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Science and identity: Matakōkiri project

Issue: Volume 94, Number 15

Posted: 24 August 2015
Reference #: 1H9crw

Linking science/pūtaiao to Māori language, culture and identity through students’ local tikanga, whakapapa and stories is getting some great results for the Matakōkiri project.

Students in front of Wairakei Research centre

Matakōkiri is an iwi-based science programme run by Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iko Ake Trust for local students, whānau, teachers and schools.

“Matakōkiri is a comet that lights up the sky – it’s about lighting that spark within our tamariki. We have forty children in each wānanga, from both Māori and English medium schools, who are all descendants of Ngāti Whakaue”, Hinemoa Anaru from the Trust says. “Our parents’ learning alongside the tamariki is integral to the kaupapa of Matakōkiri.” Wānanga are led by teachers who are able to build strong links back to the curriculum. Often the programme has a waiting list, but they deliberately keep the size small so that learning is optimised.

Their most recent wānanga had a specific focus on Te Ihi, Te Wehi, Te Wana – forces and weather, both natural and man-made. Learning took place over a few days of rich experiences for akonga and whānau in the Taupo district, based at Waipahihi Marae.

Prior to leaving Rotorua and heading south to the mountains, the group had two presentations on the weather. The first was from former weather presenter Tāmati Coffey. He spoke about his work in translating information from the weather service into plain English every night. Tāmati brought some of his old weather scripts with him, and the children had a go at presenting the weather themselves.

Next was Graham Timpany from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). He brought in some of NIWA’s instruments to demonstrate what they were and how they worked.

Both Tāmati and Graham’s talks tied in with learning about an ancestor Ngatoroirangi and his battles with the elements which led to the coming of fire (Te Pupu and Te Hoata who brought fire from Hawaiki to save Ngatoroirangi and thus forming the Taupo Volcanic Zone). Throughout the wānanga the students learnt about their ancestors, their journeys and actions, which tied into the science of the many places they visited.

After those talks, the group headed off on their journey to Taupo. Their first stop was the Aratiatia Rapids, where the Waikato River falls 28 metres in the space of one kilometre and the surging rapids have been harnessed for environmentally sustainable hydroelectric power. The group was able to witness how science is able to tame and shape the force of nature into a force of human power.

Lunch and a trip to Wairakei Terraces followed, where the tamariki learnt some more of the legends and stories of the area. Then the group headed to a pōwhiri at the Waipahihi Marae and settled in. Activities based on forces like gravity followed – constructing hovercraft out of CDs and balloons and building bridges out of spaghetti to hold up marshmallows.

That evening the group was joined by Tūwharetoa descendants Dylan Tahau and Henare Pitiroi, who shared their stories of Te Puku o Te Ika, Kahui Maunga, Journeys of Tia and Ngatoroirangi and the connections shared with Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa, Mai i Maketu ki Tongariro.

Back on the road the next day, the morning was spent up Mount Ruapehu – the 11-14 year olds tried skiing and snowboarding, while the younger kids did sledding. Afterwards a trip to the hot pools warmed everyone up, while demonstrating just how different the forces of nature could be.

That evening was a performance night, Pō Whakangahau. The children were divided into four different groups named after the local mountains– Pihanga, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu. Each group created their own item encapsulating what they’d learned over the past couple of days then performed – singing, dancing and skits in Māori and in English.

On the final day, the wānanga split in two. Half the group went through the Wairakei GNS Science’s Research Centre, and the other to the Taupo Volcanic Centre before swapping over. At GNS Science the children learned about geothermal energy generated in the area before being taken through the labs.

“Once they [scientists] understand about the wānanga they’re more than happy to come on board. The science community has been really supportive and giving of their specialist expertise and resources,” says Matakōkiri project lead Renee Gillies.

“Marrying the science with the cultural aspect is the key to success. Scientists can’t believe it when they see how engaged our tamariki are.”

The final stop on the trip was a visit to the Huka Prawn Park, to learn how the geothermal energy they had seen being generated is used to heat water to grow the prawns they then fished for.

But thinking about science doesn’t stop when the wānanga is over.

“One of the key aspects of Matakōkiri is that it’s a learning journey for the whānau as well,” says Renee. “The whānau have to sign on for at least two days – but they end up staying the whole week because they enjoy it so much. They go home and talk to their kids about the learning they have shared together. It’s knowledge that we know they share across their whole family.”

Wānanga have been running for two years now, in the second week of the school holidays, every term. While there are new children on each wānanga, there are those who come along every time, developing more and more passion for science.

“We try to keep some of those eager students every time because we want to nurture their interest in science. Our tamariki are asking questions so scientifically now,” says Hinemoa. “They get to check out a few of the science areas they might be interested in, and hopefully at school work on building those areas.”

Progress is apparent, and each wānanga involves more scientific enquiry. The Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iko Ake Trust is clear about what its end goal is.

“We want to develop Ngāti Whakaue scientists who are empowered to contribute to the wellbeing of the people,” says Renee.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 6:25 pm, 24 August 2015

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