Kauri and the community

A University-led education and outreach project called Te Kura O Te Kauri has spent the last month aiming to inspire over 1000 students, teachers, family and community members to become guardians of their kauri forests.

This project, led by Dr Monica Gerth, senior lecturer in Microbiology, worked to introduce schoolchildren to the science and mātauranga behind forest health, and to spread awareness about stopping the spread of kauri dieback disease. It was hosted in a travelling classroom, allowing Dr Gerth and her team to take the project to several school and community sites around the Northland region.

Te Kura O Te Kauri incorporated different modules covering science, art, and mātauranga.

“Each stop also included aspects of local culture and mātauranga that was delivered by our local engagement leaders and their teams. This helped us build a special connection with the communities we visited,” Dr Gerth says.

One of the most popular modules was a virtual reality (VR) experience developed by Dr Wayne Patrick, Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Victoria University of Wellington, in collaboration with digital designer Jeff Jones, sound engineer Jimi Wilson, and Master’s student Te Amohaere Ngata-Aerengamate. Using the VR technology, students move from the crown of a kauri tree down into the soil at the microscopic scale.

For Dr Patrick, it was rewarding to see the VR in action. “Visitors engaged with the VR in so many different ways, from screaming with excitement, to reaching out to grab invisible microbes...it shows how immersive the VR is and how powerful it is as an unforgettable learning experience.”

Dr Gerth and her team were especially excited to take Te Kura O Te Kauri to Northland because of the shortage of science education and equipment available in rural regions.

“This classroom gives tamariki access to cutting edge scientific equipment, knowledge and resources—and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Abigail Sucsy, Te Kura O Te Kauri coordinator. “It was awesome to see how engaged and excited the students were—they didn’t want to leave!”

Their first tour of Northland finished in early November, but Dr Gerth and her team are not planning to stop now.

“We want to continue this mahi,” says Abigail. “Our current funding ends next month, but we hope to raise enough money to visit more schools and communities. There has already been a huge amount of interest from communities we weren’t able to visit on our first tour.”

The team is following up with teachers, and also sending out study modules and equipment to be used in classrooms. While their main focus is Northland, they have run pop-up sessions in the School of Biological Sciences at the University, and are also looking in to running other pop-up events in the Wellington area.

Te Kura O Te Kauri was funded by an MBIE Unlocking Curious Minds grant, with additional support from the University. To find out more about Te Kura O Te Kauri, or to request a visit for your school or community, visit their Facebook page @kauri.classroom or their website at www.tekuraotekauri.nz.