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Making urban homes self-sufficient

Budding scientists in south Auckland have been getting a close-up experience with the latest methods for designing sustainable living.

Ninety Year 5 and 6 tauira (students) at Willowbank School in Auckland were wowed by engineers who helped them on their project exploring how to make homes self-sufficient.

Prompted by an Auckland water shortage in the summer of 2017, the students embarked on research on how to provide water for an Auckland family home in a sustainable way. 

Their investigation involved finding out where grey water (the water that drains from washing machines and dishwashers, for example) could be collected from in a home, and exploring the need and process for filtering the grey water so that it can be re-used to water plants or flush the toilet.

Student testing water filtration methods

The tauira began their project by making house models, and then progressed to make 30 bird houses with solar panels, that simulated homes they would live in.

They enlisted the help of engineers from Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, with support from the South Auckland Participatory Science Platform, to learn how to build the bird houses and connect up LED lights and solar panels.

“The engineers had a lot of knowledge and they spent time working out technical difficulties we had,” says Willowbank teacher and project lead Tina Joshua-Bargh, who is also a Science Teaching Leadership Programme alumnus.

Tina explains that having the experts there was very special for the tauira and enhanced their learning.  “The mentors were really well chosen. The kids were very excited to talk to them ... they even cheered them!”

Bird houses with jam jars containing plants, soil, stones and sand

The kaiako (teachers) and tauira in the project team also visited a sustainable neighbourhood where they learnt how new houses were being designed and built to incorporate energy efficiency.

Hobsonville Point homes are built to maximise the sun for warmth, insulated and double-glazed, heat water efficiently, and use rain water for toilet flushing, laundry and gardens. 

The students spoke with builders on the site and saw how sustainability could be used in historical and cultural ways - with heritage buildings in the area being restored or repurposed for public use.

“That was new learning that we would never have got if we didn’t visit there,” Tina says. “And we wouldn't have had that learning opportunity without funding from the Participatory Science Platform - the bus was expensive and we don't have that money to spend.”

Students holding a water filtering system and bird house

The project showed Tina that even just a little investment in science increased engagement and learning.

“When we show the children that we are willing to put time, effort and some money in, it kind of makes it of more value to them," she says. “It was really excellent learning. Even kids who are not always as engaged as they could be were super engaged.  We had no behaviour issues because everyone was interested and involved.”

Tina says the project also enabled the school to extend the students’ knowledge beyond the water study and into how to reduce their footprint in the longer term. “We wanted them to know about options of how to do that, by educating for example about solar panels and smaller measures they could take at home.”

With the project complete, most of the tauira involved in it are now part of Willowbank School’s environmental groups – and the bird houses continue to be used by other students for further learning.

“All the learning that comes out of it is really worth it,” Tina says. “I'd encourage teachers to make some time to apply for funding from Curious Minds for science projects. It is such a great learning opportunity.”

Greywater collection and filter systems being tested

About the project

Willowbank school logoThis project was run by Willowbank School with support from Fisher & Paykel and the South Auckland Participatory Science Platform.

Scientists and locals collaborating around a table

Participatory Science Platform

The Participatory Science Platform supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.

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