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Real Life Science In The Defence Force Inspires 100+ Children

Fifty-six science experiments designed and tested by over 100 students from Belmont Intermediate School in Auckland, are on display in the Operation Science exhibition at the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy in Devonport.

The budding scientists were inspired by science experts from Defence Science & Technology (DST) to engage in real-world science. DST is a specialised unit which enables the New Zealand Defence Force through the application of leading-edge applied science, technology and engineering. With the support of their teachers, DST scientists and the Navy Museum education team, the students have focused on the New Zealand Navy’s role in Antarctica investigating, “How does science and technology influence human performance?”

The student-led inquiry involved six classes of year 7 students who acted as scientists, supported and directed by the Navy Museum educator Emma Wilcox and scientists from Defence Science & Technology.

“As an educator, it is always front of mind to try and find new and exciting projects within our community to broaden our tamariki's knowledge. It was an absolute treat when we were introduced to Emma and her team to work with the Navy Museum and DST. An incredible journey and insight into this organisation; many of our tamariki would not normally endeavour. We were spoilt with different videos from varying specialists in their field and inspired by the work that has been done. After all this frontloading, groups were able to explore even further into a topic of choice and were able to ask questions as they furthered in their progress.

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“Learning about the Scientific Method from actual scientists was very special and allowed the focus to be on hypothesising and testing, ending in them finally being able to display their findings to a panel of experts. An experience these BIS tamariki will hold onto for a lifetime and an experience we will not quickly forget,” says Kelly Vallender Lead Teacher, Rakino Syndicate, Belmont Intermediate School.

Navy Museum Educator Emma Wilcox explained that Operation Science is the first time the museum have delivered a programme alongside a New Zealand Defence Force partner. “The project would not have been possible without the support of the Defence Science & Technology team and their generosity in sharing their expertise and knowledge with the students,” says Emma.

“It was great to see the students thinking beyond what they had done, looking at their results and asking, why did that happen? What does it mean? And, how could I test that? The project challenged the students to take a simple paradigm and then apply critical thinking skills to it. Some of the best learning comes from discovering that sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect, and that having tested your hypothesis you now know where there are perhaps some gaps in your understanding. Uncovering evidence which disproves your hypothesis might seem like failure, but it actually opens up new research questions and helps us learn. This is one of the most valuable lessons in science,” says Adam – project lead scientist, DST.

During the development of Operation Science the Museum education team and DST created a series of instructional videos showcasing the work of DST and explaining the scientific method. The students were challenged to conduct a series of experiments, giving them hands-on experience of how to set up and conduct an investigation and test a hypothesis. The student’s scientific investigations culminated in a mini science conference at the school. Presentations showcasing their findings were made to peers, teachers, DST and the Navy Museum.

The students were asked what they enjoyed most about Operation Science, their responses were overwhelming positive. Comments included; constructing a prototype (a functional torch), was probably the most enjoyable part of this inquiry project as I have learnt a lot about how electricity reacts to the given materials; getting our projects displayed in the Navy Museum and doing experiments and research and seeing what other groups come up with.

“The students with the guidance of their teachers have taken their own experiences, investigations and discussions, and applied them to finding out how science and technology influence human performance. It has been exciting to work with Belmont Intermediate School, and we’re delighted with the resulting exhibition. We are sure it will both surprise and engage visitors,” says Emma Wilcox Educator, Navy Museum.

Displays from Operation Science include the students’ original prototypes and experiment methodology, thoughtfully displayed and ready to be discovered by visitors to the exhibition.

Operation Science is suitable for all ages and will run until the end of April 2024. Admission to the exhibition is free.

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