Exploring Papatūānuku with pūtaiao
Youth in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) have been discovering the story of their local environment through combining pūtaiao (science) and mātauranga (Māori knowledge).
Northland tamariki (children) have been exploring the taiao (earth) as part of a series of three Tūhura Papatūānuku ('Explore Mother Earth') Geo Noho events taking place across the region.
Each of the three events consisted of a four-night wānanga or ‘science camp’ based in local marae, which aim to enthuse young tauira (students) about the excitement and possibilities of science prior to high school.
The wānanga were run by GNS Science Te Pū Ao in partnership with Far North REAP and the Te Aho Tū Roa Programme. They took place across the Northland region with Ngāti Manawa Marae in Pangaru, Waiora Marae in Ngataki and Haiti-tai-marangai Marae in Whatuwhiwhi each hosting a wānanga.
Tauira observing coastal rock features
In each wānanga, tauira got plenty of hands-on experience alongside GNS Science experts and co-leaders Jess Hillman, Kyle Bland and Joe Prebble.
Jess says that holding these events in a familiar and immersive noho marae (marae stay) setting "allows us to connect the science with local pūrākau (ancestral stories) and community knowledge. The kids can see how science is valuable to them in their worlds".
The whole programme has been co-designed and co-delivered with Māori knowledge-holders and educators to incorporate mātauranga and te reo Māori (the Māori language) with western science concepts.
Joanne Murray, Kaiwhakapūmau (National Programme Coordinator) at Te Aho Tū Roa, says, "We've found that this is a really powerful way to help our tamariki connect with science while ensuring we maintain a connection with a Te Ao Māori world view. This learning approach is also a key focus of what the Te Aho Tū Roa programme is all about: connecting people to people, and people to place".
Tauira presenting the science of Rūaumoko (Māori volcano/earthquake deity) at the marae
Each wānanga began with tauira exploring how they could use observation and interpretation to answer questions about their environment.
The tamariki learnt that this was like being a ‘science detective’. They would start by asking a question – what is this that I can see? And how did it get here? – and then search for clues to help solve the mystery. This often involved using scientific equipment to inspect the items they had collected during the day.
“The best thing was looking at things up close using the microscopes,” said Maraea, 12, from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro.
Using microscopes to look at native plants
The tauira then used their new powers of observation to learn about the geology (the makeup of the land) and biodiversity (variety of living things) of the environment around them, and what it might have looked thousands of years ago.
In the Whatuwhiwhi wānanga, the group explored the remains of ancient fossil forests in their area.
“I learned that Lake Ohio used to have a lot of kauri trees” said Wairere, 12, from Te Rangi Āniwaniwa School.
Extracting sediment cores from a mangrove
The Whatuwhihi wānanga group also collected sediment cores from nearby mangroves to reveal what the taiao looks like beneath the ground. Through kōrero (discussion) and investigation in the field, they learned about past changes of sea level.
Back at the marae, each wānanga group then conducted an experiment to test the impact of melting ice on water levels and used their results to infer how ice melt in Antarctica might affect sea level near to them in the future.
Tauira measuring the effect of melting ice on water levels
Other highlights for tauira included learning about the water and carbon cycles, and testing differences between honey sourced from different plant species.
“My favourite thing was finding out about the pollen in the honey,” says Leesha, 12, from Te Rangi Āniwaniwa.
“Our goal is to encourage kids to believe that anyone can be a scientist,” Kyle Bland says. “Geo Noho empowers them with knowledge to make their own discoveries. We teach them that every rock and every shoreline has a story to tell about how our environment was formed, and how it might change in the future”.
Joe Prebble adds, “We want students to come away seeing themselves as scientists and explorers, knowing about the environmental changes that have taken place in their region, and understanding that they can be change makers in the world.”
Words: Eleanor Deacon; Photos: Jess Hillman and Kyle Bland (all at GNS Science Te Pū Ao).
About the Project
Tūhura Papatūānuku Geo Noho is run by GNS Science Te Pū Ao in partnership with Far North REAP and the Te Aho Tū Roa Programme with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.
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