Helping children view the world through science
House of Science (Te Whare Pūtaiao) has a succinct but powerful vision “every child in New Zealand is scientifically literate”. Jess Singh, General Manager of the West Auckland branch explains that being able to view the world through a scientific lens is crucial for developing critical thinking skills, growing New Zealand’s economy, and making informed health and wellbeing choices. Jess is no stranger for accelerating scientific literacy – before joining the House of Science team in 2018, she also owned the “Little Scientist” school holiday programme.
House of Science can best be described as a library service for science resources. The 550 participating schools nationwide borrow sets of science kits themed around different topics. For example, kit “What’s the Buzz? | He Aha Tērā Huhū?” educates students about bees. This includes activities such as learning about buzz vibrations via tuning forks, using gummy bears (usually returned intact!) to explore different light ranges bees can see, and observing dehydrated bees to understand their anatomy. With 90% of the content being hands-on, it’s no wonder that schools report attendance is up on days where the kits are in use.
Jess shares that the kits are available in both te reo Māori and English and are “paint by numbers” in nature. The kits’ designers also ensure they are aligned to the New Zealand curriculum.
"regardless of any teacher’s background, they can deliver science education in a hands-on manner"
Using kits means the children are explicitly aware of when they’re receiving science lessons which may help them picture scientific career pathways in the future. With Jess noting 54% of children currently aspire to join just seven professions (including athletes and YouTube stars), it’s important to expand their horizons.
Heading into the future, Jess is interested in further connecting children with the local scientific community, especially as she wants to challenge stereotypes of what scientists look like. She refers to good work in this space being done by Inspiring the Future, who have children play 20 questions with adults in plain clothes trying to guess their occupation. Those volunteers then come out in their work clothes later to shake up stereotypes.
On volunteering generally, Jess recommends that anyone looking for their next opportunity makes sure to shop around and focus on what brings them joy. House of Science is one of many organisations that relies on volunteer support and Jess is interested in hearing from future volunteers at any time. The two most common roles are delivery/collection of kits and restocking the kits (which are kindly stored thanks to Kendra and the Wesley Intermediate team). Like the kits themselves, clear instructions are provided on how to restock them, and no ongoing commitment is required.
If you’d like to be kitted out with more knowledge of what House of Science offers, head to https://houseofscience.nz/
Written by Caitlin Craigie,VA Volunteer [Media Team], June 2022