Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Wellington’s urban kids are learning to find and connect with the ‘hidden’ wildlife in our concrete jungles.
This week, 40 students from Taita Central School made a special trip to Wellington Zoo to learn how to look out for the wild animals and plants in their area.
Their day began with the 7- and 8-year-olds throwing an unravelling ball of string to each other to create a ‘web of life’. Each student represented a specific plant or animal, so they had to think carefully about how they were connected with others before deciding where to throw the string.
Afterwards, the kids did an obstacle course with a twist. They had to crawl through tunnels and climb ropes but also search for specific plants and count how many they found in the quadrats – square frames that help measure how rich plant life is.
The final challenge of the day was using tools like binoculars, magnifying glasses, trowels and specimen jars to explore the bush and see what they find. Many of the kids dug up beetles, snail shells and even a chrysalis (caterpillar changing to a butterfly).
Students Amileah and Angel say that the highlight for them was touching the blue-tongued skink that an educator showed them after the obstacle course. But Diego and Jasainga tell us they preferred exploring the bush.
Classmate Jamila adds, “I really liked the part where we had to find the plants,” while Mercy says her favourite part was “searching for bugs in the soil”.
Lennox liked the technology most: “I found using the binoculars cool because they make everything look really close.”
The Wellington Zoo Bush Builders programme gives kids from urban schools across Wellington a chance to have fun exploring nature, find out which tools can help them investigate local wildlife, and come up with ways to help look after it.
Alicia Harris, Partnerships Manager at Wellington Zoo tells us, “I loved seeing the children’s enthusiasm for learning and their excitement about exploring the bush and nature."
"Wellington Zoo is a great learning space for the kids but it’s also gives them the opportunity to experience something they might never get to otherwise.”
In the second part of the programme, the kids are going to take what they have learnt back to their community and use it to explore what lives in their school grounds or local park.
With help from Bush Builders educator Kim Tabrum, the students will come up with questions that they can investigate using the ways of thinking and exploring that they learnt at the zoo.
Katrina Forman, kaiako/teacher at Taita Central School, says that the students beome much more aware of what lives around them.
“The kids now think a lot more about what their actions do,” she says. “For example, they used to pull down the nests in the trees around the school to have a look at them but now they don’t. They’ll even try and stop other kids from doing that by telling them ‘no, that’s not right’. They’ve sort of become like role models now.”
The programme’s third part is all about the future. The kids are encouraged to use what they find from their earlier investigations to brainstorm how they can help protect or boost wildlife in their area.
“This could be anything from planting bee-friendly gardens, to putting in more native plants around the school, to creating shelters for birds,” Alicia explains.
Taita Central’s students are just the first of many to experience the 2016-17 programme. Alicia tells us she hopes to get around 2000 students connecting with nature through Wellington Zoo Bush Builders, which will run over the rest of Term 4 and then continue until winter 2017.
You can find out about other projects funded through the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund here.