Empowered Students Share Stormwater Designs

Empowered Students Share Stormwater Designs

This story was co-written with Kimberley Sullings, Year 5/6 teacher at Christ the King Catholic School in Tāmaki Makaurau. Published January 2024.

How did a group of Year 5 and 6 ākonga from Mt Roskill find themselves in front of a conference room full of adults, explaining stormwater infrastructure and presenting their Water Sensitive Design LEGO models?

Their guest appearance at the Healthy Waters Roadshow in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland in November 2023, was the culmination of a year-long inquiry that sparked curiosity, passion and a sense of community. 

Image: Students present at Healthy Waters Roadshow

The start of the 2023 school year in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland brought extreme weather and flooding, affecting many communities and families. Teachers and students at Christ the King Catholic School in Mt Roskill were determined to find out what had happened and take action to help prevent flooding in the future.

Teacher Kimberley Sullings was looking for an authentic context to explore across the whole year, with a focus on place-based and student-led inquiry. She connected with the Auckland Council Healthy Waters team to find out more about the stormwater system and why it was overwhelmed during the January storm.

Kimberley also discovered Pūtātara, an online resource which helped provide inspiration and structure for the year, with a focus on local curriculum and community solutions. Students reflected on this learning near the end of their inquiry:

"For me, Pūtātara means helping people who have been affected by floods."

"For me, Pūtātara means restoring nature and helping the earth."  

"For me, Pūtātara means looking after the community and nature around us."       

After a year of exploring, learning and designing, ākonga have produced a range of creative and practical designs for Water Sensitive Design features in their school and local community, including LEGO models with custom made 3D elements, such as rainwater tanks, green roofs, and rain gardens. These have been presented to the school community and then more widely to a range of adults at the Healthy Waters Roadshow. 

“As their kaiako I have seen our ākonga grow, learn, and transform into passionate advocates for our environment and community.”  - Kimberley Sullings

Watch the video below to hear from the teachers and students involved, with footage from their community presentation. To find out more about the journey they have been on and what they have planned for 2024, read the full article below, based on teacher Kimberley Sullings’ presentation to whānau and the community. 

“The biggest outcome was that the kids found that they had a voice that people wanted to listen to. The value our tamariki come with is that they have no preconceived thinking about how things should work. This allows them to bend the rules and think outside the box. “
- Principal Billy Hadnett

Starting the Journey: Pūtātara 

Pūtātara is an online resource produced by the Ministry of Education. It is actually aimed at older students but we have taken the ideas and adapted them to work for our tamariki and our school. The name, Pūtātara, comes from the urgent, carrying sound of the Pūtātara, or conch trumpet; it is a call to action.

There are three key concepts which we used to guide our learning across the year, starting with Tūrangawaewae, followed by Kaitiakitanga and Whakpuāwai. 

The programme teaches our tamariki about sustainability and global citizenship and provides them with the opportunity to speak up and share their ideas about issues that are affecting our community.

It also gives them a chance to be heard and have a voice about issues. One of the first questions I had from Room 8 when we first began was.

“Why are we doing this, Miss? No one cares what we have to say, we’re only kids”. Ah, but if only you had known how much people care - guys, look at where you are right now and who you will be speaking in front of shortly, there are a lot of people who want to hear what you have to say.

Pūtātara for Christ the King is now going to become an annual year long project that the Year 5 and 6 class will take part in each year, and they will tackle a different environmental issue that is affecting our local community through E-STEAM.

Integrated Curriculum with E-STEAM

E-STEAM is an environmentally focused inquiry based project using the integrated subjects of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics - literacy is also a huge part of the learning too. It allows our tamariki to develop skills in all these areas in a real life context rather than just sitting behind a desk. It also teaches them teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving skills and promotes creativity and innovation.

One of our field trips this year included a visit to MOTAT, Museum of Transport and Technology, to learn 3D design and printing and our Curious Minds funding allowed us to purchase a 3D printer for school. We also took part in The Wonder Project, learning about engineering and physics by building and launching water rockets. 

“I definitely want to become an engineer for solving problems.”
- Yr 6 Student
Exploring our Local History

Tūrangawaewae: Understanding where I stand explores ‘our place’ and our connection to that place. It recognises that being connected to the land and people around us is critical for understanding sustainability and global citizenship.

Image: Te Auaunga Oakley Creek

In the beginning of our project, Room 8 learnt about the history of the Mt Roskill area with a focus on Wesley, the history of Te Auaunga (Oakley Creek) and Auckland’s waterways, including the streams that were piped and the issues this has caused.

This gave them an understanding of the local area and also the history of it, gaining respect for the past by exploring what has happened and an understanding of why.

It was really important for me as their teacher to ensure they had the connection to the whenua (land), the tangata (people) and also the engineering and science side as without these connections, a lot of the “why” in our project becomes lost.

We then moved into the next phase, Kaitiakitanga - Caring for people and places with a focus on responding to global climate challenges at a local level. 

Students interviewed and spoke with the Principal from Wesley Primary School and learnt about how their community was affected by the flooding, how many people lost their homes and on the walk back to school there were many houses still boarded up from flood damage. 

Diving Deeper: Stormwater Solutions
Image: Students and Allan Leahy, Auckland Council

Our tamariki began this stage with a lot of learning about stormwater, including the history of stormwater engineering, by looking at the Waihorotiu stream in Queen St.

Tamariki were able to begin identifying the different stormwater infrastructure, what system it was part of and what its purpose was.

We also had the opportunity to attend field trips to Hobsonville point and Albany lakes to learn about Water Sensitive Design infrastructure in real life. Allan Leahy from Healthy Waters, who is a stormwater engineer, spoke to us about the advantages of this and how it can help combat flooding disasters.

The tamariki looked at Te Auaunga at Keith Hay Park and Freeland Reserve, our local wetland, to look at where the stream had been daylighted and to look at the effects of this. 

Image: Water testing at Te Auaunga

We took part in water quality testing with Natasha Wade, Community Coordinator for Project Twin Streams, in  three different parts of Te Auaunga to see how healthy it was. 

Our tamariki completed a huge amount of learning regarding the stormwater system through this process. They learnt about the primary and secondary systems and why Water Sensitive Design is becoming more popular.

We discussed how stormwater infrastructure has changed over time and how what was previously done in the past wasn’t wrong, it just doesn’t work anymore for today’s society due the huge population boom and housing intensification.

We then moved onto the last phase of Pūtātara, Whakapuāwai - Flourishing ever forward with a focus on future horizons through caring for people and place.

Creating and Presenting our Models

Our amazing senior tamariki at Christ the King worked incredibly hard on applying their new knowledge and they constructed these incredible models that are based on the Wesley area (and built with a little bit of help from the Principal and myself).

Each group came up with their own ideas for using Water Sensitive Design to solve the flooding problem and incorporated the different infrastructure (along with the primary and secondary stormwater systems) that they thought were suitable for the area.

The groups have had to create plans and get them signed off by “council” before they have been allowed to construct. I acted as the “council” and apparently this was the hardest part of the entire process!

They have then put on the stormwater systems and adapted their model to show what Water Sensitive Design infrastructure they would add to their models if they were town planners, designers and engineers.

All of the groups built their models using LEGO and 3D printers - they have designed all of their own 3D printing themselves using Tinkercad - a 3D design software program.

The children have created a selection of buildings including the school with their field, a shop and car park, a house on a whole section, two houses on one section, townhouses and an apartment building. As part of the community presentation, they gave a brief explanation of the topic, the different systems, the project and explained their model and why they chose the infrastructure they have put on their models.

These remarkable models and projects are not just a testament to their creativity and innovation, but a symbol of their dedication to creating a brighter, more sustainable future. 

They've shown us that age is no barrier to making a difference and that even our youngest voices can echo loudly when it comes to addressing the critical environmental challenges we face.

Our ākonga have demonstrated the power of their ideas, the depth of their understanding, and the importance of their voices. It's our responsibility to listen to them, support them, and act upon their ideas.

Reflecting on Impact and Planning Ahead

For teacher Kimberley Sullings, this project has been absolutely amazing with huge learning opportunities for both tamariki and herself. She is incredibly proud of what the class of 9, 10 and 11 year olds were able to achieve during this project.

They were fortunate to have received funding through Curious Minds to complete this project and wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. It has also allowed them to begin to set up a STEAM lab for year 3 to 6 students, which will continue to grow each year. 

“This opportunity has seen our tamariki super engaged and interested in real world problems. They have become more confident in asking questions of professionals and being critical with their thinking.” - Principal Billy Hadnett

Principal Billy Hadnett believes this project and future projects provide the opportunity for tamariki to dig deeper into real world and local curriculum problems. By digging deeper they become invested and hopefully they become interested in different jobs that could be available in the future.

Plans for 2024 include a new programme for the Year 4 class based around te taiao, along with a continuation of the Year 5-6 Pūtātara inquiry.

The school is looking forward to working with Trees for Survival, Jacqui Knight from Moths and Butterflies of NZ Trust, educators from Sustainable Schools Auckland and other local experts to learn more about native plants and habitats and improve biodiversity in the school grounds. This will include trips to Tiritiri Matangi Island, Butterfly Creek, Auckland Zoo, Auckland Botanic Gardens, and an overnight stay at Arataki.


Authentic local learning is only possible with support from a range of people and organisations. Christ the King Catholic School is hugely grateful for the opportunity to work with the organisations mentioned in this story and we hope the list of programmes below will be useful for other schools who are keen to engage with similar programmes. Special thanks again to:

Auckland Council, particularly Allan Leahy from the Healthy Waters team, along with Watercare (education programmes here) and Sustainable Schools Auckland

Curious Minds Participatory Science Platform - South Auckland funding, facilitated by Te Hononga Akoranga COMET  which allowed the school to purchase 3D printers, LEGO, water testing kits and take part in a range of trips.


Related Programmes and Resources

If you’re not based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland or the other locations listed below, you can check out the Providers catalogue on our website and filter by Region to find support in your area.

The Wonder Project STEM, rockets, renewable energy

MOTAT Museum of Transport and Technology Auckland 

Project Twin Streams water quality testing in Waitakere streams

Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust offer marine and freshwater education programmes nationally

Mountains to Sea Wellington offers programmes in the Wellington region including freshwater and marine

Tread Lightly stormwater education in Auckland, with a mobile classroom

Understanding Stormwater resource for teachers from Water NZ

NIWA Stormwater information

NIWA Township Flood Challenge game and lesson plans

Video about Water Sensitive Design from NIWA

Water Sensitive Design information from Wellington Water

Drain Detectives Hawke's Bay Regional Council

Our Drains are Streams WAI Wānaka

Green Roof story about Remarkables Primary School, Queenstown

Enviroschools stories:

Kaniere School Stormwater Awareness Campaign (Te Tai Poutini | West Coast)

Gifted Learners Lead Local Change (Taupō)

Rethinking Waste Through a Māori Perspective (Te Tai Rāwhiti)

Wai Restoration Flows into Other Regions