Hutt Science, step-by-step empowering our kids’ futures

Little Hutt talks with Anne Ryan, the director of Hutt Science. Anne tells us about how Hutt Science is keeping science exciting so our kids can get elbow deep into the exciting, sometimes gooey world of science.

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I first came across the Hutt Science afterschool programme at the Walter Nash Centre during the school holidays. A lady standing outside the room told me how it was her first day helping at the programme, and that I should get in touch with Anne Ryan for more information. I was thinking it would be an amazing programme for Connor, but also thought it’d make a great interview for Little Hutt.

Science is so important to our community, to our City’s development, our future. On a personal level, I only wish I had the chance to experience the fun side of science when I was a little girl like many of our kids get to.

So I got in touch with the very busy Anne Ryan and locked in a date to see her.

And on a very sunny afternoon, I parked my white station wagon (aka ‘the beast’) outside Naenae Primary School. Just at the front of the school was an old dental clinic that had been converted into a working space for Hutt Science’s already-too-small headquarters.

Dentalclinic
Hutt Science headquarters in the old dental clinic

I walked on up. Anne was busily working away on her laptop, behind her were rows of shelves stacked with boxes of scientific materials for experiments galore. How exciting!

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Walking in…

Meet: Anne Ryan

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Anne Ryan standing in front of a container they added to their headquarters when they outgrew the old dental clinic

Director of Hutt Science

What’s your story?

‘I’m trained as a secondary school teacher. I taught at Manawatu College in Foxton. I was the Head of Science there for many years. Also through my own interest, my own children’s heritage, I learned Te Reo. I helped establish a bilingual unit there where we taught science, maths and Te Reo.

Anne tells me how she also taught in the UK for a couple years. One of her degrees is actually in Psychology, and in the UK she taught Psychology and Biology.

‘I won a secondary teaching award. So, I did my Masters and I looked at bullying in secondary schools. I worked at Massey University for a while on a research project looking at mental injury from abuse, rape. Then I taught at Saint Peters in Palmerston North.

‘After I came back from England with my husband I got a scholarship to do a PhD. I studied a PhD in Psychology at Massey looking at euthanasia – how people made sense from death, dying and euthanasia.’

Anne tells me how after completing her PhD she taught at Koputaroa, a local primary school in Levin. During the time she was teaching there her current position at Hutt Science came up. Hutt City Council were looking at ways to extend STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and manufacturing) within the City, and make STEMM the essence of the Hutt’s economic future. One of the ways that came up was to upskill our kids in science and technology.

‘And so, I started off on a 12-month, fixed-term contract – my job was to set something up. Shortly after I started I went up to Tauranga and visited the House of Science up there. A wonderful woman called Chris Duggan runs that. And the model they had up there just made sense.

‘We became a House of Science branch and now purchase kits from them. They have kits which already have the equipment on a topic. They have instruction sheets, teachers and student manuals – all those sorts of things. Everything has already been thought of, so teachers don’t need to purchase anything extra.’

So just like Lao Tzu said back in the day, ‘The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step’. This is the same mentality Hutt Science has used since they started off in 2015, with eight kits. Step-by-step they’ve increased the number of kits they offer to 64, covering about 25 topics. When they started they provided kits to five schools. Now, their membership has grown to 40 schools – or 80% of Lower Hutt schools.

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Just one of the 64 kits…
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The inside of the kit…super sense…

And they just keep growing, expanding and seeing how they can meet the needs of our kids. Stretching their resources and money as far as they can, and going to the community for more support when as they need to.

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All kitted out…

 

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More kits galore

‘This year we’ve started talking to secondary schools too. Because that’s what we do, we find any way we can to offer support.

‘We’ve also managed to organise scholarship classes this year for the first time. For our top Year 13s, the ones who are going to sit scholarship in the sciences, we got facilitators in and arranged classes during the term. And we’ve also done some industry visits with them.’

This year they’ve also done a pilot in Upper Hutt. They’ve got three schools on and that’s through Upper Hutt City Council.

‘We’re just needing to find a bit of money. We want to get into all the schools in Upper Hutt but we need funding. We need Upper Hutt City Council or another funder to get on board.’

As you can see lot of money is required to back Hutt Science and keep the membership prices low for schools too. It’s taken a community of people to breathe life into Hutt Science’s efforts – from volunteers to backers: the entire community, really.

‘We also have Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funding through Curious Minds. We’ve had this funding for the last three years. With that, we’ve managed to go into low decile schools and deliver hands-on science programmes and run afterschool programmes. We have two of these running at Wainuiomata and one in Taita – so it’s full on.

‘We look for sponsorship too. Eastern Hutt Rotary Club sponsored a box, and Rotary Hutt City sponsored a couple of schools’ membership fees as well. Callaghan Innovation, WelTec, GNS Science, and Māori Women’s Welfare League – they’ve all sponsored boxes. That helps as well.’

And they couldn’t provide the support they currently do without the help of a strong network of volunteers.

‘I’ve got a really good volunteer network. We couldn’t run this without them. They come on Fridays and they collect the kits from the schools and replenish them here. And they go back to the schools that have ordered them for the following week. There’s an online ordering system, which helps.

‘Some volunteers are parents, grandparents, retired people, all sorts of people, some people that work in the science area. One person comes in on a Friday morning and goes off to Callaghan to work. A lot of them have been with us since we’ve started. It’s been a really great group of people who have stayed. We couldn’t run without them. The number of hours they put in on Fridays, when we need them throughout the week, and even at the afterschool programme – it’s amazing.’

For Hutt Science, it’s about empowering students to opportunities and to hands-on learning that kids might not otherwise have the chance to experience. Regardless of their background, Anne tells me how it’s important for everyone to have these same opportunities.

‘We put fliers at our decile 1 to 4 schools and invited parents to text or to register and we were just overwhelmed with interest. Our numbers were cut off after two days, and this term we’re running two programmes in Wainuiomata – and they’re just waiting list people from last time round.

‘We focus on low decile areas, we focus on everyone. But we want to make sure that those opportunities in the future are there for everybody. That everyone has the right to be part of that. That’s empowering them.

‘It’s just being a citizen, being part of the Hutt, being part of the world. It’s so our future understands things like climate change, genetic modification, should I vaccinate my kids. You need science. If the students don’t have this knowledge they become marginalised. And I think that’s happening too often.

‘I’ve seen it as a secondary school teacher. Kids coming through in Year 9 and you’re expecting them to be all excited and already they’ve been turned off. And science is often worksheets in primary school. But primary schools don’t have the resourcing to do hands-on science, and they need to be doing that. Doing experiments. Understanding about collecting data, looking at evidence – all those sorts of things. These skills are essential.

Hutt Science’s range of 64 science kits are really engaging and fun too – what science should be. Anne tells me how she loves it when kids say things like, ‘Oh it was so cool! It wasn’t like doing school at all!’

And all the work Hutt Science with the help of the community is doing hasn’t gone unnoticed. The community is responding positively to the science trickling into our kids’ minds; the journey that Hutt Science has already made one step at a time. So much so that they’ve been picking up awards for their contribution to our kids’ science education.

‘We won the Hutt City Wellington Airport Regional Community Award in the Education and Youth category – that was awesome. We have the Regional Awards next in Wellington too.

‘We also have the STEMM Festival in the Hutt. We’ve been heavily involved with that, and run the STEMM student challenge which has become quite a big event. We also run the Science Starters through the libraries, Hutt Science Discovery Day and events for teachers and parents.’

Discovery day
Write up proudly displayed on the headquarters’ wall

There really isn’t much reason that a school wouldn’t take the plunge and get elbow deep with the many hands-on kits and topics Hutt Science is providing through their membership. There isn’t much reason our kids can’t all be developing into keen scientists. And because of the additional funding from Hutt City Council and other amazing backers, the cost of membership is much less than it would be.

And if that weren’t enough Hutt Science also offers additional professional development for teachers who hadn’t trained in science throughout their degree.

‘Part of the idea behind it is a lot of teachers they don’t have that background, science is not an area they’re comfortable with. It’s not an area that’s taught in schools. We get alongside these teachers and give them support.’

To get your students’ elbow deep into the exciting, sometimes gooey world of science, go to Hutt Science’s website