Shaping a new way to learn by adding ‘M’ to STEMM

(Last Updated On: November 24, 2021)

With some innovative approaches to teaching and quick-thinking during the latest lockdowns, Tōnui Collab is making a difference for students and educators across the East Coast region with STEMM, its own unique take on learning science and technology.

Welcome to To-nui Collab, a specialist bilingual education lab in Gisborne that’s dedicated to creating engaging learning opportunities and supporting the impactful adoption of digital technologies.

Originally set up as part of The Mind Lab, the centre became Tōnui Collab, in 2019. Supported by Trust Tairāwhiti and the Spark Foundation, it offers science and technology workshops for school-aged students across Tairāwhiti. It’s also contracted to the Ministry of Education to provide PLD for schools seeking digital technologies support.

“Our core philosophy celebrates learning through hands-on creative exploration, learning through fast fails, and empowering tamariki to lead their own educational journeys,” said Shanon O’Connor, Founder and Director.

“Our team has experience and expertise across the education and tech sectors and is committed to creating engaging learning experiences. We also strive to empower educators across our community – in the classroom, out on the waka, on the marae, in the taiao – to collaborate and to enhance opportunities for our rangatahi.”

Realise potential

Shanon and her team recognise and celebrate the value of mātauranga alongside the traditional STEMM disciplines, adding an additional ‘M’ to the acronym, STEMM – making it Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Mātauranga Māori.

“We’re passionate about supporting rangatahi Māori to realise their potential to be science and technology future problem solvers and innovators. We work to amplify the Mātauranga Māori, Mātauranga-ā-iwi and Mātauranga-ā-hapu- that we have inherited from our tīpuna in all STEM learning experiences.”

Normally, during the school term, students visit the lab for a half-day or full-day workshop to construct robots, create digital animations, develop computer games, get immersed in VR, or code micro:bits. After school and holiday activities are also available. In August, however, when the Level 4 lockdown was imposed, that all changed.

“Our insights from working with schools was that many students are negatively affected by the digital divide. They do not have dedicated devices for learning at home and this requires educators to be creative with how they engage with students online.”

Try out at home

So, the team set about posting challenges on their social media channels for kids to try out at home, with items that many could find around the home, such as paper plane challenges, catapult construction and marble runs. For those with access to digital devices, workshops went online.

“Over the three weeks that the East Coast region was under Level 4 and Level 3 restrictions, we facilitated twice daily game development workshops in English and reo Māori,” explained Shanon. “Every morning or afternoon, 15 to 20 students joined a Zoom meeting and worked alongside each other to develop retro arcade style games using MakeCode Arcade.

“We use local pūrākau (ancient legends and stories) to shape many of the learning experiences and these online workshops were no different. For one project, participants were introduced to the pūrākau of waka travelling from Hawaiki to Aotearoa and developed games around this, including designing and animating Paoa, captain of the Horouta waka. They programmed games for players to steer Kiwa on his waka, dodge rocks and collect taonga along the journey.”

One thing that surprised Shanon was when students from across the country started to join the online workshops. There were also many who had not yet had the opportunity to attend any workshops in person.

“It was great to meet them and build relationships in an online space,” she added.

Now back in Level 2, the lab has received plenty of positive feedback for its efforts from parents.

“One commented ‘the teachers were so calm, patient and passionate. Our son was buzzing after each workshop and has been asking for more ever since’. Another emailed to say ‘I thought the kaiako were very knowledgeable, patient and supportive during the lesson. We loved the clever interweaving of a local legends as a basis to the game concept’.

“Learning in an online environment is challenging and it was an honour for our team to form relationships during the lockdown, and support students to build confidence and new skills.”

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INTERFACE November 2021

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