Making science fun – the House of Science innovation

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Chris Duggan was inspired to set up the House of Science in 2013, after reading an Education Review Office report that the majority of primary schools didn’t feel there was an effective science programme in place for primary schools.

“Having been in the classroom for 15 years myself, I’d seen there were children coming into high school who had never done any science, and were thinking they would never be any good at science,” says Chris.

The lack of primary school support concerned her and, being “a doer rather than a whinger”, she resigned from her position as senior science teacher at Tauranga Girls College and put her vision into action.

“Generally fewer women keep going with science and that’s been an issue for many years. We set up the programme to provide equal opportunities for both girls and boys and to encourage as many young people as possible into science.”

House of Science has created a library of 28 “blue boxes” for schools to borrow, containing everything needed for a week’s worth of science experiments and activities. The boxes are themed around different science concepts and include materials and laminated cards with instructions for the children to carry out up to seven activities, a teacher’s resource manual, and even an electric jug to boil hot water if needed for experiments.

“It’s all there in the box,” says Chris, adding that she has been “flabbergasted” at how quickly demand for the House of Science materials has grown. There are now six branches throughout the country, with more planned.

Each box is sponsored by a local business, which she says is a really important part of the puzzle.

“It helps make those connections between the business sector and the education sector, which has always been a cornerstone value of ours.”

Chris says a typical week would see 40-45 boxes out at schools in the Western Bay of Plenty and close to 100 across the country.

The materials are pitched at primary school age, but House of Science in Tauranga also runs after-school programmes for older chidren, as well as a robotics programme.

With support from the Wright Family Foundation the House of Science has been able to expand nation-wide and translate all school resources into Te Reo Māori.

“I’m living the dream,” she says. “We’re meeting a need and doing it in a way that is useful for teachers and actually empowering them to do science in the classroom.”

House of Science was a key part of the Bay of Plenty’s weeklong Groundswell Festival, from 7-13 August 2017, which showcased the innovative and entrepreneurial activity taking place in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty.

Chris was one of the panellists at the Business Women’s Network luncheon, talking about women in science and innovation. And House of Science Tauranga is deeply involved in the Young Innovator Awards, with the Rube Goldberg Challenge, which asks Intermediate students to build a “marvelous machine” to complete a simple challenge.

Priority One is spearheading the Groundswell initiative, with support from Tauranga City Council, Bay of Connections, Callaghan Innovation, Tauranga Chamber of Commerce and Tauranga IT company Cucumber.