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How Ngā Motu education cards are making te reo more accessible to kiwi kids

(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

Ngā Motu has been helping students better understand te ao Māori since its launch in 2019. To further cement its role within the classroom, Microsoft worked with CORE Education to develop companion learning resources for teachers, so they can use Ngā Motu in their learning and follow the guidelines set out under teaching for Level 3 and 4 Digital Technology in both national curricula of Aotearoa: The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMoA).

Ngā Motu (The Islands) is a Māori world built within Minecraft: Education Edition. Created by Piki Studios’ Whetu Paitai, students can explore the fictional island and its built environment, including a classic pā (fortified village), and meeting whānau (family) from the local hapu~ (tribe), who help explain the layout and use of the area, while teaching the students te reo vocabulary and pronunciation. This engages students in the history of their land, the indigenous people of New Zealand and their cultural values, all within the familiar and fascinating world of Minecraft, and helps them to gain confidence with digital tools.

“Māori have always been a people of technology,” said Whetu, “Minecraft is just the latest in a long line of technologies that we have used to kārero (tell stories).”

Ngā Motu was an immediate hit with teachers and students, but the initial launch was still a proof of concept. Ngā Motu’s open world nature meant that, while students and teachers could interact with the world in whichever way they preferred, it was difficult to know whether the lessons they were putting into practice fitted into the prescribed learning outcomes of both the NZC and TMoA. At the same time, the technological nature of Ngā Motu, as well as the concepts of te ao Māori (the Māori world), were both potential barriers to engaging with the product for some teachers. Many teachers who reached out wanted to put this resource to use but lacked the confidence to do so in a way that lined up with the curricula and te ao Māori.

Recognising the need to align Ngā Motu with the curricula and make it more accessible, Microsoft reached out to CORE Education Tātai Aho Rau, an organisation that specialises in transforming education with effective products and services and which has a strong equity-first mindset in its practice.

Lessons built on a Māori foundation for all students

Working alongside Microsoft’s education team and Piki Studios, CORE Education developed a set of student game cards and teacher resources using Ngā Motu that fitted in with the Digital Technology Curriculum Levels 3 and 4, for students in year 6-8, in both Māori and English mediums. This approach meant that there was a structure available for teachers and students who needed it, while still allowing for spontaneous discovery, which has been a feature of Ngā Motu since launch.

“Anything that is produced for a New Zealand education context should be built on a bicultural foundation,” said Gemma Stewart, a former bilingual teacher who was a key part of the CORE team on this project.

“Te Ao Māori isn’t a standalone subject. In order to understand a Māori worldview, you need to experience it and mātauranga Māori (Mãori knowledge) needs to be integrated across the curriculum.”

Following this philosophy, lessons and resources around Ngā Motu were developed in a Māori context first, before developing English language resources. It was a key part of the process; to understand the whakapapa (lineage) of Ngā Motu, so that anything built on top of the product would be true to Whetu’s original vision.

The process was led by an understanding of the kaupapa (purpose) of the original project and integrating those principles into the resources.

“There’s a tendency in education to develop resources in te ao Pākehā (the Western worldview) first and then just translate the words,” added Gemma. “We knew that this project had to be based on te ao Māori first.”

The English medium resources allowed a broader audience to access the lessons without departing from the original whakapapa of the Ngā Motu project. It was important that language was not a barrier for teachers who wanted to engage with te ao Māori but might have lacked confidence in the past.

Design is critically important for conveying te ao Mãori

While the resources were being developed, Microsoft and Piki Studios worked alongside Maui Studios, a Māori-owned-and-operated design agency, to develop and design the look and feel of the learning resources for use in the classroom.

Maui Studios operates with a tikanga-first mindset, and the organisation works primarily on Kaupapa Māori projects, informed by mātanga (experts). It was important for Maui that the resources conveyed te ao Māori in a way that was accessible for tāngata whenua (indigenous people), which would then flow on to a broader Pākehā and tauiwi (non-Māori) audience as well.

“Design is critically important for conveying te ao Māori,” said Vincent Egan, who led the project for Maui. “The patterns and symbology utilised in the resources play an important role in creating context for the lessons in Ngā Motu, so we wanted to make sure it reflected the guidance of our mātanga.”

For example, the resources make extensive use of patterns to do with wai (water). This reflects not only the water in the world of Ngā Motu, but also movement and flow, and the changing media through which te ao Māori is understood, from carvings and tā moko (tattoo) through to the digital environment of Minecraft.

Since being finalised, CORE Education has been introducing the resources to teachers through a series of webinars, to provide educators confidence and structure for lessons.

Learn crucial digital skills while better understanding the history of Aotearoa

With the help of these new resources, Ngā Motu and the opportunities for learning it creates, are more accessible than ever to New Zealand students. Minecraft: Education Edition is provided to all state and state integrated schools and students through the Ministry of Education Schools Agreement and now that there are structured learning resources associated with Ngā Motu, every student and teacher can approach learning with Ngā Motu with the confidence that they are aligning with the curricula.

This creates huge benefits for students, who get to have fun while they learn, and learn crucial digital skills and capabilities while gaining a better understanding of the history of Aotearoa and the values of its indigenous people. Feedback on the new resources from teachers has been extremely positive, with teachers feeling less intimidated by the technology and concepts, and able to focus instead of the richness of learning for their students.

“Students in 2021 face unprecedented challenges,” said Lydia Kronawetter, Education Industry Executive at Microsoft. “Between ongoing disruptions to the school year and a constantly changing world, it’s more important than ever that students have strong digital and cultural skills.”

Preparing students for the modern world

Learning tools like Ngā Motu can play a key part in preparing students for life after school.

“School leavers need to enter the adult world with digital abilities, and an understanding of New Zealand’s unique history and culture is just as important,” continued Lydia. “Learning with Ngā Motu allows students to improve their digital skills and learn about te ao Māori in an engaging environment that doesn’t feel like just another lesson.

“Microsoft is committed to helping to address these challenges. Integrating products like Ngā Motu into the curricula is just one way to ensure that students stay excited about their learning journey and are provided with the skills and knowledge they will need in the modern world.”

Compiled by the INTERFACE Team.

More information on Ngā Motu, learning cards and teacher resources can be found at education.minecraft.net/lessons/ nga-motu-the-islands

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INTERFACE May 2021

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