Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Rotorua’s rangatahi and tamariki are learning about computer science and creative coding through making games.
Digital wayfinders Potaua and Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule are creating a quiet revolution through teaching Rotorua’s youngest generation the basics of how to make their own computer games.
But they are equally proud of setting up Digital Natives Academy two years ago because they see coding as the ‘new’ literacy.
“We want to level the digital playing field for Māori and show tamariki and rangatahi that while coding is part of a new future, it can still acknowledge the whakapapa of the past,” Potaua tells us.
At Owhatiura Kura/Lynmore Primary, Potaua and Nikolasa first played a video of a marae being built in Minecraft to the tauira, to show that it is possible to use tikanga Māori to explain the scientific method and how these can both be used to attain work in the digital space.
Then it was the students’ turn to have a go. They were given a login and password to get started on Hour of Code, an online initiative where people can drag and drop snippets of code to achieve step-by-step goals.
“I liked how they had different levels and blocks of code to organise,” says nine-year-old Olivia. “I’d like to do it again 'cause it was fun, and I’d like to make other things with code.”
At Owhatiura, the tamariki used the Minecraft version of Hour of Code. They did challenges like make chickens lay eggs on a target, make creeper plants explode and escaping from being trapped by zombies.
“It feels awesome to put the code together. I think using the code is better than just playing Minecraft using the controls,” says Seini, 8.
“I think it’s really cool because you get to make your own game,” Tamarau, 8, adds.
Eight-year-old Kiedis tells us, “I really want to make my own games one day and have other people play my games.”
Kaiako/teacher Andrea Tapsell says that what Digital Natives Academy does applies to all young new Zealanders, not just Māori.
“Coding is the future. Learning how to code also helps develop their creative and innovative thinking, their reading skills and also maths because it teaches them about algorithms. It fulfils several parts of the curriculum, which in 2018 will include digital technology.”
Nikolasa also tells us that they focus on how achieving things collaboratively is the way forward.
“The whānau is more important than the individual and that concept is in everything we teach,” she explains.
“For example, we tell them that it’s not cheating to ask someone else for help. We like to have the kids who have already reached their goals to come back and help others, which also stops them from getting bored.”
At the end, all the tauira received certificates for completing their Hour of Code.
This class was particularly timely because it was computer science week. But there are many versions of Hour of Code for the tamariki to carry on learning afterwards. Potaua is especially excited about the latest edition based on Disney’s Moana.
“We’ll definitely be using that in our classes next year once the movie’s been released here,” he says.