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Role models prove invaluable in participatory science projects

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

STEM Alliance Aotearoa and Te Hononga Akoranga COMET have been connecting schools with STEM industry role models through the Curious Minds participatory science platform (PSP) since 2015. Our STEM partners support groups to investigate a question or solve a problem, working alongside students, teachers and community members. Here is a summary of successful collaborations supported in 2023 and the impact that our participants say that role models have had. If you’d like to know more about how to get involved or have ideas for your own community engagement initiative, get in touch with the team!


Exploring the past to grow our future food systems


Mount Roskill Grammar School partnered with Nick Roskruge (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Tama), Professor of Horticulture & Ethnobotany at Massey University to launch an innovative project exploring kūmara cultivation through a scientific and mātauranga Māori lens. Matua Nick is a highly respected expert in kūmara cultivation and Māori ethnobotany. Matua Nick shared with students how severe weather events like Cyclone Gabrielle are posing significant challenges to agriculture and he is passionate about supporting Māori communities to build greater food resilience. For Matua Nick, this means working with tamariki and rangatahi in the māra (garden) to encourage the next generation of kaitiaki. Read more.


Meanwhile, at Otahuhu College, year 10 horticulture students have been investigating the best conditions for increasing taro yield. They were supported by Peter Matthews, a world expert in taro cultivation, who shared with them the fascinating history of the plant’s migration and how it grows in diverse conditions around the world.

"It is so valuable having a real expert and enthusiast to advise us. [Peter] condensed his 30 years of research and pitched the content perfectly to a year 10 audience. They were particularly interested in the stories of human (and taro) migration across the Pacific". – Malcolm McAllister, horticulture teacher, Otahuhu College

Engineering to support community and environmental wellbeing

Following the Auckland Anniversary floods in Tāmaki Makaurau, year 5 and 6 students at Christ the King Catholic School (CTK) were motivated to find out what causes flooding and what can be done to mitigate future flooding impacts in their local area. Their enquiry project was supported by senior stormwater engineer, Allan Leahy from Auckland Council Healthy Waters. Watch their video to find out all about the students’ ideas for water sensitive design in urban neighbourhoods. The partnership with Allan has been so successful that plans are already underway to include the CTK students in future stages of local stormwater upgrades as well as an ambitious project to convert an underused part of their school grounds into a native wetland.


In another exciting engineering-related project, students at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori ā Rohe ō Māngere (TKKM) partnered with the Institution of Civil Engineers, Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland and Technology Education NZ, to explore climate issues through a te ao Māori lens. The innovative twist was the project’s “learning through play” approach where students explored sustainability and climate change through role-playing and board games. Read more.

“Working with the industry partners is pretty good, you learn a lot of things. Sometimes I’m always in the middle of understanding and not really there until I actually do more hands-on stuff.” – Tushay Takimoana, year 11 student, TKKM.

Ecowarriors explore Auckland’s cultural and ecological richness

The eco-warriors at Royal Oak Primary School have a long-term goal to create a biodiversity ‘green corridor’ for birds to travel between Maungakiekie One Tree Hill and their school grounds. The school was aided by Tūpuna Maunga Authority, who guided students on a hikoi around Maungakiekie to learn about the rich cultural and geological history of the site.


They were also joined by ecologists from Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland, Dr Kristal Cain and Juliane Mussoi, who taught the students about the extensive fauna that exists in the area. The students are working with ecologists and a local technology start-up to trial using bird-song monitoring devices to identify and count bird numbers. Having different STEM experts involved has shown students the many different pathways that science education can lead to. Read more.

Finally, a group of year 9 students at Aorere College have embraced eDNA technology to track how their awa is changing following several years of stream restoration work. Students collect samples which are then analysed by science company, Wilderlab, who process the data and present it back via accessible online infographics. Students then shared these results with Auckland Council to help inform regional plans for stream restoration work. Read more.

“It’s fun learning to use the various equipment... It’s interesting to see that there are some physical science jobs that are outside. That is the type of job I want.” – Campbell, year 9 student, Aorere College.

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