulb to test the conductivity of different materials. Photo / Peter de Graaf

A circuit project by 12-year-old Kahu McVeagh, from Ōmanaia School, set out to discover which materials were the best conductors of electricity.

He found copper was the best, wood didn’t work at all, and tin foil worked but was unreliable.

Kahu’s explanation of why he enjoys science sums up humanity’s age-old quest for knowledge: “Because I want to know stuff.”

The House of Science program is open to students in Years 1 to 8 with kits available in English and te reo Māori. Schools pay a small subscription which covers about 10 percent of the cost. Go to houseofscience.nz for more information.

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