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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Student Market Place


For the past two weeks of term the students turned the Science room into a humming space full of entrepreneurs. One of the most exciting things about SMP this year was that students were able to select which tech room they wished to go into so they were excited to be there. Students were able to choose who they worked with, what they wanted to make and had the challenge of the theme of reuse and recycle.

Everything began with a hiss and a roar. The kids were so excited about what they were going to produce and the cheapest way to do it. As the hours and days passed the rose tinted glasses began to clear. Going into business with best friends wasn't always the best decision. There is only so much sick pay available. Not being able to afford what you would like is a hard lesson. Life is not fair. This is when the real learning and problem solving began. 

Some groups reorganised themselves after not being able to find a middle ground. Products were altered or changed altogether when prototypes didn't work out as planned or they discovered there simply wasn't a market for it. Ventures had to go back to the drawing board to investigate other products when certain supplies simply ran out.

Failed blow darts became sets of witches fingers
Hundreds of button became button bracelets
Old recycled books bloomed into flowers

Old bottle caps became checker pieces

A huge help this year was that the kids were able to complete their personal and business accounts digitally where formulae automatically calculated amounts just like the real world with online banking. Time went so fast and I began to feel surplus to requirements as the kids worked so hard to get products ready to sell.

Finally Student Market Place day arrived and it was so inspiring to see what other classrooms had produced.

The ingenuity of this lone Busker was amazing.

Monday, 13 June 2016


Wednesday the 8th of June saw 10 awesome students step up to the challenge of Survivor set by the National Aquarium of NZ.

The first task was dissection of a squid and rather than all the 'eww yucks' I expected there were fist pumps and gleams of excitement in the student's eyes. The education officer demonstrated how to cut the squid and extract the ‘quill’. Students were then set free with a dead squid, simple utensils, a diagram of squid anatomy to see what they could discover.

It was amazing to learn the different parts of the squid and many of us didn't realise that squid ate with a beak like a birds instead of teeth.

I can't begin to describe the stench of the room by the time they were finished. It looked like there had been a massacre with squid anatomy everywhere but kids grinning ear to ear. The extracted quills were then taken into the next room to be dipped into ink to write a message on paper from a survivor stranded on a desert island.

The next survival challenge was navigation on a small boat stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Students were challenged to find out how Pacific Island peoples arrived in the Pacific Ocean. We learnt about traditional navigation, star compasses, working out how to find north using the sun and the ocean currents, using sea life such as tiger sharks waiting for turtles to arrive as they wait in the exact same location every year. Students investigated how people used bird migration paths and this was great follow on for those students who attended the 2 day science camp where they learnt all about the Godwits and their migration. We finished with looking at the voyages the double hulled waka has taken from NZ around the Pacific.

The final Survivor challenge was a treasure hunt type task around the aquarium. They began with having to untie a rope to get into a box for the first clue.

This led onto deciphering a system of dots and dashes that they quickly learnt was 'Morse Code'. The code related to letters they had on their name tags which led to the next area to find and hunt out a clue.

The Coral Reef held a group challenge of ranking items salvaged from their sinking ship. Which ones were the most important? This meant justifying choices to each other, collaboration and teamwork. When they were given the answers Charlie wanted to debate every item with the poor lady but they realised some of their mistakes of discarding items of seemingly little value which when they thought about it were very precious indeed.

Lastly a what is safe to eat challenge! Awesome! It just goes to show how educational some of those survivor shows have been with many having background knowledge. Could you safely eat a kina? A yellow moray eel? Would you eat the giant turtle or seahorses? What about the lobster or giant black eel? The list went on. It was really surprising what you could and could not eat. For example I would have gone for the giant turtle with lots of meat on it but they feed on poisonous jellyfish so are definitely out. The bright yellow colour of the moray eel is nature's way of saying 'Stay away - I'm not safe to eat.'

We finished with watching the diver feeding fish in the main tank and the chance to have a free roam and to go and revisit any special areas of interest the students had. This was very appreciated as the afternoon had been quite rushed and full of activities.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Sunrise Hut

OK technically this was not a Science based trip but I could not resist posting about this amazing tramp up through the Ruahine Forest to Sunrise Hut.

21 Year 8 students, 4 Police Officers, and I set off on a grey day from Napier. I didn't realise quite how long the drive was down past Tikokino, another 22 km from there and then 12 km or so on rough road and private farm land. The kids were excited and there was so much chatter on the way there and on the start of the tramp. Slowly the chatter died away as the climbing got steeper but the girls were all smiles here (the boys were still coming).

After another 40 minutes of climbing the dreaded questions began 'How much longer Miss?', 'Are we there yet Miss?' and 'My legs are sore'. Some of them just about cried when we reached the next sign telling them it was another hour and 45 mins of climbing to go.

I was so proud of some of the kids who were prepared to give up and had to really dig deep in order to carry on. I found myself drained keeping up the banter to take their minds off the climbing and talking about things that interested them. There were extreme differences though with trying to reign in those at the front who just about ran up the entire tramp. Staying together as a group was a challenge in itself.

Excitement quickly passed down the line as soon as they found snow. The compulsory snowball fight ensued!

We were very lucky that one of our Police Officers was in the role of Search and Rescue and entertained the kids with stories of rescues and fascinating facts. He taught them how to find north using an analogue watch, how to spot the plant known as 'Bushman's friend' and why it was called that raising a laugh from most. They learnt about tree lines, the dangers of wind chill and how fast conditions could change.

The relief of reaching Sunrise Hut was evident with everyone devouring their lunch boxes, a queue outside the long drop, and others relaxing on the veranda in the brilliant sunshine. The walk down was an easy one resulting in a group of very tired but proud students full of achievement and self worth.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Science Camp Day 1

20 students and myself were lucky enough to be invited to attend 4 different workshops across two days. A huge thank you must go out to Jenny Dee, Hawke's Bay Branch of the Royal Society of NZ for organising this opportunity as it was free to schools.

Day 1:  Air Pollution

10 excited students and 1 teacher set off to the Napier Sailing Club to learn about air pollution. We discovered that as a city we were doing better than most. The specialists from the Hawke's Bay Regional Council shared some of their experiences of having to wear masks while cycling in the smog in London and we viewed images such as the one below of other cities around the world.

Smog in Shanghai
Students discussed what they thought the major contributors to air pollution were and they identified quite a few but we were surprised to find out that the worst in our city of Napier are the older woodburners in winter. Surprisingly traffic pollution which was thought to be the worst only contributed to about 5% of air pollution as Napier does not have that much heavy industrial traffic. We carried out an experiment of putting white socks on the exhaust pipes of a diesel ute and a hybrid car and ran them for two minutes. The result was clear on which type of vehicles we need on our roads and how much air pollution a diesel produces.

White socks on exhaust pipes

We looked at various methods the HBRC used to collect and monitor air pollution and different ways we could do this in our own school grounds, such as smearing a white piece of cardboard with vaseline to see what it collects in a set period of time. It was interesting to hear that there were permanent sites set up around the city and machines were demonstrated that were used where a car drove around various neighbourhoods and tested the air. We looked at data collected over periods of time comparing different years and the amount of transgressions over the limit made within that time period. I'm not going to mention which two neighbourhoods were the worst for exceeding the limits every time.

Air pollution is measured as something called PM10 which is made up of solid and liquid particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter which we learnt is roughly a fifth of the width of a human hair. We cannot see it and it can remain in the air for long periods of time and can be easily inhaled. I think it surprised the students how many health issues were related back to air pollution. Here they are acting out the job of the fine hairs that try to filter the PM10 on the way into our lungs.

Conservation in the Ahuriri Estuary

In the afternoon we met two good old blokes who have been working for the Conservation arm of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council for as long as they can recall. The kids were looking forward to this session as it meant getting muddy.

Before we headed off down to the estuary we found out a bit about why our estuary was so important and identified a few of the birds that we might be able to see. I hadn't realised that our estuary was the most significant on the East Coast all the way from Wellington up to Whakatane. It is the largest in size and in breeding numbers for the birds.

The kids were involved in activities such as searching and gathering food that the Godwit birds like to eat. They found plenty of crabs and small fish which led to a discussion about how important the estuary is as a breeding ground for some fish species that supply the big fishing out in the Bay.

Bird watching required patience and it was high tide so there weren't as many as there had been in the morning but we were rewarded with a pair of Herons and Godwits. We also learnt about the importance of some of the plant life there, how hardy it can be but also how we must protect it and the birds. The biggest danger to the birds are people walking their dogs off leads.

Back in the Sailing Club where it was warm at last the students had the chance to share what they had learnt and in the process learnt a bit about taxidermy.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Putting Out Fire!

Well after lighting so many fires it was time to see how many different ways we could put one out.

We began by recapping what we knew about what fire needed and then investigated the 'Fire Triangle' which was a great visual for explaining the equivalent resources required.

The first investigation was to figure out the best way to take the 'heat' out of the fire (put out the candle flame) using a spray bottle of water. The consensus was that spraying from the side was largely ineffective compared to spraying from the top but best of all was found to be slower heavier drips from above. This led onto some students researching how fire sprinklers worked.

The next challenge was to remove the 'Oxygen' from the triangle. Students knew from their jar investigations one way of doing it so what was another? Once someone came up with an idea then others were keen to try it. There was plenty of dicsussion on how best to do this safely.

Using Carbon Dioxide (CO2) really got some students thinking. They enjoyed watching the reaction occur when combining the vinegar and baking soda. The question was why did the shorter of the two candles they had in the bowl go out? Most chose to repeat this experiment because it was fun but also to confirm that the result was consistent. Again they were successful in removing the Oxygen from the Fire triangle.

Using tinfoil to make a trough to 'pour' CO2  down provided a challenge for most. There was a very fine line between the gas travelling down to extinguish the candle and having all the liquid run down and drowning it instead. This investigation provided opportunities for great perseverance, team work, and visualisation. The students knew from the previous experiment that the gas was CO2 but how could it run downhill? Don't all gases float in the air? Those who were interested researched and confirmed some of their thoughts about CO2 being heavier than O2.

The grand finale of this session was flour. This didn't sound very exciting. When discussing the Fire triangle we had listed a huge range of various types of fuels on the whiteboard. I asked the question 'Is flour a fuel?' This was hotly debated with many different reasons for and against it. We all watched with anticipation as a student lit a match and dropped it into a bowl of flour. Nothing happened. So I demonstrated another way that we could experiment with by providing an increased amount of oxygen with the flour and heat this time. The results were amazing and everyone simply had to have a go!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Green Jars

Green Jars

This simple experiment kept students occupied for over an hour. I simply had resources available and left them to it. Those who were still in doubt as to what to do simply looked at what others were doing and discussed what order to do things, checking to see if they were doing it correctly. I had the simple job of walking around taking videos and photos with my constant questions of 'why is that happening?', 'what do you think is causing it?', and 'how could you be sure?'

That got me wondering if it was because they had to follow the instructions and work it out for themselves and not having me explain the procedure to them. I'm definitely going to try other experiments this way to see if I can get the same results.

Students were really keen to try all the different sized candles with a variety of jars. They discovered that the smaller the candle and the larger the jar then the longer it took for the candle to extinguish and the more liquid was vacuumed up into the jar. But the reason 'why' this was happening provided many diverse theories.

The smoke in the jar puts out the candle

The smaller the candle the faster the liquid will be drawn in

A small candle means there is more space to fill

The amount of liquid drawn in depends on the size of the flame

The candle is sucking the oxygen up from the water

Likening the vacuum created to what occurs in space

The burnt oxygen has created empty space that needs to be filled

When we came back together as a class they filled the whiteboard with their theories and we were able to piece together all the relevant ideas to explain what had happened and why. A couple took notes of the explanation but the majority drew pictures with labels to demonstrate their understanding. 

I think we need to follow this up with some experiments on how and why hot air expands ...

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Candle Light

Candle Light

I began with a big safety rant about being sensible and being aware of the dangers involved with flames, how to light matches, and what to do in case of accidents, going over various possible scenarios. (I hate lecturing learners but in this case it was necessary.)

With that out of the way we got down to the business of learning about the actual flame of a candle. Everyone had flames to observe and it was amazing all the different colours that were visible, the feel, and smell of the flame burning the wick when we really used all our senses. Some students used devices to investigate what the different colours of the flame indicated while others sketched what they could see.

Next was to experiment to see what would happen if a live match was brought close to the flame compared to a dead match. There were lots of 'jumps' and the occassional 'bleep' word when this happened. The dead match was nowhere near as exciting but the great question was 'why' was there this difference in reaction from the match?

The students then extinguished the cande and immediately held a burning match in the smoke wafting up from the candle. It was amazing to see the flame jump down the smoke to reignite the candle. After a discussion in which various theories were debated, experimented with, and some eliminated, the students were able to talk about the gases in the smoke being responsible for this.

Predictions were made about what would happen when a saucer was held close above the candle flame? This gathered a variety of responses, from melting the saucer to black ash, with some very astute predictions following on from our Methane gas model. This is what we observed. Black smoke from incomplete combustion, known as soot.

Our final experiment of the day involved predictions of what would happen if an inverted jar was placed over the candle. There was no fooling these guys as we had had so many discussions involving the need for oxygen and the production of carbon dioxide and water over the week that they all knew the candle flame was not going to survive! So the task was to experiment with different sized jars and various sized candles to see if there was any difference in the time it took for the flame to extinguish.

Their findings were that the smaller the candle and the larger the jar then the longer it would take for the flame to die out. And we managed not to set off any smoke alarms!