Auckland housing has been an issue for years – but it is not just human homes under the spotlight. Students from South Auckland’s Dawson Primary School and Aorere College have taken it upon themselves to design a wētā house that is safer and more desirable to wētā. The house also has a design feature that allows for the collection of wētā frass for research purposes.
Building on an interest in wētā
Dawson Primary School was one of three schools that received Participatory Science Platform (PSP) funding to investigate wētā poo DNA. Students were curious about the types of food wētā were eating in the school grounds, so they installed wētā houses and collected the frass left behind. This investigation revealed more than what the wētā ate. The participants discovered that the wētā houses were not ideal dwellings for wētā, nor were they practical for data collection. From a design perspective, the houses (hollowed out blocks of wood with sliding doors) had other issues, too. Their construction required power tools, skills in cutting and joining the wooden pieces and significant adult supervision.
Dawson Primary School teacher Tarayn Zeier saw the value in conducting a scientific inquiry to design, redefine, create and test wētā houses. The end goal was to create a final product for production and distribution. Tarayn applied for additional PSP funding, and her students set off on a new investigation.
Wētā house design and the nature of science and technology
PSP projects are a powerful combination of science, education and community. Students learn about the nature of science and develop science capabilities in real-world contexts.
Tarayn and her year 6 students experienced numerous aspects of the nature of science and technology during their wētā house redesign project:
- Tentative nature of scientific and technological knowledge – evidence from their previous project suggested that the wētā houses were not ideal in meeting the needs of wētā.
- Collaborative nature of science and technology – the students worked with experts from the Auckland Zoo and engineers from Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.
- The creative nature of science – students designed houses to meet the needs of wētā and the needs of scientists who want to gather data about wētā.
- Purposeful design of technology – students created a design that was fit for purpose.
Wētā houses and the science capabilities
During the design process, the students practised a range of science capabilities:
- Gather and interpret data – students visited experts to learn about wētā, their habitats and life needs. They used the data they gathered to make inferences regarding wētā house design features.
- Use evidence and critique evidence – students, with the help of the engineers, used evidence to create and refine their house designs.
- Interpret representations – students and engineers used design software to create virtual wētā house components. The virtual components were 3D printed for students to handle and critique.
- Engage with science – the students view wētā as taonga. Successfully redesigned wētā houses may help to populate the local area with wētā and aid with conservation.
The value of collaboration
PSP projects build strong partnerships between the science and technology sectors and the local community. Josh McIntyre and Mark Thorn, engineers from Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, played a crucial role in the project. They hosted a number of design sessions. The topics included the design and manufacturing processes, prototypes, design software, 3D printing and laser cutting. Josh and Mark used the student designs to create initial prototypes in plastic. Further discussions refined the design to a final prototype.
The prototype – a flatpack wētā house – meets the needs of the wētā. The entrances allow easy access for wētā but not for their predators. The house is dark (wētā are nocturnal), and it is weathertight. It has three rooms, as wētā are social creatures and often live in groups. The wētā house is also handy for humans. It is easy to assemble and install, and scientists can gather frass without disturbing the occupants.
We want to see wētā houses on school grounds to encourage the species to populate the area and to allow scientists to collaborate with us and access wētā to study in our local environment.Dawson Primary School students
The ultimate goal is to manufacture the wētā house for widespread distribution. The team plans to release the design under a Creative Commons licence so schools and groups around New Zealand can house and study wētā.
At present, the design is still being field tested, so it is not available for purchase. But watch this space – we’ll let you know when they are good to go!
The article Wētā provides additional information about these fascinating nocturnal creatures and their life needs.
The student activity Building homes for tree wētā has a planning sheet that encourages students to consider wētā needs and habitats before designing a home to meet these conditions.
Dawson Primary School and Aorere College received funding for their wētā house redesign project 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 South Auckland pilot of the PSP is managed by COMET Auckland (Community Education Trust Auckland).
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, the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.