Revving up students’ enthusiasm for science22/10/2014
Innovation and authentic learning experiences unite at Otaki College.
Imagine if science class was about mixing biofuels and building solar panels?
That is exactly what you will find at Otaki College. Chemistry students have been learning to emulsify fuel, with the goal of reducing harmful emissions and increasing efficiency in diesel engines.
The students are working with Leigh Ramsey from BFS (Blended Fuel Solutions) at the Clean Technology Centre in Otaki to create a blended fuel made up of water, diesel, and a secret ingredient. In addition to the chemistry of making a working fuel, the students are learning about how to create a cleaner, greener energy source.
The clean technology industry is one that will only grow in importance. With hopes to roll out further connections, Otaki College principal Andy Fraser says his students are thriving on the authentic learning experience.
Inspired to try something innovative at the school, Andy met BFS’ Leigh Ramsey and proposed a collaboration with Otaki students.
“The more I talked with him, the more intrigued I became, and I said to him, ‘I’m really interested, would you be prepared to work with our kids?’ And he said ‘Absolutely.’ His passion, first and foremost, is for environmental issues, but he also wanted to make positive change in our community.”
“It wasn’t anything magical. It was just about seizing an opportunity to work with some new ideas that are happening in the community around us, so that our students can be learning some really good hands-on science" says Andy.
Leigh worked with Otaki College HOD Science Bruce Anderson to redesign an achievement standard in Year 12 chemistry. It wasn’t long before the students were filling up the school vans and tractor with their own blended fuel solution.
Student testing on the vehicles has shown the new fuel has reduced emissions and is saving the school money.
“What the students have found is that it’s quite radically stopped the emissions and we’re getting better mileage, and we’re actually saving money on motor repair bills, too,” says Andy.
Science teacher Bruce Anderson is making further developments on the programme for Year 12 and extending the work into some Year 13 classes.
Students into community, and community into school
Otaki College’s relationships with enterprises in the community is being praised by the Ministry of Education for its innovation.
“This is a fantastic example of the kinds of partnerships we want to see across education and business, whereby students become excited about learning real life skills which have real life impacts,” says Arthur Graves, the Ministry of Education’s group manager of Youth Guarantee.
Youth Guarantee is a government initiative that broadens the choices of NCEA Level 2 achievement for those aged 16–19.
Andy’s enthusiasm for authentic learning doesn’t stop at blended fuels, though. He wants to ‘bring the Curriculum alive’ by making links with rongoa Māori experts in the community and continue a solar power project that has started up in the college’s science department.
"There are people all around us who have these amazing minds, thinking left of field, and that highlights to me what science is all about,” says Andy.
Otaki College is special in that its student population is 50 per cent Māori. Many of those students have whakapapa links (Ngati Raukawa, Te Atiawa, Ngati Toa) to the particular coastal location of the school.
“It’s about pushing boundaries, looking at new things, and taking your knowledge and pushing it out further. We want to give the students a place in their own community and to come up with new ideas and new ways of thinking about things.”
The idea is something he wants to extend to other subjects, too.
“Our whole aim here is to try and connect and make our curriculum meaningful and to give students an understanding of the application of what they’re learning. It’s about realistic contexts and these sorts of experiences are just gold, really,” he says.