Inspiring Māori rangatahi to engage with science and technology

Thursday 21 March 2024

More than 240 secondary school students participated in waka ama water workshops to inspire an interest in science.

Queen Elizabeth College students paddling the waka on the Hokowhitu Lagoon in Palmerston North.

Members of the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition have worked alongside more than 240 North Island secondary school students during their waka ama (outrigger canoe) water workshops, with the aim of inspiring rangatahi (youth) to pursue science.

The workshops involve rangatahi paddling waka using special hoe (paddles) that record the power output and force of their strokes. Once off the water, academics and sport and exercise students from Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University support them to analyse the collected data and explain the science behind their results.

Project lead and Head of School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition Associate Professor Andy Foskett says the project connects the passion tamariki have for physical activity with the technology and expertise of Massey academics, creating a programme that stimulates a curiosity for science.

“We have worked with an Aotearoa New Zealand based company, One Giant Leap, to create one-of-a-kind waka hoe (paddles) that record data at a rate of 100 times per second (100Hz). The hoe can be connected to a phone or smart watch to track performance in real time while out on the water or downloaded onto a computer for more detailed analysis later. We have 12 of these instrumented waka hoe and they are the only ones in existence in the world.

“This project was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, as part of their national strategic plan A Nation of Curious Minds He Whenua Hihiri i te Maha. The key objective of this fund is to invest in and support projects that help young New Zealanders learn about and engage with science and technology,” Dr Foskett says.

The team behind the workshops include Dr Paul Macdermid, Professor Kathryn Beck, Associate Dean Māori Dr Bevan Erueti, waka ama expert Israil Foreman. Bachelor of Sport and Exercise students Hamish Falekaono, Jonny Orr, Solomon Luddon Muir, Daniel Scherrer and Zoe Yeo.

Dr Paul Macdermid

Dr Paul Macdermid is a paddle science expert and has used similar technology in the past to train Olympic whitewater slalom paddlers.

“As a child, I only got interested in my own education and science because of sport. It just so happened to be a paddle sport. If you want to develop as an athlete, then understanding the different components contributing to performance is important. Increasing the experiences and understanding ultimately contributes to developing non-sports people as well. Not everyone goes on to be an elite athlete or winner, so sporting activities have to be about more than that.

“This project sets out to show students that waka ama and science and technology can be interlinked within education and New Zealand culture. They get out on the water, hopefully appreciating the environment while performing, then we bring it all back into the classroom to talk about principles of physics, physiology, data analysis, nutrition and waka ama performance,” Dr Macdermid says.

A majority of the participating schools had high numbers of Māori students and Associate Dean Māori Dr Bevan Erueti ensured mātauranga Māori was available throughout the workshops and translated for kura kaupapa.

“These kinds of activities provide an opportunity for us to share knowledge on behalf of our university with tamariki and strengthen our engagement with iwi,” Dr Erueti says.

As part of the workshops, Sports Dietitian Professor Kathryn Beck runs a hands-on nutrition workshop with rangatahi.

“It’s well known that good nutrition fuels sporting performance. We work with the students to help them create their own smoothies designed to optimise their on-water performance,” Dr Beck says.

The team have taken their workshop to Tairāwhiti Gisborne, Taranaki, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Te Papaioea Palmerston North.

The team thank Orohena Brightwell and Manukura School for suppling the waka as well as Caccia Birch House for allowing the use of their facility to promote cultural activities integrated with science and technology.

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