Digital storytelling engaging and inspiring ākonga in STEM

Issue: Volume 101, Number 7

Posted: 8 June 2022
Reference #: 1HAUWm

How do you engage young learners? According to those involved in Digital Story Telling Aotearoa, the answer lies in opening up to digital technologies and what they can offer for learning across the curriculum.

Ākonga use games to engage with learning about Aotearoa New Zealand history.

Ākonga use games to engage with learning about Aotearoa New Zealand history.

Digital Story Telling Aotearoa (DSTA) is an association set up to support kaiako to bring local curriculum to life using digital tools in an Aotearoa New Zealand context, and to help develop capability and confidence in delivering local curriculum through game design. 

Funded as a Network of Expertise by Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education, the executive consists of Arnika Macphail, Kate Manch and David Macphail, and the committee consists of Rachael Williams, Chelsea Bridges and Craig Render. 

The values of the NEX are whanaungatanga (relationships), māramatanga (enlightenment and understanding) and ako (teaching and learning).

“We have noticed that over the past few years with the Digital Technologies curriculum content that kaiako have been overrun with so many other things. There are a number of very confident DT kaiako around Aotearoa, but we still have a lot of support needed for kaiako teaching across the curriculum,” says Arnika.

The group has also combined with Sir Ian Taylor’s team at Animation Research Ltd, who have been developing and using digital data to tell stories that people can understand since 1990, investing heavily in a mission to help tamariki learn from the past to navigate the future. Sir Ian’s Mātauranga resources aim to prove that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is not something to be afraid of, but part of a much bigger world view.

Sir Ian was exploring his cultural history when he met with Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith who was researching human migration. 

“She concluded that the greatest story of human migration was that it was made by our Polynesian tuhanga across the Pacific Ocean,” says Sir Ian.

Passionate about extending STEM opportunities for Pacific and Māori ākonga, Sir Ian saw the value in sharing the story of migration and voyaging to engage them. 

“When I looked at this story of celestial navigation, of travelling across the greatest expanse of water on the planet, guided only by the stars, sun and ocean currents, you realise that that was impossible without science, technology, engineering, and maths. Those early voyagers were scientists, they were astronomers, they were astrologers. They were engineers,” says Sir Ian.

“The goal was to just inspire our young people, to inspire them into the idea that this thing called STEM and innovation – it’s in your DNA. It comes down through your tīpuna, who were some of the sharpest and brightest people in the world.”

Sparking a sense of identity

Kaiako have engaged in a range of opportunities to support each other, including in-school release to develop materials, schools coming together to plan ways to bring Sir Ian’s Mātauranga into the classroom, working with community libraries to develop confidence in using Minecraft EE for storytelling, and online hui around using digital technologies to bring Matariki and Mātauranga (Sir Ian’s content) to life.

Emily Wells, a kaiako at St Mark’s School, says that participating in the online hui has been valuable in providing a wealth of resources and by challenging her to further extend her use of digital technology, in all areas of the curriculum.

“At the beginning of the year, another colleague in our junior syndicate and I attended the ‘Mātauranga, Land of Voyagers, digital storytelling’ hui and that was absolutely fantastic.

“The first part of Land of Voyagers tells the story of the migration of the master navigators across all the Pacific, including Kupe, and other migrations that came after that.”

The lessons reinforce to Māori and Pacific students that they are innovators and experts in STEM. There is a huge sense of pride when they discover their ancestors were some of the best explorers in the world and part of one of the greatest migrations in human history.

Emily has used the video to help create a sense of identity and kotahitanga (unity) with her students. 

“I’ve shown the video to my Year 1 and 2 class and also linked it through on Seesaw for parents/ whānau to watch. It fits in beautifully with a schoolwide theme of kotahitanga. Knowing more about themselves motivates ākonga to learn more about others so they become a whole cohesive unit by knowing each other more. They know where they are from, and can explore and share more about their culture,” says Emily.

To aid this knowledge Emily uses Google maps to show how far relatives have come and is working on creating an interactive Google map by pinning the places with photos of the children and their relatives and the types of vessels that their family travelled in. The idea to use digital technology in this way came from attendance at the hui.

Her journey into using technology is also sparking new ideas, such as using Book Creator to help ākonga tell the stories of how their families arrived in Aotearoa. Emily is thinking of creating QR codes which will allow people to hear those stories being told by the children themselves. 

Emily Wells working on an interactive Google map.

Emily Wells working on an interactive Google map.

Using Minecraft to aid learning

In Ōtautahi Christchurch, DSTA has worked with staff in Christchurch City Libraries – Ngā Kete Wānanga o Ōtautahi  in developing Minecraft EE lessons that align with the Matauranga, Land of Voyagers, content. Ākonga engage in the videos first, and then learn how to tell stories using Minecraft EE. Ākonga can design their own stories, and develop a sense of who they are as they engage in the story of migration to Aotearoa.  

Danny McNeil, from Te Rōpū Poutama (Programmes, Events & Learning Team) South Learning Centre, Putahi Akoranga, has been part of this journey and is excited by the support that is now happening for digital technologies in the form of platforms such Minecraft EE.

“We’ve used Minecraft EE in the past because it’s a really great engagement tool and it offers a lot of highly educational benefits. We note that it really engages students that have not always been engaged in the traditional way of education,” he says.

Danny first started to use Minecraft EE after a visitor to the library, aged eight, told Danny that he would come to the library more often if they had Minecraft. That was 10 years ago. 

For the DSTA project, the team from ImpactED including Wilj Dekkers, Minecraft global training mentor, worked with Te Waka Unua School to develop which aspects they wanted students to learn about then relayed that to Danny and Minecraft tech guru Robbie Rate so that they could work out the best ways in which to use Minecraft EE to assist. 

Danny says the students do the learning and then they replicate what they’ve learned in Minecraft EE by reproducing aspects of the story.

“So, they use Minecraft as the vehicle to consolidate that knowledge, and because they were so engaged in Minecraft as a medium, as a creative output, it works really well.” 

Danny explains that there are many benefits and learning opportunities that can come from using Minecraft.

“When you are using Minecraft, you are developing 3D spatial awareness without getting technical about it, the students are playing, but they’re becoming aware of 3D space.”

Danny relates the story of how, when they first started using Minecraft, a student who was very familiar with it helped them in developing the resources and teaching. That student was later able to obtain a scholarship through his work with the library. 

Arnika also appreciates the value of platforms such as Minecraft. 

“A lot of ākonga are familiar with Scratch and Minecraft EE, but what we find is that when we start to look at the platforms as a way to design an experience around local curriculum, that’s when we see real purpose in game design. Examples of this can be how the school values are brought to life in a game, building spaces that represent local places, or having challenges in games that depict something relevant to a kura.”

Danny McNeil.

Danny McNeil.

Providing the tools to succeed

The ability to use digital tools can require certain resources, but DSTA promotes tools that are free and easy to access.

“Our team works very hard to ensure that what we are promoting is either in a lot of schools already (BeeBots, MicroBit, Sphero), or that it is accessible from ChromeBooks, Windows devices, and iPads. We want to try to make sure that anyone attending any hui leaves with something they can try tomorrow in their classroom without having to go away and spend hours planning, or researching,” explains Arnika.

Danny also says that facilities such as libraries can help schools that have limited access to resources.

“Not all schools have a suite of PCs, and it’s not always appropriate or even possible to do some of this type of work on a Chromebook.”

DSTA is busy working on several areas to assist teaching and learning. For example, the team has developed a resource unpacking Te Aho Arataki Marau mō te Ako i Te Reo Māori – Kura Auraki, the te reo Māori resource for English medium schools. The latest Minecraft resources are now also available on the website in te reo Māori and English. The aim is to normalise te reo Māori in everyday life in our education system. 

“One of the aspirations is to bring to life a range of projects that really show the bicultural heritage of Aotearoa. In projects like these, ākonga have the opportunity to see themselves and others around them reflected, and it can help to strengthen their confidence in who they are and their place.”

Taking Matariki learning to a new level with digital technology

Education Gazette caught up with Matua Craig Render, a committee member and facilitator for Digital Story Telling Aotearoa (DSTA), about how they are supporting kaiako to explore a range of tools that will help bring mātauranga Matariki to life for ākonga in the classroom.

Matua Craig Render says digital technologies is one of the many ways tamariki survive and thrive today.

Craig has been in education for 15 years and is now a primary teacher at Marotiri and Upper Atiamuri schools.

He says teachers and educators are encouraged to adopt new technologies and use them to engage with students, and that, “for us to thrive in education, we need to engage in our students’ world.”

Craig explains how he has been implementing digital technologies in his own classes.

“I was working with a student who had just lost her uncle, who had raised her. She wanted a way to remember him and for her not to lose the messages he had sent to her. We were able to download the voice messages from WhatsApp that her uncle had sent to her.

“These were amazing messages of love and encouragement he would share with her on the way to school. Using a video editor, we were able to put these against images of her uncle and it was a moving tribute to his memory and was for ever immortalised,” he says.

A stepping stone to te ao Māori

Talking about celebrating Matariki by using digital storytelling, Craig says this could be a vehicle to connect ākonga with te ao Māori.

“The appearance of the Matariki cluster of stars signifies the Māori New Year – Te Matahi o Te Tau. This is a chance for people to gather, to honour the dead, celebrate the present and plan for the future. Also, astronomy is interwoven into te ao Māori – with the movements and position of the stars, the sun and moon cycles connected to seasonal agricultural activities.”

Digital tools can be used to help facilitate this understanding and celebration. Tools such as Scratch and Thinglink could help kaiako and ākonga in bringing static images to dynamic and digital life, or by getting students into coding.

Craig says kaiako should preserve the autonomy of ākonga and implement digital technologies to make the learning experience authentic for them.

“We crave freedom of choice ourselves, and we crave autonomy. How can these students develop into agentic citizens when we do not give them agentic situations?”

Webinar of support

DSTA had its first webinar on digital storytelling of Matariki on 3 May, its second on 18 May and the final on 1 June, which was New Zealand Sign Language supported.

The webinars were led by Craig and Whaea Irihāpeti Hopper (Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri, Ngapuhi).

For the first workshop 120 schools from across Aotearoa New Zealand registered, including Te Waka Unua School from Ōtautahi Christchurch who attended the online hui as a staff meeting.

One kaiako says, “After hearing about Scratch Junior, I researched it and am looking forward to our tamariki learning it and implementing it as part of our programme. We plan to try and implement Scratch Junior into our technology lessons and then use it as part of our maths and literacy sessions.”

Another kaiako from Te Waka Unua School says they were inspired by the application of digital tools to storytelling.

“I loved learning about new digital tools and being inspired. I am not going to do exactly what they shared, but I have got ideas spinning.

“I think I can do that [implement digital tools] where it fits in, whilst also teaching and maintaining other skills for tamariki. I will not replace guided reading sessions for digital technology sessions but integrate them when it suits.”

Practical ideas for kaiako

Matua Craig Render and Whaea Irihāpeti Hopper share ideas to bring Matariki to life using digital technologies.

Te Tirohanga – Observe

  • Mandala Matariki: Link to Thinglink to create an interactive poster.
  • Learn the nine stars’ names and create a stop motion video of each star.
  • Use Canva to create small posters about the stars.
  • Use Makey Makey to map out stars and their meaning and then use Scratch to create interactive posters.
  • Use Google Sheets or Excel to create tukutuku patterns to represent the stars of Matariki.

Te Whakamahara i ngā mate – Remember

  • Use Book Creator about someone who has passed.
  • Use video editor software to create a picture montage.
  • Use Canva poster quotes for the person you are honouring.
  • Use Scratch Cartoon to depict your favourite memory of that person.

Celebrate - Intentions for the new year  

  • Use Canva to create a wish list of dreams, hopes, and desires.
  • Students can create a video to themselves that they can watch in a year’s time, using the Gmail or Outlook schedule sending feature. Use video software through Microsoft Video Editor, Canva or iMovie.

For further information and support, visit Digital Storytelling Aotearoa(external link) (DSTA).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:27 pm, 8 June 2022

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