Cross-curricular approach to Matariki in Te Waipounamu

Issue: Volume 102, Number 11

Posted: 24 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAbbv

Two schools in the South Island took a cross-curricular approach to bring Matariki to life for ākonga and their communities – in a local context, and with the true essence of this special time of year at the heart of it all.


Cross-curricular approach 01a

Camera, lights, action! Louis and Lam provide first-class customer service. The balloon animals were popular with all ages and sold out quickly.

What began as an idea to fulfil a NCEA Level 1 commerce programme requirement swiftly morphed into a cross-curricular community Matariki celebration in Ōtepoti Dunedin.  

When teacher Jill Armstrong was casting around for an idea to steer her Trinity Catholic College commerce students towards, the stars aligned –nine in particular: the Matariki cluster.  

Jill’s Year 11 class had to design, evaluate and refine a business activity that incorporated a community wellbeing focus.  

“They needed an outlet – a localised, real-world context and I thought Matariki was a natural fit.”  

Cross curricular approach 02

Stepping away from the candy floss machine’s whir, Therese oversees her team’s market stall. Showcasing a delectable array of blue and pink spun treats, the alluring scent attracted a steady stream of eager customers.

Night stalls 

Students were tasked with creating Matariki-inspired products and activities fit for a community night market.  

Jill says, “I guided them through the business theory and then they chose their groups and managerial roles and did their own learning. It worked a treat.”  

Some made prototypes of their products (stellar biscuits, friendship bracelets, star-studded light jars, face paint designs) while others planned a range of kai stalls. One group catered to Dunedin’s midwinter conditions by making wheat bags to heat and pass out to the less weather-stoic attendees.  

Jill says it was a student-led initiative from the get-go.  

“I wanted to empower students so they could run the event. I tell them about the ‘Ps’: passion about your product and the people you work with, planning, preparation, priorities, promotion, precision, presentation and provision for others (each group is donating some profits to local charity St Vincent de Paul).”  

While the event was focused on celebrating Matariki, students had a valuable range of educational opportunities and soft-skills development.  

“It was full of learning for them. It’s like putting spinach in everything without kids knowing. They did soft skills as well – key competencies like leadership and managing self. It instilled a sense of ownership and pride in the event.  

“There’s a saying that I like: although you stand in front of the students, you’re really standing behind them, guiding them. It’s a high trust model.”  

Cross curricular approach 03

Louis performs a final lighting check before darkness falls.

A snowball effect  

Once Jill spread the word among her Trinity colleagues, her Matariki initiative snowballed into something more multi-dimensional: a night market and a showcase.  

The latter was a free event that included kapa haka performances, dance routines, poetry recitals, songs, and a wearable arts parade (Matariki-inspired designs on upcycled T-shirts).  

A small concept that initially involved 25 commerce students grew into a vibrant event involving 140 Trinity ākonga.  

Jill says, “There’s been some great student pastoral support with the older ones helping the younger ones, so you’ve got the sharing – the tohatoha.”  

She built a team of colleagues from languages, commerce, technology, and the arts departments to lead in their specific fields.  

Jill says it was vital to have a strong group familiar with te ao Māori. This latter cohort consisted of te reo Māori kaiako Maya Tate-Manning, Māori/Pasifika dean Amelia Bresanello (Kāi Tahu) and Pesamino Tili, teacher of junior te reo Māori and co-director of religious education – a man who spent the night darting between the kitchen (where he made his much-loved parāoa parai/fried bread) and the stage (where he led the kapa haka group).  

Together, they steered the event’s tikanga and safeguarded the essence of Matariki.  

Cross curricular approach 04

Maya Tate-Manning, Pesamino Tili, and Amelia Bresanello are all set to support akonga during the showcase.

Catholic values and te ao Māori  

During the planning stages, the team sought feedback from a whānau hui and consulted their school Kaumātua, Justin Hanning (Kāi Tahu) on how to best celebrate te ao Māori within Trinity’s Catholic framework.  

“I asked Justin if we could do a Matariki karakia in the showcase and his advice was to just reframe it slightly by doing a mihi to the stars (like a little haiku to each whetū) and then that’s respectful to both Catholic Christian beliefs and traditional Māori beliefs,” Maya says.  

Pesamino adds, “Kaumātua Justin understands those two worlds and how to integrate them to maintain the integrity of both sides. It reinforces the essence of the fourth article of Te Tiriti – that our Catholic beliefs and traditional Māori spiritual practices need to be respected.”  

Cross curricular approach 05

With pride, Jill Armstrong observes as the Year 11 commerce akonga skillfully arrange their vibrant market stalls..

Trinity’s principal, Kate Nicholson, is keen to continue developing the school’s cultural competency.  

“Everything has to be reflective of our Special Character in mind but we have a Kāi Tahu Kaumātua (Darren Rewi) leading us through the whole journey of working with whānau to make sure we are very inclusive of their wishes,” she says.  

Community building  

Trinity’s Matariki event attracted a wider range of whānau into the school.  

Kate says, “There were families here who may not come to parent-teacher interviews or formal prizegivings but will come to this type of event, so it’s a great way to engage with them.”  

Trinity also extended invitations to the eight schools within the Dunedin Catholic Schools Kāhui Ako to unite the wider community in a celebration of Māori culture and to strengthen the whanaungatanga.  

Jill says the event was a resounding success on all levels. Whether it was Pesamino’s fried bread or Jill’s hidden spinach that made it so, is a moot point.

Ākonga voice  

Oliver Lodge, pianist, Year 12  

“I enjoyed the process of researching and learning new waiata. I initially thought there weren’t many Matariki songs but after communicating with Whaea Maya I was able to think a bit wider about other aspects of Matariki, such as the environment and gained a deeper understanding of the bigger concept of Matariki.  

“I’m proud of how members of our school community shared their gifts and talents to create a school celebration centred around Matariki. Teachers and students have worked together to come up with ideas, and because of this, it feels unique to our school. This is only the second year that Matariki has been a public holiday and I hope the event builds a feeling of inclusiveness and celebration of Māori culture.”  

Leah Olsen, economics student, Year 10  

“My involvement in the event was designing a Matariki T-shirt. I learned a lot about the history behind the stars and what Māori use these stars for. As a child, I didn’t celebrate or understand Matariki, but as I grew up, I understood how important it is for Māori. I hope the event will unite people to celebrate this important holiday.”  

Che McGivern, economics student and saxophone player, Year 10  

“My band members and I discovered the depth and variety of Māori music and how we can play it as a band. I hope the event will raise awareness of Matariki and how Māori music and culture can be integrated into our school community.” 

Adapting a Matariki celebration to reflect the local environment

Adapting a Matariki 01

Olive preparing for her performance as Papatūānuku.

Inspiration for a whole-school Matariki production at Oaklands Te Kura o Ōwaka came from the school’s cultural narrative so the event celebrated both the whetū and their local marae and environment. The play incorporates local karakia, haka and waiata and acknowledges local flora, fauna and landmarks.

The Stars of Matariki is a fantastic school production written by Dave McMillan (2021), set on a North Island marae.  

When Oaklands Te Kura o Ōwaka deputy principal Caroline Martin was researching an appropriate schoolwide Matariki celebration, she found the McMillan production and knew it fitted their bill. But to be authentic for their ākonga it had to be adapted for their Canterbury location.  

Ahead of the school’s post-earthquake rebuild, completed in 2021, Te Taumutu Rūnanga gifted the school its cultural narrative.  

So, it was natural for the school to set the play’s adaptation at Ngāti Moki Marae at Taumutu on the shores of Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere.  

While the story focused on the Matariki cluster and the stars’ meaning, the setting and storytelling was adapted to their local environment.  

“The cultural narrative was represented subtly in the waiata we chose. The haka that the children performed was the one that we had been taught by the Rūnanga. We incorporated the symbolism and design from the marae carvings, and we talked a lot about the plants and animals, the living aspects of our cultural narrative, in the story as well,” says Caroline.  

It was important to weave Matariki and their cultural narrative together while honouring both.  

The script was shared with Te Taumutu Rūnanga and their advice and guidance was valuable and appreciated, says Caroline.  

“We wanted to acknowledge the significance of Te Waihora as one of the largest breeding grounds for birds in the world. We brought that into the script by including some bird watchers who were looking at birds on the lake. When we were thinking about the backdrop and everything for the set, we used the Port Hills and the local landscape as well as mirroring the carving designs that can be found on the marae,” she says. “There was a lot of learning that went into that for the children.”  

A cross-curricular event 

The production was a true cross-curricular event – history, literacy, art and creative design, te ao Māori and science – and involved a lot of problem solving.  

Oaklands Te Kura o Ōwaka has transformation as its curriculum theme for the year and the teaching team wanted the production to reflect the positive changes the school has experienced in recent years with its rebuild and the transition to collaborative teaching and learning.  

The school’s science focus for term 2 was ‘Light and Sound’, and that also fed into the production content as the children designed props and costumes featuring LED lights and a lot of glow-in-the-dark paint.

Each area of the school performed a particular aspect of the story, and every one of the 600 children was involved over three nights.  

Students were in awe of each other’s creativity and there was a lot of mentoring happening between the older and younger children, Caroline says.  

Parents’ feedback focused on how much te ao Māori they had learned from the performance.  

Now the drops of fluorescent paint in unexpected places around the school are a reminder of a wonderful production.

Adapting a Matariki 02

Some key characters at Ngāti Moki Marae.

Adapting a Matariki 03

The set was designed to reflect the landscape of Te Waihora.

Whole-school involvement

  • Year 1 students created glow-in-the-dark poi and taiaha to perform in the pōwhiri.
  • Year 2 students designed instruments to re-enact a storm sequence.
  • Year 3 students created costumes and fluorescent stars.
  • Year 4 students told the story of each star in the cluster.
  • Years 5 and 6 students used their knowledge of electrical circuits to create kites that lit up the night sky.
  • Years 7 and 8 students demonstrated strong leadership and were actors, set designers, or lighting and sound technicians.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:30 am, 24 August 2023

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts