Students solve real-world primary sector problems

Issue: Volume 98, Number 7

Posted: 3 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9tgi

In light of the growing number of job opportunities in the primary sector, a school challenge is encouraging future farmers and emerging entrepreneurs to think outside the box.

Designed to introduce Year 9 and 10 science, technology and commerce students to the primary sectors, the GrowingNZ Innovation Challenge requires students to apply their skills to solving real-life challenges.

Darfield High School teacher Andrea Jacobs had her students participate in the challenge last year as part of their social studies curriculum.

Students are randomly assigned one of 15 possible primary sector problems, such as water scarcity or pests, for which to create a solution.

“First they research the problem and see what current solutions are out there and what’s been trialled before. Then they have to choose enablers, so they get to select a type of technological advance that will support their solution,” says Andrea.

To come up with a solution, students can use 20 different enablers, including artificial intelligence, networks and sensors, 3D printing, robots, nanotechnology and virtual reality.

Many of Andrea’s students come from a rural background and can easily relate to the context.

“It was good because it can be quite challenging to hook some of the country kids into some of the other contexts that they just can’t really connect with,” she says.

“They all learned something new about problem solving and creating innovative solutions. Even the ones that were quite strong in one specific area of farming got exposed to alternatives that they may not have otherwise really thought about or known about.”

Primary sector opportunities

The aim is to expose students to the variety of opportunities available in the primary sector, says Andrea.

“People who are much more science or technologically minded can easily work in this sector, because it’s not just about putting your gumboots on and going out on the farm. This was all done in the classroom with computers and communicating with people,” she says.

“It’s important for these students in particular because this is the community they live in and a lot of them are going to be going out and working here. Many of them are going to end up going onto their family farms or working locally. It’s trying to get them thinking innovatively rather than just following old practices.”

The challenge includes lesson plans and teacher resources that provide a practical cross-curricular programme that has strong links to level 4 and 5 of the science, technology, social studies and English learning areas of the curriculum, says Andrea.

“For the science [area] it was about investigating new approaches. The technology was using technological practice and technological knowledge, like modelling and prototyping. The social sciences was hitting the innovation and exploration and also responding to community challenges. For the English, they have to present at the end so it was the speaking, writing and presenting.”

The optimal weedkiller

One group from Andrea’s class were the 2018 Term 4 winners of the challenge. Their concept was a weed-killing device that could target the weeds in a crop without damaging the crop itself.

After initially learning how weeds can have a significant impact on productivity, can harbour pests and be a fire risk, the team set to work on creating their solution.

“They came up with a drone fitted with GPS that they could then get to go across the fields,” says Andrea. “They could log the GPS points of where the weeds were and then programme those into the machine to then spray only those specific GPS locations. They also looked at different types of sprays they could use that wouldn’t affect the crops.

“They’re given a few websites to use as starting points and they research it, they see what’s out there. We want to see what comes out of their brains rather than supporting them too much, because ultimately they’ve often got much better ideas than we’d ever have.”

For more information refer to the GrowingNZ Innovation Challenge(external link). 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:54 am, 3 May 2019

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