Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Riding in a waka (canoe) is the perfect place to start thinking about what’s making it go.
Why do some waka go faster than others? Is it the shape of the hull, what it’s made from, or is it your paddle that’s making the difference?
After a day exploring these ideas, as well as marine life, traditional fishing and navigation, one student said, “I have discovered that science could be much more fun than I thought.”
More than 2000 people have engaged with the Hoea te waka, piki te mātau (paddle a canoe, uplift the knowledge) project, which uses double hulled waka, kayaks and paddleboards to explore many science themes.
The programme was developed in Otago and trialed in Nelson, Auckland and other North Island venues. Over half of the participants were aged 13–18 years and were school students or from youth and community groups. About half identified themselves as Māori or Pasifika.
“My favorite part was looking through the microscopes at the plankton species - that is something I have never seen before and it gave a new perspective on science,” a participant said.
First of all, students learned how to stay safe around water. They talked about the environment their waka was travelling through, looked for evidence of a healthy or unhealthy environment, and were shown how to measure the water quality. Students also learned about traditional Māori environmental health measures and compared modern and traditional navigation methods.
“I actually look forward to going to science class now because I can relate it to something I enjoy that is helping keep and uphold the health of the moana and whenua,” another student said.
The students surveyed an area and discussed where different kai moana (seafood) species were found. They also practiced making and using nets, spears and traps from local materials and compared them with modern fishing gear.
Sharing traditional knowledge about caring for local environments was an important part of the course. Participants learned about marine protected areas in their region and were encouraged to be proactive in caring for the sea.
Hoea te waka, piki te mātau is an Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund project led by the University of Otago. The leaders consulted more than 50 scientists, educators, community groups and iwi about the activities and themes, and partnered with many of these experts and enthusiasts to run the programmes.