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Embracing our cultural richness: Ahi Pepe | MothNet project

Issue: Volume 96, Number 19

Posted: 30 October 2017
Reference #: 1H9fjq

When children are asked what their favourite animals are, the answers are usually quite similar – dogs, cats, bunnies, lions, tigers. Sometimes exotic, sometimes more domestic, the animals that kids usually associate with are those they see at home or on television. Many creatures go largely unrecognised by children and it is generally their four-legged friends that seem to hold a special place in their hearts and minds. However, a new project being run across the South Island is promising to change all this.

Children sorting their moth samples

The Ahi Pepe | MothNet project  is a citizen science project that aims to engage teachers, students and whānau with moths, not only by helping them to nurture and learn about moths but also to see them through a cultural lens.

The project was officially born in late 2015 and with four Otago schools on board the pilot launched. After a successful trial, the Ahi Pepe | MothNet project expanded further across the South Island, thanks to funding from MBIE’s Curious Minds. The project now has a home at 14 schools, both primary and secondary, and has plans to further broaden its scope with exposure to schools in Te Ika a Maui (the North Island) by early next year.

What have moths ever done for us? Heaps!

New Zealand, a country with a rich and varied ecosystem, relies heavily on moths as food for native birds, insects and reptiles, as well as pollination for plants – as with bees, without them we would be in a dire situation.

Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) are the third largest group of insects in New Zealand, with more than 2,000 known species. Most New Zealand moths are found nowhere else in the world (92 per cent endemic) and it is important that young Kiwis, our future generation, are aware of the need to protect them.

Their largely nocturnal nature means moths are often overlooked, especially as a scientific study for school-aged children. But the Ahi Pepe | MothNet project has begun to shine a new light on these otherwise shy creatures.

The project comprises not only scientific and natural biology elements, but also the importance of studying the creatures in our ecosystem through a Māori lens.

Since its inception, the project has produced many resources to support teachers, students and whānau.

A South Island series titled Puka Whakamārama o Te Pepe Nui – Beginners’ Guide to the Macro Moths has been released to support the 14 schools currently associated with the project. Plans are in the works to work alongside Curious Minds, the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, and Landcare Research to produce a North Island series to be titled Puka Whakamārama o Te Pepe Nui – Beginners’ Guide to the Macro Moths, which promises to expand the bank of te reo Māori science resources available nationwide.

This project teaches students about applying scientific thinking, processes and methods. Moreover, the resources have not been simply translated from English but have been written in specific te reo dialects to cater to the areas they are reaching. In fact, the South Island series was the first educational resource to be written in the Kai Tahu dialect, with English translations available. The resources aim to  strengthen and restore connections between culture and science. In this way, science is taught in a real context so that students can better understand, appreciate and therefore take care of our native moths.

The project encourages a hands-on approach, with students immersing themselves in the flora and fauna of Aotearoa, nurturing the moths and providing feedback to the project itself.

Mere months ago, the project was also recognised on a global scale with kickstarters from Givealittle, and the sale of New Zealand moth badges, largely funding a presentation at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education in Toronto, Canada. The $6,500 raised from the Givealittle page alone proved how much support there is from the people of New Zealand to raise the profile of this project.

In addition to crowd funding, the project also has government support. The Curious Minds programme has a 10-year goal of encouraging and enabling better engagement with science and technology for all New Zealanders, with a specific focus on engaging young people in schools, as well as and Māori and Pacific communities.

Helen Sillars, Manager of Specialised Investments at MBIE, says the Ahi Pepe | MothNet project is a great example of the type of work that Curious Minds funds.

“[The project] fosters curiosity and empowers people to become meaningfully involved in using science to investigate issues in their local communities – we think this is an incredibly important tool in building a scientifically aware society,” says Helen.

The power of the project has been recognised by Curious Minds, which has supported it to expand across the country. 

Helen says that funding has been specifically allocated to engage Māori students, increase the use of te reo and provide resources to schools. By year-end 2017, Curious Minds will have provided funding of $150,000.

The main aims of the project continue to remain true to its initial intention: engage our tamariki in nature and the environment and increase te reo Māori availability to schools, particularly with a science focus.

As the schools collaborate with the project partners, the project promises to produce data on these relatively mysterious creatures. How are the moths getting on? What types of environment do they thrive in? What are their distributions and how do these relate to the natural and changing environment across
New Zealand?

The future looks bright for the Ahi Pepe | MothNet project. As it creates more footholds in schools across the country, the project should continue to engage our tamariki and provide them with an understanding of our ecological uniqueness.

To connect with the project, visit its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MothNetNZ(external link)   

MothNet at Clutha Valley Primary

One school that has benefited from participating in Ahi Pepe | MothNet is Clutha Valley Primary School. Chloe Gardner, Coordinator of Enviroschools at Clutha Valley, described how the children undertook their very own scientific investigation in March of this year.

“We did the trapping here at school with the kids. We got them to do the whole process of building the traps and it was about finding out which sort of vegetation to put them in: lots of light or not a lot of light and seeing the different effects. We went to a farm and put them in three different areas: treatment (replanted natives); reference (old, native bush); and control (open paddock).

“We did the process of freezing them and sorting them into the different moth species as best we could. They were all sent back to Otago University and then they used them to calculate the population of the moths.”

Engaging in a real scientific study, Chloe says, benefited the children immensely and they were “hooked in” by the prospect of contributing to Otago University’s moth data collection.

“The kids were fully into it and understood that this was going to Otago University. We had two students go to a camp at the Orokonui eco sanctuary and they learned about the study. They brought this back to school and they were the ones driving it at school and pushing it for the kids.”

Chloe is positive about the future of the project and the continued participation of Clutha Valley, among other schools, in the data collection process.

“We’re hoping to do it each year to calculate what’s happening with the moths,” she says.

What is Curious Minds?

Curious Minds was officially launched in July 2014 under the official name ‘A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara.

Funded by the New Zealand Government, the initiative has a 10-year goal of encouraging and enabling better engagement with science and technology for all New Zealanders.

The Curious Minds fund supports activities, projects and programmes that work with communities, businesses and educators to boost engagement between science, technology and society.

Curious Minds, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education, MBIE, and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, also provides an array of resources for both students and teachers.
Information about Curious Minds’ future endeavours and projects they currently support  can be accessed from their website at www.curiousminds.nz(external link).

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

Posted: 9:00 am, 30 October 2017

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