Unlocking Curious Minds

O tātou tamariki, ngā Kaitiaki Taiao. Our children, our environmental guardians.

Kia ora, my name is Daniel Thomas and I am a senior lecturer at Massey University in Auckland. I am the project leader for a hands-on science activity that has been designed for students at three schools on the Coromandel Peninsula. This science activity is about teaching school children to understand the daily wanderings of pet cats using GPS devices. We are planning on running this project later in 2017. This page will be updated with information and progress relevant to the cat tracking project.

Instructional videos

Cat with GPS tracker

Information sheets and participant consent forms

Have a question about the project? The answer may be below.

Why track cats? Cat tracking is becoming a relatively common science project for young people to do in New Zealand and overseas. Cat tracking teaches children to develop and test a scientific hypothesis, to collect data using a scientific device, and to analyse the data they have collected. GPS data from cats are useful for answering a range of the scientific questions, like “how far does my pet travel at night?”

What is involved? We will train students to fit a walking harness to a pet cat and to attach a small GPS device to the harness. The model of the GPS device will be Mobile Action i-gotU GT-120. We will provide all of the equipment needed for the study, as well as comprehensive training to ensure the safe handling of pet cats. The GPS devices will be setup and ready to go so that the students only need to put the harness onto their cats, and remove it again after a couple of days. We will be preparing detailed instructions to give to students (parental supervision may be required). The GPS devices may not work with a home computer running Mac OS but we can bring a Windows computer to the school for student use if needed.


Who will be involved? We have designed this project for Year 7 and Year 8 students and so we will be focussing on specific classrooms within the three schools. This project satisfies several of the Year 7 and Year 8 achievement objectives for science, technology, and social science, as outlined in the New Zealand curriculum. For example, this project nicely ties in with the ‘Understanding About Science’ achievement: Students will develop and carry out investigations that extend their science knowledge, including developing their understanding of the relationship between investigations and scientific theories and models.


What if I don’t have a cat and my child still wants to participate? We would encourage students who do not have cats to team up with students who do have cats and share the activity steps and the results. However, some students may simply not have access to a pet cat for tracking. We can provide previously-recorded cat movement data so that students can still participate in the data analysis stages of the project. 


What if I don’t want my child to participate? That is perfectly fine. This project will be voluntary for students and their guardians and will not count towards class assessment. There is a wide range of reasons why students may not participate, including personal preference, schedule conflicts, or medical reasons like allergies. This project will be completely opt-in and permission and information forms will be circulated to parents and caregivers before students become involved in the project. Likewise, there is no commitment to completing the project. Students and caregivers can leave the project at any time.

Will the device be bad for my cat? The transmissions between a GPS device and an orbiting satellite are harmless to people and cats. The walking harness will be purchased from a pet store and will be designed with cat comfort and best-fit in mind. The GPS unit is small and is unlikely to catch on branches or other objects while the cat is exploring. Dr  Heidy Kikillus, a member of our project team, has tracked over 200 cats with these harnesses and GPS devices without any problems. However, the decision to attach the harness and GPS device to a pet cat is the sole responsibility of the pet owner, and if you do have concerns about attaching the device to your cat, then you may decide to not participate in this project. Neither the members of the project team, Massey University or Coromandel Area School will be responsible in the extremely unlikely event that the attached device leads to a pet cat becoming injured. We will be sending a participant consent form to parents and caregivers at the start of the project (likely in Term 3). 


Why your school? The Coromandel Peninsula is home to several rare and endangered species of native birds like kiwi, as well as rare bats, frogs and lizards. We know that the people who live on the Coromandel Peninsula generally feel a strong sense of pride and stewardship for their natural environment (kaitiakitanga). This project will teach students to critically think about the impact of introduced predators on native animal populations.


How will the privacy of school children be protected? The GPS device will record the position of the cat, which will likely start at the homes of cat owners. To test their scientific hypothesis, the students collecting the movement data will need to know where and how far the pet cat has wandered, and they may want to share these data with their classmates. We will provide a direct method for transferring the GPS data from the student to our project team at Massey University who will work in strictest confidence, and who will be bound by directives from the Massey University Human Ethics Committee. The Massey project team will project the GPS coordinates onto a new map that shows only the types of land use in the area (e.g. urban, native bush) and will therefore remove identifying information from the GPS data (e.g. street names, road positions). These re-mapped data will be returned to the student so that they can be used for the analysis stages of the project.


What is the motivation of the Massey project team? This project is being led by staff within the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (INMS) at Massey University. INMS has a strong commitment to science outreach, which is about involving community groups in science. We want to excite school children about data collection and show that science is not all just lab coats and Bunsen burners. Our broader aim is to encourage science literacy and critical thinking in the wider community. We have designed this project to be a fun exercise for all involved, and it may be the first taster of data collection that ignites a curious mind to pursue a career in science.

Is there a cost for my child to participate? No. This project has been fully funded by the Unlocking Curious Minds funding platform administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.


Is Gareth Morgan involved in this project in any way? No. We have not spoken with Gareth Morgan or his representatives about this project, and we have not received any funding from him.

Who are the members of the project team? Our project team consists of five members including myself (Daniel Thomas). Dr Luis Ortiz Catedral, Dr Michael Anderson and Dr Aaron Harmer are all based at Massey University. Dr Heidy Kikillus is based in Wellington. Together we have a wide range of expertise in education and science. Dr Kikillus is New Zealand’s premier expert in cat tracking and is the specialist consultant for this project.