2 Young children and an adult inspect mini plastic skeletons at house of Science.

Science has come alive in classrooms across the Wellington region thanks to a House of Science initiative. House of Science NZ is a charitable trust set up to help improve scientific literacy in primary and intermediate schools.

To help teachers confidently deliver engaging science lessons to Year 0 to 8 students, the organisation has developed comprehensive bilingual resource kits that align with the New Zealand curriculum. Using a subscription-based library system, schools can tap into 60 kits covering 40 topics, including:

  • discarding waste sustainably
  • climate change
  • electric future
  • bones
  • microbes
  • forensic science.

As one of 20 branches nationwide, Wellington has almost 30% of schools taking part in the wider region and branch manager Cate Shave wants to get more involved. “We want to see every child in New Zealand become scientifically literate, which means they have a clear understanding of science concepts and processes encountered in their daily lives,” she says.

Expanding the programme is also a long-term investment in developing our future science and technology workforce in the Wellington Regional Economic Development Plan. “Improving scientific literacy will have a huge economic and social benefit to New Zealand.”

Fun kits engage students

The kits, put together by a dedicated House of Science resource developer and teams of scientists, contain everything a teacher needs. It includes all consumables, student instructions, and teacher manuals.

The hands-on kits see students:

  • examining skeletons
  • making batteries from salty water
  • germinating bean seeds
  • testing water quality
  • constructing bumble bee nests
  • fingerprinting.

“They really do cover all aspects of science, biology, physics, chemistry, the nature of science, space science, all to get kids thinking about the different facets of science.”

The age-appropriate kits are proving a huge hit with students and teachers alike. “This is such an engaging kit — the kids don’t realise they’re having fun doing science experiments,” says a South Wellington Intermediate School teacher.

“Children love it, and having all the necessary equipment makes it very teacher-friendly. Each time we get a kit, more teachers use it,” says Porirua’s Postgate School.

As a trained zoologist/scientist, Cate loves that the kits make every part of science accessible to teachers. “It makes it easy for them to teach it with little or no background in science — they can all feel confident delivering great science lessons.”

Young child looks through magnifying glass at shoe prints.

Sparking a passion for science

Growing up, Cate was lucky she had a science teacher that fostered her love of science. As a result, she was heavily involved in science fairs, locally and nationally. “I was fortunate to have a science teacher that inspired me, and I hope through these kits, we can ignite that same passion in this generation of kids.”

It’s the reason biochemist and secondary school science teacher Chris Duggan established House of Science, out of concerns over the lack of science knowledge students had when they began high school. From her Tauranga base, she’s spent the last 10 years addressing the 2013 ERO figures that showed more than 70% of Aotearoa’s primary and intermediate schools lacked effective science programmes.

“We know from research that most kids have made up their mind where they see themselves in the world when it comes to things like science by the age of 10,” says Cate.

“If they haven’t had the opportunity and exposure to science and see that it can be a part of everybody’s world by then, it’s an avenue that is closed down and not pursued at high school.”

Young child looks into a glass brick with a fossil inside at House of Science.

Initiative relies on community

Based at Miramar Central School, Cate is looking to tap into more schools in the region and bring in local businesses to help fund the kits and grow the resource library.

House of Science relies on sponsorship and volunteers — kit sponsorship from the likes of WellingtonNZ pays for the purchase and upkeep of each kit while a team of volunteers help to deliver and restock them. “We’ve got an amazing mix of volunteers, retired people, school students, new immigrants… all of whom form this dedicated team which makes sure schools are getting a top quality experience from the kits they receive, every time.

“This collaborative effort will see us make a difference in sparking a passion for science in Wellington’s kids.”