Matariki refers to a large cluster of stars, known in European tradition as the Pleiades. The Pleiades cluster of stars rises in mid-winter and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year. Iwi across New Zealand understand and celebrate Matariki in different ways and at different times. Traditionally, Matariki was a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It was also a time to reflect, to be thankful for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with family and friends.
Now, thousands of people now take part in events to honour the beginning of Matariki (or the Māori New Year) and in whanau celebrations to remember those who have died and to plan for the year ahead. This year, is the first year a public holiday marking Matariki will be held.
While Matariki can mean different things to different people, it can also be a great time to acknowledge how science has been embedded in Māori culture through the use of astronomy for navigation and seasons. Matariki gives us an opportunity to celebrate the way these Māori scientists would use stars to travel through seas, harvest their crops and establish time.
This is also particularly important for our tamariki. At times, students can feel disconnected from education, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Giving the opportunity for students to recognise representation through their ancestors could be the key to engaging and inspiring them.
Ka mua, ka muri – ‘walking backwards into the future.’ We believe this whakataukī perfectly describes the way forward for education which led us to the idea of workshops to acknowledge the role of science in Māori history through Matariki by celebrating the future of Aotearoa STEM.
Recently, our Sequal Tech team ran a day of STEM for students at Tarawera High School. The day was split into two workshops;
- Students got to create their own game by programming a waka (canoe) to move and collect stars.
- With the help of the epic team at STEAM-ED Charitable Trust, the students programmed a robot to navigate every star in the Matariki cluster.
We also held another workshop for students at Merivale Primary School in Tauranga where the students got to build their own robot and drive it around the Matariki cluster course.
Through a range of STEM activities in the context of Matariki, we hope to engage our tamariki in robotics and coding in hopes of inspiring them to continue learning in the field of STEM as well as recognise and celebrate their ancestors’ discoveries in science.