The first of two Tūhura Papatūānuku Geo Noho planned for this year took place recently at Ngāi Takoto's Waimanoni Marae in Awanui.
Geo Noho is a marae-based wānanga or science camp aimed at enthusing local Year 7 and 8 tamariki about the possibilities of science.
One principal has said kids come back from Geo Noho buzzing, while a participating student told her mother she looks at everything differently now that she has an understanding of how matter in nature moves, changes and forms.
Supported by the Ministry of Education through Whānau Engagement Funding, and co-designed and co-delivered by Far North REAP, Te Aho Tū Roa, and GNS Science Te Pū Ao, Geo Noho incorporates mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and te reo Māori (Māori language) with Western science concepts.
Each of six schools sent six students and a teacher to the four-day camp from May 24-27, where plenty of hands-on science experience was gained.
They did a mixture of marae-based activities – like experiments, presentations, and learning to use scientific equipment – and field trips – to places like Lake Ngatu, Tokerau Beach, Maitai Bay, and Ōtaipango/Henderson Bay.
According to Selena Bercic, Kaitautoko Matauranga/Education Support at Far North REAP, tamariki love learning in the immersive, hands-on setting of Geo Noho.
"It's amazing how much you can do within four days. It's accelerated learning," Bercic said.
"Some teachers have said they get a year's worth of science in one Geo Noho, because kids learn the whole carbon cycle, the whole water cycle.
"It's so much more than watching a YouTube clip. They're actually seeing it and feeling it.
"The kids just eat it up," she said.
Geo Noho is all about encouraging kids to believe that anyone can be a scientist, and to empower them with knowledge to make their own discoveries.
It aims to foster excitement about the power of observation and interpretation, and the wonder of te taiao (the natural environment), so they're inspired to pursue science into high school and beyond.
Bercic said collaborating with GNS Science - a New Zealand Crown Research Institute focused on geology, geophysics, and nuclear science - had been exceedingly positive.
"We want our kids to be inspired by these specialists, and to know that there are different fields of science they can pursue. That's a main goal."
GNS Science senior geologist Kyle Bland attended the recent wānanga and said it was a powerful experience.
"It opened our eyes to different ways of thinking, and seeing and experiencing the world," Bland said.
"The learning most definitely goes both ways."
He said it was an easy decision to make the long journey north for Geo Noho.
"The kids we've met in the Far North have some of the coolest opportunities, and that really comes down to the passion and vision of their educators and whānau," he said.
"They're absolutely incredible people.
"Making that 1000km drive was easy knowing we'd be contributing to this."
Far North REAP's Bercic also said the first camp came at an interesting time, socially speaking, for students who'd spent so much time at home since the pandemic began.
"Schools are looking for experiences outside of the classroom, that are rich in face-to-face interaction," she said.
"Within two days of announcing the first camp, 12 schools had signed up."
The second Tūhura Papatūānuku Geo Noho is planned for August. Following that, its future is uncertain.
"Of course we want to continue, but we never know what's around the corner in terms of funding," Bercic said.
"I'd love to have them yearly for our kids.
"And I think it's a model that needs to be used throughout the country.
"I've been on five science camps and I still learn new things each time."
To learn more, go to Far North REAP on Facebook.