Tairāwhiti Museum Education Waka Programme – “Our ancestors were awesome”

By Julie Noanoa, Team Leader Education, Tairāwhiti Museum

Last year schools from the Tairāwhiti region were invited to discover how Māori navigators used their advanced knowledge of the stars, migrating animals, weather and ocean currents to guide their journeys between Aotearoa and islands in the Pacific. The programmes integrated kaupapa Māori and digital learning technologies.

Watch this short video of programme highlights:

A series of lessons were designed for schools, Sailing by the Stars for primary and Voyagers, an outreach programme for secondary schools. A satellite base was set up in Ruatorea to give greater access to rural schools in the Tairāwhiti region. Over 3,500 Tairāwhiti students attended the waka programmes last year.

Our Sailing by the Stars primary school programme was based at the museum. A digital treasure hunt gave the element of discovery and surprise as learners worked collaboratively to seek out hidden videos that were tagged to selected waka-related taonga in the galleries. The videos popped up when students scanned taonga with an iPad using the open source Augmented Reality app Aurasma. For example, a student scans a toki (adze) in a display case, immediately a short video displays on the screen of a person using the toki to shape wood.

Image credit: Ngatapa School, Gisborne. From left: Riley Kirkpatrick, Greta Cave, Rahkus Mahaki, Mahu Shalders, museum educator Julie Noanoa. Photograph by Norm Heke, 2017

Teachers and students enjoyed the freedom the iPads gave the students, taking the learning in their own hands, a deliberate move away from a teacher-centric approach. Primary school lessons included a practical project where each student constructed their own double-hulled waka, individualised with designer sails.

Our new portable digital planetarium provided the perfect tool for pinpointing important star constellations in the Southern Hemisphere during a day-time lesson. It doubled as a mini theatre, creating an immersive experience which enhanced the intimacy of storytelling. Because the planetarium is portable the programme was able to be delivered in school halls or gymnasiums around Gisborne and the wider region.

The programme content highlighted:

  • Māori ancestors were skilled sailors/navigators
  • The museum collection holds a number of regionally connected waka taonga
  • The history of Aotearoa/New Zealand started with centuries of Māori arrival and occupation and settlement, not with European ‘discovery’
  • Māori sailed between Pacific Islands and Aotearoa, they didn’t paddle single hulled waka
  • The Dutch explorer Able Tasman is officially recognised as the first European to reach Aotearoa in 1642, not Lieutenant James Cook in 1769.
  • Waka hourua voyaging is undergoing a renaissance

The main challenges were:

  • Sensitivity to the narratives around the first encounters between local iwi and the Endeavour crew
  • Choosing the digital equipment to purchase
  • Learning how to use and manage the equipment and software
  • Gathering information content from sound academic sources
  • Collecting and curating video content to use with the Augmented Reality app
  • Updating the museum’s infrastructure to fibre and installing wifi in the galleries
  • Managing the high demand from schools for booked programmes

What the students thought…

“Our ancestors were awesome.”

“It makes me proud to be Māori.”

“I can’t wait to go on the new waka.”

“It makes me want to look up at the sky.”

The programmes also built awareness among school students of the contemporary Tairāwhiti waka hourua (double hulled sailing canoe) that was launched and sailed to Gisborne in December 2017 and which will operate as a ‘floating classroom’, as well as the upcoming national commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s arrival in the region in October 1769.

Our 2018 lesson series leading up to the commemorations will focus on the natural environment at the time the Endeavour arrived in Tairāwhiti, culminating in a children’s exhibition opening in September. In 2019 the learning focus will look at traditional European navigation techniques and technology, and explore stories associated with the naming of the land.

Tairāwhiti Museum Education programmes are supported by the Ministry of Education’s LEOTC (Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom). The planetarium was purchased with the help of the Friends of the Museum. Tairāwhiti Museum Education services around fifty school from the Tairāwhiti region.