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Otago gains funding to engage young minds with science

The Clocktowers clock

Friday 17 February 2017 12:22pm

Four University of Otago initiatives are among the latest projects to be successfully awarded a total of $2m in the 2017 Unlocking Curious Minds funding round. The fund particularly focuses on projects that engage young New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to be involved with science and technology.

Otago’s projects are:

Dr Sara Filoche (Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Wellington)

“Science fusion: kura + whare wananga = science in te reo Maori”, $29,937
What do you get if you mix a kura and a whare wananga? – Increased access to science teaching and learning in te reo Maori.
Area: Wellington

Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith (Anatomy)

“From Africa to Aotearoa – the Longest Journey”, $89,000
Through their own DNA analyses, teachers can demonstrate the value of DNA for studying human migrations. Their students, through video-recording, can celebrate and share their own family journeys to Aotearoa.
Areas/Regions: Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Tasman, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland

Dr David Warren (Chemistry)

“Manuka Chemistry in the Community”, $99,818
Local manuka will be collected by school students across all NZ and tested for bioactivity in class. The results will put schools "on the map" of national manuka variation.
Areas/Regions: Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Tasman, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland

Professor Peter Dearden (Biochemistry)

“Lab in a Box III: The Country takes on Science (North Island)”, $110,000
Lab-in-a-Box is a science engagement platform for rural New Zealand. We will engage North Island schools and communities, seed citizen-science projects, and discuss future technologies for environmental management.
Areas/Regions: Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington

Project summaries:

“Science fusion: kura + whare wananga = science in te reo Maori”
Dr Sara Filoche

We aim to establish a hands-on science programme that is developed in partnership with local and regional kura (Māori immersion schools). Our goal is to increase medical and health science opportunities for these kura and to promote science teaching in te reo Māori. Increasing access to science for Māori is a national education priority, and one that has a direct impact on meeting the national demand for more Māori health professionals in the health and science sector. Our project will help realise these national needs.

The results will be three-fold:

  1. a science teaching programme in te reo Māori for each kura;
  2. an application of mātauranga Māori in science teaching;
  3. an increased appreciation and learning of mātauranga Māori and te reo Māori.

This programme is outside of our usual activities. We are a tertiary education centre -wānanga- (Te Whare Wānanga o Otago ki Te Whanganui-a-Tara, University of Otago Wellington, UOW) whose activities include Public Health and Medical education and biomedical research. We have this opportunity to bring together a team of passionate researchers and teachers to facilitate the delivery of science education for Māori students, and with that the chance to learn more about mātauranga Māori and te reo Māori. Neither of which would be possible without the other.

“From Africa to Aotearoa – the Longest Journey”
Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith

The project aims to educate and inspire students (12-18) and science teachers (especially Biology teachers, but could also include social sciences) on the use of DNA analysis to trace the evolution and movement of humans out of Africa, and ultimately across the Pacific, to New Zealand. This great adventure story excites students about science, history, and life in general. It encourages them to engage with and appreciate the stories of how of their own families came here and that they are equally part of the great human diaspora - epic tales of imagination, exploration and endurance in quest of better lives.

There is a significant focus on the settlement of the Pacific region, making it particularly relevant to Maori and Pasifika students, but also of interest to all New Zealanders.

We have already seen that this story-telling is highly appealing to all students, especially Maori and Pasifika students, and the children of migrants and refugees. Their ancestors embarked on the longest and most dangerous journeys of all. It is well known that there is a need to better engage these students in the education system.

This programme will also be of professional development value for teachers, updating them on the latest genetic technologies, and what we now understand about the settlement of the Pacific and Aotearoa.

Teacher notes assist with in-class activities and are in alignment with the New Zealand curriculum.

This programme is outside the normal scope of outreach activities for Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith and requires the partnership of the Biological Educators Association of New Zealand (BEANZ) to help deliver it in the best way for schools, teachers and students.

“Manuka Chemistry in the Community”
Dr David Warren

This project will engage students in understanding the chemical ecology and economic potential of a familiar plant, i.e. mānuka, the most widespread and economically important New Zealand native plant.

They will contribute to a current research question, the mystery of mānuka variation.

The hands-on research activity, both field- and lab-work, for school students will complement their school science, linking them to other nation-wide research projects on the diversity of biologically active (bioactive) natural products in mānuka. Extensions from this project will: 1) encourage participants to explore the role that traditional knowledge (Mātauranga Māori) can play in informing modern scientific research; and 2) investigate the ecological effects of natural herbicides in mānuka foliage on regrowth in local mānuka stands.

Participants will use a robust test to evaluate the effectiveness of extracts of their local mānuka as herbicides. The process of their investigation will introduce the participants to scientific skills such as: sample collection and storage replication of results, simple measurements, identification of the parts of a plant, the use of controls and the need to control variables. This robust plant growth test would be suitable for use as part of the science course from years 7 to 13 as an illustration of “the Nature of Science” as well as supporting simple plant biology and a range of chemistry at different levels. In particular the results of the chemical analysis provided by Plant & Food Research (PFR) would be suitable for classes at year 13 who are sitting the 3.2 Spectroscopy and the 3.5 Organic chemistry standards.

Knowledge gathered in this project will be added to a national database on mānuka chemotypes and biological activities and added to an interactive online map, thus involving schools directly with results from their peers around the country and from research scientists.

“Lab in a Box III: The Country takes on Science (North Island)”
Professor Peter Dearden

The Lab-in-a-Box project is based around a mobile science laboratory that can be delivered to rural schools and communities. Supporting Lab-in-a Box is a national network of professional science communicators and researchers from the partners' organisations, together with an interactive website.

Lab-in-a-Box aims to support science teaching in rural schools, spark interest in science in rural communities, and leave those communities with a citizen science project with continued supported from the Lab-in-a-Box team.

This phase of Lab-in-a-Box will complete its roll-out by engaging North Island rural communities. We have partnered with the Bioheritage National Science Challenge (BHNSC) and the Bioprotection CoRE, and will focus on engaging schools and communities with science related to conservation genetics, pest control and eradication and our biological heritage.

In this phase we will use LIAB to not only spark engagement, but also to initiate conversation about the use of new science technologies such as CRISPR genome editing technologies and gene drive systems that cause extinction of pest populations to support the aspiration of the Bioheritage National Science Challenges and Predator-Free New Zealand. We will develop engagement programmes based on Bioheritage and Bioprotection science, a citizen science project based on designing and deploying new wasp traps, and deliver these to schools during the day. After school and in evenings we will act as a safe space for families to engage and discuss the science around the new technologies proposed to eradicate pests in New Zealand.

Lab-in-a-Box I and II were necessarily limited to the South Island, due to the logistics of supporting engagement programmes from Otago. Our new Partners, Te Papa, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago Wellington and The Bioheritage National Science Challenge, give us the support needed to deliver Lab-in-a-Box to the North Island rural communities.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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