Upon realising companies like RocketLab were struggling to find qualified engineers in New Zealand, a team of three Year 7-10 students from Ormiston Junior College made it their mission to expand the number of New Zealanders with the education, interest and ability to work in the New Zealand aerospace industry.
With guidance from start-up accelerator Creative HQ, and engineering experts at Air New Zealand and Fisher & Paykel, the students created a national water rocket competition to encourage students to take part and learn about rocketry and leadership.
The students were just one of eight teams of three to participate in the first round of an innovative programme funded by the Ministry of Youth Development designed to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and entrepreneurial skills through community involvement.
The programme encouraged students to immerse themselves in the many cultures of their local community in order to build relationships and understand the needs and concerns of the community. They are then able to collaborate with experts and community members to co-design and prototype practical solutions. Leading Kiwi accelerator CreativeHQ, assisted the projects by mimicking an entrepreneurial start-up process.
The eight groups covered an impressive range of projects including a native nursery to replant a local iwi island; research on Maori perspectives on environmental health; robotics; and a comic book that tests the science in traditional Maui stories.
Another team project used virtual reality to teach students how to safely escape a natural disaster at school. Partnering with University of Auckland, the students created a game featuring the aftermath of an earthquake, which they intend to sell to schools.
Now the programme has entered its second round for 2018 and Ormiston Junior College teacher Nick Pattison says the projects are even bigger and more technical. One project, for example, has coded traditional Maui stories with errors to help teach kids to code as they solve the coding errors in Scratch.
Pattison says the school’s approach to STEM learning is cutting edge, even by international standards. And having spent time working with STEM programmes in Australia, the United States and more recently Brazil on a Prime Minister’s Latin America Scholarship, he is well versed in what’s happening globally with STEM learning.
About a third of Ormiston Junior College’s schedule was already dedicated to project-based learning, but Pattison saw an opportunity to take that to the next level and give students the chance to engage in some “really high-end projects” that involve the wider community.
The last 90-minute block of every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday is set aside for Trans-disciplinary Inquiry Authentic Projects. The students have these slots as well as the entire day on Wednesday and another 90-minute block on Friday morning to work on their STEM projects.
Pattison says it gives the students a sense of purpose as the projects have real outcomes.
“Because a lot of the things are real there’s a different level of commitment needed.”
Case in point: Pattison has initiated a partnership between the local iwi and Plant and Food that has allowed his students to work on an initiative to raise flounder to breed in captivity. The project could see the students travelling to Hawaii to learn about the technology involved and then working with the local iwi to implement it here.
“If you take STEM away, if you built a school, the learning of the school should make the community a better place. That’s our goal,” says Pattison.
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