Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Parents in Auckland are seeing science with new eyes after doing fun experiments with their Year 6 children.
It is always fun to see Mum or Dad dress up in silly outfits to play a game – especially when it is a surprise!
Ten-year-olds in Auckland are being treated to this as part of an after-school workshop that gets parents and caregivers just as excited about science as their children.
The scenario that the latest parents are acting out – in a classroom at Summerland Primary School – is the chemical reaction taking place in an experiment they are doing at the same time.
But why involve the caregivers when this kind of science could be done at school?
“Parents are one of the biggest influencers in a child’s life,” project lead Ashleigh Fox explains.
“Even if science is well supported in school, if a student’s parents think that it is boring or complicated – as it may well have been in their school days – then the child might end up assuming that scientific careers are ‘not for them’.
"This is why we set up Family Science Workshops; we want to show parents that science can actually be really fun and interesting!”
Extracting DNA from kiwifruit is surprisingly simple because it can be done with household ingredients.
At Summerland Primary School, the students and their caregivers first dissolved salt in a cup of water, before adding dishwashing liquid into the saltwater.
Next they peeled, chopped and smashed up the kiwifruit to start breaking down the cells. This begins to make it easier to release the DNA from the nucleus, where the genetic material is held.
Then they added a bit of the soapy saltwater liquid to the bag containing the kiwifruit before straining the mixture through a very fine sieve and into a small glass.
Finally they dribbled pure alcohol into the glass, being careful to make sure that the alcohol stayed at the top and did not mix with the green liquid.
While ‘letting things cook’, the children and the responsible adults donned the costumes representing the salt, detergent, alcohol and DNA.
Through this re-enactment, they found out that the detergent breaks down the cells’ barriers – known as membranes – while the salt and alcohol act to clump and separate the DNA from the rest of the kiwifruit mixture.
“I really liked the costumes and acting part,” says ten-year-old Hrishi.
His father Jignesh agrees: “I think science activities like this are really great for the kids because it’s something different to do and it gets them to expand the way they think about things.”
On returning to their makeshift lab benches, the teams found that a strange layer of thick, white goo had appeared beneath the alcohol layer. They learnt that this was the clumped DNA, which they then took out and put into the final jar.
“I liked extracting the DNA and seeing how all the different chemicals reacted with each other,” says Lubaina, aged 10.
“I’ve really enjoyed the hands-on experience – and doing the experiment with my daughter was really special,” says Batul, Lubaina’s mum. “It’s so great to see that science isn’t just parrot-style learning or boring diagrams on a blackboard like it was at school in my day.”
Before they all went home, they were given a ‘home science’ kit for them to have a go at similar experiments, as well as find out what careers involve using science and technology knowledge.
“I thought the whole experience was great and I’ll definitely continue to do science activities like this at home,” says Roberto, whose daughter Maria told us her favourite part was the role-play.
Josh, 10, adds, “I really liked putting the salt into the liquid and watching it dissolve.”
His dad Mike tells us, “For me the whole process was great, because it’s all new to me and I’ve not done this kind of thing before. I’m also amazed at just how many jobs there are out there that are related to science – way more than I expected!”