Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Tamariki from six kura kaupapa (Māori language schools) in the Hamilton area got together in April for a fun day of activities based around engineering.
More than a hundred tamariki are taking part in a 20-week Young Engineers programme at their kura kaupapa and the event, which was held at Wintec, was an opportunity to get them all together.
Young Engineers is an international resource that teaches the principles of engineering using motorised Lego models. Jeanne Kerr and her business partners run the programme in Waikato.
“We wanted the whole day to be about creating pathways into engineering. The kids worked on a Lego challenge in groups and also toured Wintec’s engineering and trade training workshop. They saw Māori male and female students walking around with their overalls and safety glasses on, which helped them see the steps they could take to become engineers themselves,” she said.
A Māori guest speaker, Brendon Green, told his story to the group. Growing up in Tokoroa, he studied chemical engineering at the University of Canterbury. Brendon eventually travelled all over the world leading large power generation projects for General Electric, an American multinational company.
“It was neat for the tamariki (children) to see where engineering could take them. One of them said later, ‘I want to be like him’”, said Jeanne.
The Lego challenge involved the children building a crane that could pick up a wooden block and load it onto a truck and trailer, which they also built.
“We based the challenge around the Ruakura inland port that Tainui, the local iwi, are planning to build in Hamilton. The kids had to pick up their freight and drive it to the Ports of Auckland over ramps that we called the Bombay Hills.”
Many whānau (family) and teachers came to support the children. “It was one of our aims to get whānau involved so they could see what the children are doing. Waikato kaumātua (elders) also came along to open and close our day.”
Jeanne said Brendon was ‘blown away’ by the engineering language the children were comfortable using and made this comment to her after the event.
“You and the team are achieving something really special. Hearing the tamariki (children) work through their project with such enthusiasm, and in te reo (the Māori language), is very unique. People talk about improving Māori and in most cases that's as far as they get – but you're doing it.”
Jeanne surveyed the children after the day. More than 90% of those who responded said they now want to become an engineer and 95% found the day ‘tino pai’ (very good).
Jeanne received the following comments from teachers who came along to the day.
“Anō nei he mīahro te rā. Pai hoki ngā kaikōrero me te kuhuna atu ki te Kura Engineering.” (It was a wonderful day. The speakers were good and the tour of the engineering school was too.)
“In a Lego class yesterday 4 kotiro (girls) built a paper crimping machine they had seen in the engineering tour at Wintec.”
“Our tama (boy) finished the tour and said he was coming here when he finished school.”
Creating Communities of Engineers, a project funded through the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund, delivers the Young Engineers programme.
The project runs one 90-minute class each week for selected children from Years 2–8 in the six kura kaupapa. The lesson starts with a 10-minute introduction to an engineering principle then students build a Lego model using step by step picture cards. Cars, conveyor belts, washing machines, windmills, power plants and amusement park carousels have all been built. After a model is finished, students are given time to play with it and are encouraged to look for ways to improve it.