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Citizen science and the local community

Rongomai Primary School is leading a Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures project. The project is part of the Participatory Science Platform (PSP) programme.

Science teacher Nick Pattison and his students have teamed up with high school teacher Nicole Stevens and the Manurewa High School Health Sciences Academy to investigate types of mould growing in local homes. The students collaborated with a number of science and community groups, and their investigations have revealed some surprising results!

Working as scientists with scientists

Students began the project by meeting with Landcare Research scientists to learn how to collect test swab samples. They also received iButton sensors to measure and record indoor temperatures and humidity levels. Students conducted their research in 22 anonymous houses in the local area. They used five separate swabs in each of the houses, taking samples from the living room, kitchen, bedrooms and other rooms of students’ choice.

Students were invited to spend a day at Landcare Research to plate and view the moulds under microscopes. The experience gave them insight into scientific investigation and what it is like to work as scientists. But it wasn’t just the students who learned something new during this project.

Surprising results from students’ data collections

Dr Stanley Bellgard, a plant pathologist and mycologist from Landcare Research, analysed the samples. He found:

  • all of the homes had the right temperature and humidity for mould growth
  • 80% of the homes were mouldy
  • 14 different types of mould across the homes – in forms likely to cause harm
  • three types of yeasts with the potential to cause disease
  • three bacteria with antibacterial resistance.

Dr Bellgard says that, for most people, mould spores don’t have a significant impact, but if people have existing health concerns, mould can adversely affect their condition. The homes with the yeasts and antibiotic-resistant bacteria will need further investigation.

Taking the message from the lab to the local community and beyond

The Rongomai Primary School students who took part in the Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures project know a lot more about damp, mouldy homes and how they affect people’s health. They think their local communities should know about this too. The Rongomai STEM programme produced a music video with ‘winning recipe’ tips to keeping houses well ventilated and healthy.

The project has received nationwide attention, and Nick and his students have received further funding to continue their investigations. Nirvana Healthcare, the company who donated the swabs and other consumables for the first investigation, has agreed to build a child-friendly, professional lab to continue testing homes for the next 5–10 years!

For more information about sources of indoor moisture and ways to minimise damp homes, read the article Damp homes and health risks and use the interactive Moisture sources in our homes.

Nature of science

Scientific investigations involve the collection of data. When participating in citizen science projects, students can learn and practise scientific procedures. Scientists use their expertise to interpret the data – allowing both parties to benefit from the collaboration.

Funding

Nick Pattison and the Rongomai Primary School STEM project received funding for Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures through the South Auckland pilot of the Participatory Science Platform (PSP) – a programme that is part of the Curious Minds initiative and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The PSP is currently being implemented as a pilot in three areas: South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.

The South Auckland pilot of the PSP is managed by COMET Auckland (Community Education Trust Auckland). COMET is a council controlled organisation of Auckland Council and an independent charitable trust. Its role is to advance education in Auckland by supporting education and skills across the region. COMET Auckland hosts the Auckland STEM Alliance which is leading the pilot in South Auckland. The Auckland STEM Alliance brings together businesses, educators and government.

The Government’s national strategic plan for Science in Society, A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara, is a Government initiative jointly led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

Useful links

The Rongomai Primary School Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures project was showcased in the media. Read the Stuff article Mouldy search for students.  

In this Sciblog post, Nick Pattison explains how the Healthy Homes Project came about.

Watch these YouTube videos about the mouldy homes project.
Rongomai S.T.E.M. Mouldy Homes Project
Mould song

Activity idea

The activity Investigating dampness and mould growth uses bread slices to explore the role of moisture – or the lack of it – in mould growth.

 

    Published 27 June 2016