Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
For Bee Aware Month, students around the country have been investigating bees and wasps while visiting a pop-up laboratory inside a giant box.
Year 5-6 students at Kelburn Normal School went to Wellington Botanic Garden to explore Lab in a Box, a room-sized metal box kitted out from top to bottom with microscopes, telescopes, 3D printers and then some.
This shipping container with fold-out laboratory moves to a new location and is ‘hosted’ by a different school every few days.
The idea of bringing science to schools – and the creation of the box itself – is thanks to Peter Dearden at Otago University, who began touring it locally in Otago and Southland.
Now, it is being run on a national level in collaboration with Victoria University of Wellington.
“Many teachers ask us to stay at least a week and although we’d love to, we try and visit as many schools as we can so that they all get to have a go in the lab!” says Suz Bassett at Victoria, who co-runs it with her colleague Phil Lester.
“We cater for whatever the school or students want to find out. For example, in Gisborne we’ll probably do our bee workshop, as that area has a big honey industry. Other schools might want to explore different things, like the health of their local river, or what stars are made of.”
In Wellington, the students learnt about the differences between bees and wasps, such as the body shape, the way they make hives and how many times they can sting.
The children then looked at these insects under the microscope, noting down the slender waists of wasps and the fluffy ‘fur’ that make bumblebees so big and round.
“My favourite part was using the microscope because it was so cool seeing the bees up close,” says Imogen, 10.
Afterwards the students got hands-on with honeycombs, in which they noticed the hexagonal pattern of these parts of the beehive and touched and smelled them.
“I liked looking at the honeycomb – I’ve never seen one before and they smell nice!” says ten-year-old Eva.
Last, the students had a go at an activity based around the vibrations of a tuning fork, which mimics how bees’ buzzes shake the pollen out a flower so that they can collect it for the beehive.
“I liked the vibrating game we did in the lab, where we ‘buzzed’ the icing sugar off the flower and onto the bee,” says 11-year-old Connor.
Cameron, 10, adds, “I loved all of it – especially when we learnt why bees are good and wasps are bad, and how to recognise bees and not be scared of them.”
Lab in a Box is currently touring the North Island and finishes in early 2018.
Lab in a Box is a collaboration between the University of Otago University and Victoria University of Wellington, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund. This particular session was in partnership with the Wellington Botanic Garden (Wellington City Council).