Hutt Science: promoting a love of STEMM

Whether students pursue a career in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and manufacturing) or not, it’s important that they’re supported in developing capabilities to keep up with these advancements.

A large and growing support network of people and organisations across New Zealand are taking on this challenge of encouraging students’ interest in STEMM.

One of them is Anne Ryan, director of Hutt Science in the Hutt City. Hutt Science’s mission is to “help engage young people and make them enthusiastic about science and technology,” which they do with resource kits, professional development, community outreach and special events.

Anne comes from a background as a secondary school educator, having taught science at Manawatu College in Foxton for many years.

Hutt Science utilise House of Science resource kits. The kits are all ‘hands-on’ and come complete with all the science equipment and consumables needed, teacher information, curriculum links and student instruction sheets.

Most kits cater for curriculum levels 1- 4, are bilingual and all are designed for use with up to 30 students. Although covering a range of topic areas, all the kits focus on the Nature of Science and the Science Capabilities so students are learning about scientific process and skills through a wide variety of highly engaging activities.

An example is the ‘May The Force Be With You’ kit – equipment includes a teacher manual, student instruction cards for each activity, ropes, friction bottles, weighing slings, force meters, butterfly templates, string, straws, scissors, beads, push pins, balancing shapes, tapes, iceblock sticks, clothes pegs, toy cars, car tracks, tape measures, ramps, bathroom scales, and kitchen scales.

Students carry out activities exploring pushes and pulls, balance a variety of shapes using counter weights, make a butterfly ‘climb’ up a string using friction, then observe the butterfly ‘fall’ due to gravity, they drag an object with various textured surfaces and measure the effect that friction has on force, they calculate the mass and weight of an object using a variety of methods, and they develop an investigation to determine the effects that friction, mass and weight have on the motion of a car.

When they started, Hutt Science provided kits to five schools. Now, their membership has grown to 40, or 80 per cent of Lower Hutt schools.

“We’ve started talking to secondary schools too. Because that’s what we do, we find any way we can to offer support,” says Anne.

“We’ve also organised scholarship classes in 2017. For our top year 13 students who are going to sit scholarship in the sciences, we got facilitators in and arranged classes during the term. We’ve also done some industry visits with them.

“Ferrier Institute opened their doors up for some of these kids and gave them an opportunity to work alongside PhD and postgrad researchers. We also went to the Robertson Institute so that’s been really good.”

Backed by the community, for the community

Anne acknowledges their strong network of volunteers for enabling them to continue the programme.

“I’ve got a really good volunteer network. We couldn’t run this without them. They come on Fridays to collect the kits from the schools and replenish them here. Then the kits are delivered to schools that have ordered them for the following week. There’s an online ordering system, which helps.”

A love of STEMM

Hutt Science offers professional development for teachers who haven’t trained in science throughout their degree. They also hold community events.

“We’re heavily involved in the STEMM Festival in the Hutt Valley”, says Anne. “We run the STEMM student challenge, which has become quite a big event. We also hold the Science Starters through the libraries, Hutt Science Discovery Day, and events for teachers and parents.”

Hutt Science is getting a positive response from the community, so much so that they’ve been recognised for their contribution to science education.

“We won the Hutt City Wellington Airport Regional Community Award in the Education and Youth category – that was awesome. We have the Regional Awards next in Wellington too.

“It’s just about being a citizen, being part of the Hutt, being part of the world. So our future generation understands things like climate change, genetic modification and vaccination. You need science. If students don’t have this knowledge, they become marginalised and I think that’s happening too often.

“Children and young people must understand the importance of doing experiments, collecting data, looking at evidence – all those sorts of things. These skills are essential.”

 

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