Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Naenae Intermediate’s 11 to 13-year-olds have been exploring extraordinary, yet everyday things.
Year 5 to 8 students in Naenae have been playing with fire, making ice cream and even squishing poo. But they’re not being naughty; they are exploring the science of fire, ice and digestion.
Many schools don’t have science equipment because it can be expensive. But Hutt Science, an initiative led by Hutt City Council, helps kids like those at Naenae Intermediate see what it means to ‘do science’ through their Hands On Hutt Science programme.
"Some kids when they first come in are really nervous and are visibly shaking,” says volunteer Annette. “I don't really know why, but it might be because of things like being told never to play with fire and they realise that they are about to. But when we do it, it is always in a safe environment."
A big part is that the students get to choose from a range of different science projects.
The first class chose to do a session called Water, Fire and Ice. This involved holding chemicals over a flame to see what colour they burned and exploring how salt helps them to make ice cream.
“I liked how we did the fire and made all the different colours. My favourite one was burning the copper to get the green colour,” says 11-year-old Paula.
Paula and his classmates also burned other elements, where the flame went purple for potassium, red for strontium and orange for calcium.
Then the kids made ice cream. They added salt to a bag of ice to make the ice even colder and put in a smaller ziplock bag filled with cream and sugar, which they shook to make sure it all turned into ice cream.
“My favourite part was making the ice cream because I love ice cream and this is the first time I’ve ever made ice cream,” says Vincent, 11.
“We added food colouring and flavourings, so that made the ice cream taste quite nice actually!”
The next class instead did Peanuts 2 Poos, where they found out how the digestive system works by recreating it for a typical breakfast: from chewing to pooing.
First the students lit a peanut on fire and used the heat energy from this to boil a test tube of water, which represented how our body burns the calories in our diet to keep us alive.
Next the students looked at how liquid iodine changes from yellow to a deep indigo/black colour when it reacts with the starch (savoury carbohydrate) in foods like bread and potatoes.
They also looked at how a chemical known as Benedict’s solution changes colour if there is sugar in the food.
“My favourite part was when we tested the sugar water in the test tube and it changed different colours when we heated it,” says Lupe, 12.
Then came the most fun part: making poo.
A banana, toast, rolled oats, chocolate chips and coffee were mashed up and mixed with digestive chemicals in a bag representing the stomach.
Then, with a nauseating plopping sound, the students poured the part-digested mix into a stocking and, like how the intestines work, squeezed all the water out until it became a thick paste.
The final step was straining the mix again through a dishcloth and into a plastic bag to remove the last of the water. The students then all got a bit too grossed out - with audible groans - when they cut a hole in the bag and pushed out a turd-like sample of the digested food.
“My favourite part was squishing the poo because it felt so weird and smooth!” says one of the students.
Kiana, 12, tells us, “I liked doing it all because I’ve never experienced science before, properly.”
Hutt Science Director Anne Ryan, who leads the project, tells us that their work doesn’t just end there.
She says that Hutt Science also lends equipment and resources to teachers – complete with instructions and student activities.
“It’s like a library: Hutt City schools can become members and borrow our kits so that they can keep the science classes going even when we’re not there,” she says.
You can find out about other projects funded through the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund here.