Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Hawke’s Bay communities have been getting a sneak peek of the science and maths behind bridges, beaches, earthquakes and their local apple industry.
Why are there so many different bridges out there? What makes some apples taste nicer than others? Are the pebbles closest to the sea bigger or smaller than those at the top of the beach?
Students, teachers and parents from eleven Hawke’s Bay schools have been exploring these questions in a science and technology camp run by the Hawke’s Bay Branch of Royal Society Te Apārangi, which offers a regional focus on how the world works.
The first of three workshops focused on bridges, including the maths and science of how they are built and why some are more stable than others.
“Bridges are everywhere and are so important in helping us get from A to B, but most of us don’t really pay attention to them,” says workshop leader and Hastings Intermediate School teacher Murray Gosling. “I asked the students ‘how many bridges did you go over on your way here?’ and most hadn’t noticed!”
The students built different types of bridges out of ice block sticks, paper and wooden blocks, as well as exploring how a vehicle’s weight affects different parts of a bridge as it goes over it.
“I think it’s interesting that the scales at one end of the bridge have a much lower reading when the train’s at the centre or at the other end of the bridge than when the train’s at that end, because the train’s actual weight doesn’t change,” says 11-year-old Garrett.
They also watched surveyors in action and went outside to a local bridge where engineers showed them how it was made.
At the same time a geology-focused workshop was being co-run by GNS Science, the National Aquarium and East Coast LAB.
As well as learning about earthquakes and other geological hazards, the locals hit the beach next to the Aquarium for some fresh air.
Here, GNS Science’s Julian Thomson set a research challenge: are the pebbles closest to the waves bigger or smaller than those at the top? The students all scrambled into action, measuring the biggest stones they could find.
“It’s interesting that the children tend to think the bottom stones are bigger and ‘too heavy to get pushed uphill by the sea’, while the adults think it is the other way round.” Julian says. “The adults are right - but we don’t really know why!”
Tracey Lancaster, a teacher at The Terrace School in Waipukurau, loved seeing her students get stuck in.
“The kids are just on fire today, looking at everything! Some of the students are from bilingual classes and haven’t really done science before, but they're buzzing off this!”
The locals also visited Waipatiki Beach, where they used their new knowledge to observe the geology of the hills around the beach, and found fossils that were two million years old.
The third workshop, at Plant and Food Research, was a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the science supporting the Hawke’s Bay apple industry.
The students began by choosing an apple and making a note of its colour and shape before testing the apple for firmness, as well as how sugary and acidic it was. Then they tasted their apple, to see how the scientific numbers translated into the actual flavour they experienced.
Noel, 13, says, “I thought it was interesting that the more acidic apples tend to have a more red coloured flesh.”
Eleven-year-old Indigo adds, “I had no idea people even tested apples before deciding to sell them - I thought they just went ‘here you go’ and put them straight out on the shelves for us!”
Afterwards, the students went out to the experimental orchard with Hastings Intermediate School teacher Sarah Hope and scientist Dr Jeff Reid, where they counted the earthworms in different parts of the soil to get an idea of soil health.
The students then explored what could go wrong with growing apples. They examined different types of apple rot, a disease caused by a contagious fungus, and looked at pests like codling and leafroller moths along with mealy bugs and stink bugs.
“I didn’t know there were that many pests!” says Shontae, 12. “I liked seeing the mealybugs under the microscope – they are really hairy!”
For project leader Jenny Dee, one of the highlights was seeing the teachers just as excited as the students:
“I’m delighted that Murray and Sarah, who have been on the Science Teaching Leadership Programme, have been able to take part and share their enthusiasm for science with other schools. Now two teachers who attended the camp have expressed their interest in doing the programme too, which is fantastic.”