Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Students at Wilford School in Petone were horrified to find that a filter they put in one local stormwater drain had collected more than 300 cigarette butts in three weeks.
Curious Minds met with students Jemma Allwood, Harvey Butler and Ethan Neru and their teacher Ailsa Webb to find out more. Jemma takes up the story.
“We’ve been looking at what goes down to the stormwater drains in our area. We put filters into two drains – one in a residential area and one in a busy shopping area – and we go down there every Monday to empty them.”
The drain leads directly to the beach near their school. The students pull out the filters and empty them into buckets that they bring back to school. Every piece of rubbish is counted and recorded in categories including hard and soft plastic, cardboard, chewing gum and paper.
“About half the rubbish is cigarette butts, but there’s quite a lot of plastic and paper too. I thought there would be more cigarettes in the shopping area than the residential area, but not this many!”
The students said they were also surprised by how many leaves went down the drain, although they are not counted (because they’re not rubbish).
Their project began with an Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) programme, which leads up to snorkelling visits to local marine reserve and non-reserve areas. Students see differences for themselves and are encouraged to think about what action they could take to help reduce human impacts on the ocean.
Ailsa continues, “EMR relates to the ecology strand in the curriculum, which teaches a child to understand the relationship between the natural world and human action. Stormwater monitoring has turned out to be a great example for us.”
To date 373 cigarette butts have been collected from a single stormwater drain on Petone’s main street, which has 120 drains in total.
“It’s disgusting – but a very hands-on way of teaching about how our actions affect the environment. We’re getting students out collecting up the litter and talking about what can we do to change that behaviour in the community. It’s the most powerful way of teaching.”
EMR have continued to be involved in the project via funding from the DOC Community Fund. Hutt City Council has also made contributions and provided advice.
Ailsa and EMR contacted an Auckland supplier to price the stormwater drain filters, planning to help the children fund-raise to buy them, but the company offered to donate two filters instead.
“Stormwater360 were happy to supply them and flew down from Auckland to install them. It’s cool because the students got to meet them and they met our students as well. It was good to see that direct connection happening, rather than through us.”
Ailsa is now planning to run an open evening with the local community to talk about their findings.
“If we’re lucky we might get some businesses to sponsor these filters on their part of the street. They cost $400 but that could be split by four to six businesses as a contribution to the community. It’s crucial to get them on board and get the community to understand the impact that could have.”
The Wilford School students were recognised at the 2016 Technology Valley Awards, winning the Young Science Achiever (primary/intermediate) award [http://www.technologyvalleyawards.co.nz/winners/] for the stormwater work. They were invited to speak about their project at the awards ceremony.
Ethan says, “I was nervous and we were the first to speak. It was hard to be the youngest there and scary going up in front of 200 adults – and the Minister of Education was right beside us.”
Ailsa also won the STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and manufacturing) Educator award.
“It was very humbling to accept that, I would have been happy to have just been nominated,” she says.
The students say they’re learning and having fun at the same time, and are integrating maths and writing into the project as well.
“As teachers, we want to develop curiosity in our students and push them to take their ideas further and further along. They came up with the idea of what they wanted to do – we just helped them shape it into something that was workable. I’m certain this will be a lifelong memory for them, and I never thought I’d get so excited about a stormwater drain!”