Anyone who watches Doctor Who will know that wonderful things come with blue boxes.
The children who get these particular blue boxes delivered every week have the chance to build their own version of a Cyberman.
They’re being delivered by a not-for-profit organisation based in Tauranga, sent out to 150 schools across eight regions – Auckland, Tauranga, Eastern Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Manawatu, Hutt Valley, Wellington and Nelson. Inside are kits with activities and investigations to get young minds thinking along a scientific track.
Schools pay 10 percent of the value of what the House of Science delivers, with founder Chris Duggan saying the rest is sponsored by business and community grants.
The former secondary school teacher started up the library style scheme after reading a 2012 Education Review Office report revealing 73 percent of primary schools did not have an effective science programme in place. Duggan was horrified. Her aim is to increase scientific literacy within primary schools, addressing the issue of a lack of confidence and resources when it comes to teaching.
Now the company is looking to support what’s been described as the biggest change to the education curriculum in a decade – the introduction of digital literacy skills, with a $40 million government spending programme to implement it and re-train teachers.
“Our research shows that there is an issue in schools, especially primary schools, where there is a lack of confidence and lack of resources when it comes to teaching science in our primary schools. That is what we are trying to overcome,” Duggan says.
Launched in 2014, Duggan’s project has a head-start on the Government.
She says in one week alone, 180 – 200 teachers would have used House of Science teaching resources and 5000 primary school students would have participated in science activities in the classroom.
As House of Science is picking up momentum, Duggan says it is in a good position to help schools with the curriculum shift towards digital literacy.
There will be consultation with stakeholders from to until the end of 2017 regarding the design of new curriculum content and by next year, children as young as 5 will be introduced to robotics, coding and artificial intelligence in the classroom to enhance digital fluency.
Duggan is excited for the future, saying House of Science will complement this digital shift.
“We are already doing the coding and training young kids around digital literacy. So we can actually provide a lot of the systems that will allow these really expensive sources – robots are not cheap – to schools through shared resources, rather than expecting schools to fork out that money for something that is a huge investment,” she said.
Since House of Science was launched, Duggan has seen a shift in teaching practices, with teachers now using science as a context to teach other subjects.
“Because the science is so engaging as a topic, and students love what they are doing, they are realising they can teach reading, writing and maths through this context as it is so engaging and hooks learning.”
Te Puke Primary School teacher Karen Scott says House of Science will be good for the new digital curriculum with year 4-6 pupils given the opportunity to program robots.
“Each kit also comes with a legend in it that brings that Māori perspective. Rather than one-off science, the investigations all relate to the real world,” Scott says.
She says the system was more cost-effective when teaching heavy resource-based subjects.
“It takes a lot of time to get your equipment together and there is a lot of management [involved]. It can also be quite hard to source the equipment and it can be expensive as well. With the kits, they just arrive and have everything in them.
“I’m just thrilled there is a resource like that available for all teachers in any area and any teachers who are science-shy can go and run with it in the classroom.”