27 Dec 2020

Summer scheme tackles science education for South Auckland children

8:48 am on 27 December 2020

Disparities in science education have inspired a summer holiday programme for hundreds of South Auckland children.

NanoGirl - Michelle Dickinson

Nanogirl, Dr Michelle Dickinson (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Nanogirl Labs is running the scheme with children from the 12 primary schools in the Manaikalani group of mostly decile 1 schools.

It said 1000 children had expressed interest in the programme, which gave children weekly challenges that demonstrated principles of science and engineering.

Nanogirl herself, scientist Michelle Dickinson, said it was aimed at helping to overcome poor results in science and maths for many children from poorer communities.

Nanogirl Labs had sent 500 children a box of basic equipment because a test run of the scheme in October discovered many families did not have items like scissors, rulers and cellotape, Dickinson said.

"The students at Manaikalani that we deal with sometimes come from very low-income families and we found that even these basic supplies are not in the homes of many of our children and so they weren't able to complete the activities," she said.

Some children were also embarrassed when the equipment they used was not the same as she had used in her demonstrations, Dickinson said.

The scheme would challenge children to achieve weekly "super powers" such as creating an anti-gravity by successfully keeping water in a cup while swinging it on the end of a string, she said.

Other activities included making a sundial, and making a catapult from a wooden spoon or spatula.

Research showed declining results in science and maths for New Zealand children and there was a strong link between achievement and family wealth, Dickinson said.

"We're trying to reduce that equality divide around STEM education and just showing everybody that you don't need expensive lab equipment to do science experiments, you can just do it with stuff at home."

Feedback from the children showed they enjoyed the programme and it also help improve their parents' attitudes to science.

"Telling a kid that they've just achieved a super power really builds their confidence," she said.

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