Exploring the Pacific through time and space

Exploring the Pacific through time and space

At Te Papa we appreciate any opportunity to improve our learning programmes and adapt them to the needs of learners. In early August we were preparing to deliver our Pacific Explorers programme to four classes of years three to five from Taita Central School. Little did we know how coronavirus would give us the opportunity to adapt the programme to be even more accessible and successful than any iteration so far.

A young girl holding a camera in front of a screen.
School programme at Hīnātore | Learning Lab. Photo by Te Papa

Our Pacific Explorers learning programme is designed to compare and contrast the design, construction and materials of Māori waka and Pacific vaka, wa‘a, and va‘a. We investigate why Pasifika people explored the Pacific, how they travelled and what they chose to take with them on their journeys by leading learners through our Tangata o le Moana exhibition. We also discuss how innovation is continuous, how new tools and materials create opportunities and challenges for design and manufacture.

A model of a polynesian double-hulled canoe
Model Tipaerua (model canoe), 2002, Tahiti, by Alex Kennedy. Commissioned 2002. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (FE011788)

From our communication with the teachers, they were committed to weaving the museum visit into their class topic of ‘Journeys’ to talk about either historical or mythological exploration and migration in the Pacific. Weaving our learning programmes into the class topic always leads to greater engagement from the learners and allows them to relate the knowledge they gain at school to the stories of taonga we have in the museum.

Our aim is for the learners to make their own connections to the incredible feats of exploration and settlement in the Pacific over the last three millennia and find relevance to their own lives in the present and future.

Tinkering with design

To do this, we challenge learners to design their own vessel inspired by double-hulled Pacific vaka using a free 3D design tool called Tinkercad. It is simple enough that even very young children can achieve great outcomes with the tool especially when working with a partner. Learners can make informed design choices inspired by the stories of taonga in the Tangata o le Moana exhibition.

The hands-on technology part of the programme happens in Hīnātore, our learning lab space, where learners can get creative with digital technology and explore the tools in practical contexts.

Haley Stewart demonstrating Tinkercad in our Hīnātore Learning Lab, 2019. Photo by Te Papa

Unfortunately, on 12th August the whole of Aotearoa New Zealand moved back to Alert Level 3 and all school visits to the museum were postponed. With so much to be gained from visiting the museum we didn’t want the learners to miss out.

Over the last couple of years we have been developing our capacity to deliver virtual tours of museum spaces using video conferencing technology. You can find these programmes on our website under Virtual Explorer: live-feed programmes.

A man holding a camera in front of a specimen wall
Virtual Excursions, 2020. Photo by Te Papa

Exploring a virtual vaka on the three Cs

We knew that we could deliver the museum exhibition aspect through a Virtual Explorer programme but we wanted to offer more than didactic delivery. I wanted to try empowering the teachers to deliver the hands-on technology activity by using Tinkercad in their classrooms themselves.

As Tinkercad was a new tool to them I knew the teachers would need support to explore the tool themselves before sharing it with their students. They invited me to video call in to their syndicate meeting for a walkthrough of the Tinkercad activity.

It was wonderful to see how curious and collaborative the teachers were with each other. Most of the issues that came up were able to be solved at their end by helping each other. They were able to model all of the 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

On Friday 4th September we delivered two separate Virtual Explorer programmes. In each programme two classes from Taita Central were combined to have over 40 students attending each session. The students were highly engaged with the content and offered both interesting questions and insightful answers to our provocations.

It was clear by the end of the programme that the students were eager to try designing their own vessels and their teachers kindly sent through both images of their designs and testimonials from the students.

Six thumbnail images of childrens' computer art showing canoes
Tinkercad designs by students from Taita Central School, 2020


Testimonials from students at Taita Central School, 2020:

From: Helen Luga
Sent: Friday, 4 September 2020 11:44 AM
To: Donald James
Subject: Re: Zoom meeting invitation – Pacific Explorers VE 1

Hiya Donald

Thanks for our session this morning.  The children were very excited and especially enjoyed the tinkercad session.  Below are some quotes from our students.
“I enjoyed learning about the Waka Taua because it had different designs and carvings”
“I really like how Donald explained about  the waka and how it was used.”
“I like how Donald told us about how the men crafted the waka.  I also enjoyed building a waka on Tinkercad.”
“I liked how he talked about the different carvings and patterns.  I liked how he showed us how to make a vaka.”


Helen Luga

We are grateful to the teachers at Taita Central School for their willingness to try something new. By taking a risk to learn a new digital tool and supporting each other to do so they are making it safer for their students to do the same.

Through this virtual adaptation of the Pacific Explorers programme we are able to demonstrate the power of weaving together social sciences with digital technology and for the skills the students gain to be practiced in the classroom immediately. This is the potential of digital learning programmes delivered with a real world context and woven into the school curriculum.

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