Ngā Motu – A Story Of Whanaungatanga (Connectedness)

kanohi ki te kanohi


Pa settlement bird eye

The Pā settlement inside Ngā Motu

The quote above means ‘face to face, in person, in the flesh’ and therefore it might seem a strange choice to start a blog post about a computer game, nevertheless it is of central importance in the genesis of Ngā Motu.

Just over 12 months ago I had a māramatanga (brainwave, big idea): how could we leverage Minecraft: Education Edition, a hugely popular platform that was available to all ākonga (students) in State and State-Integrated schools in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to promote:

  • Te Ao Māori – the Māori world
  • Te Reo Māori – the Māori language
  • Tikanga – the procedures, protocols and customs of Māori

In many ways it was an ambitious idea for any number of reasons and yet here we are in Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori 2019 launching Ngā Motu to the world through this incredible video:

Starting At The Beginning:

It was mid 2018 and after the initial surge of excitement about my māramatanga for leveraging Minecraft: Education Edition to build something distinctively Kiwi, I was trying to find the right partner who could actually build out this grand vision. It was at this stage that my long time Te Reo Twitter buddy Te Mihinga Komene suggested I reach out to someone called Whetu Paitai and inquire about his previous work on the Minecraft: Java Edition platform he had called Mahi Maina (a sort of transliteration of Minecraft, Mahi meaning ‘to work’ and Maina meaning ‘mining’).

Before continuing the narrative, however, and in keeping with the theme of connectedness / whanaungatanga and the importance of face to face meetings to Māori, it’s worth showing the quote behind Te Mihinga’s Twitter account to reinforce this:

Screenshot 2019-09-07 at 11.03.12.png

My language connects me

My family grounds me

My culture defines me

It is this type of mindset and deep seated belief that has been a constant throughout the last 12 months of working towards delivering Ngā Motu to the world. Ironically, however, in the absence of any direct contact details and only a few sketchy search results on FaceBook hinting at the existence of Mahi Maina, I resorted to messaging Whetu on LinkedIn – hardly an auspicious start!

Screenshot 2019-09-07 at 10.20.06

As the screenshot shows, a virtual connection was made, and our joint hīkoi (journey) began.

Students start their exploration of Ngā Motu on the waka hourua – the double hulled canoe – it’s a fitting metaphor for the hīkoi (journey) we’ve been on to deliver this Minecraft world over the last 12 months

Building Whanaungatanga (Connectedness)

Whanaungatanga: a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging.

After the initial connection on LinkedIn, Whetu and I had a number of phone calls where I became ever more excited about his knowledge, skills and experience in both Minecraft and Te Ao Māori. This led to Anne Taylor (Education Lead for Microsoft NZ) meeting kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) with Whetu near his home in the beautiful Coromandel area of New Zealand. I then had a chance to connect in person with Whetu and three of his tamariki (children) when he visited the Microsoft Auckland office in December 2018. With a hongi (pressing of noses together) on greeting, Whetu and I were ready to get into the nuts and bolts of what we were really trying to create together.

We were united in our tūruapō (vision) to use this platform to promote te reo Māori (the Māori language) something that even the best intentioned kaiako (teachers) sometimes find challenging, especially around the correct pronunciation of Māori words. At the time, I could never have imagined how cleverly Whetu would utilize his deep understanding of the Minecraft platform to build out a series of lessons that harnessed the innate game play of Minecraft to teach students the fundamentals of te reo Māori.

Whakataukī (Proverbs, wisdom) form an important part of Māoritanga (Māori culture) and I love them because many combine vivid imagery with sage advice. It was at this meeting in December that a pathway of co-operation was forged that ultimately has led to the release of Ngā Motu this week. The following whakataukī is therefore appropriate:

Ko koe ki tēnā, ko ahau ki tēnei kīwai o te kete

You at that and I at this handle of the basket

The meaning is clear: when we both carry one handle of the basket, we share the load and can achieve more together than we may have done separately. Whetu, and his company Piki Studios, along with Anne and myself representing Microsoft, shared the vision and mahi (work) to bring Ngā Motu to completion.

The Momentum Grows

With the idea starting to take serious shape, others began to hear about the idea and lend their support. In particular, the incredibly passionate Minecraft: Education Edition team from Microsoft Corp in Seattle. This culminated in Deirdre Quarnstrom and Sara Cornish flying down to Wellington, New Zealand to connect with Marianne Malmstrom and Simon McAtamney from Newlands Intermediate School to film a hack mini that Marianne was running as a holiday programme, and where Whetu Paitai would debut Ngā Motu to students for the first time as a closed beta testing release. As the tweets show, it was very well received:

As I reflect on the diverse range of people involved in the Ngā Motu project, I truly believe it is the vibrancy and power of Māoritanga that has drawn them into this project and the passion for the taonga (treasure) that is te reo Māori (the language) that many New Zealanders like Whetu and the incredible teachers at Newlands Intermediate demonstrate. To be able to see this rich culture visibly emerge as distinctively Māori through Minecraft and the work of Piki Studios made everyone involved incredibly proud:

The mythical, the extinct and the present all co-exist inside of Ngā Motu. Top left to right: a taniwha (water spirit / guardian), the kiwi bird (national bird of New Zealand), inside a wharenui (meeting house), a moa (extinct, flightless bird)

Ngā Motu – A Koha (gift) To Ākonga (students) Everywhere

This week of Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) sees the official launch of Ngā Motu.

Access Lessons & World Here

It is something that everyone involved is incredibly proud of and involves the following resources:

As you can see from the above screenshots, there is much to explore inside of Ngā Motu and I can’t wait to hear the clever ways students and educators adapt the world to various learning outcomes. There are three main structured lessons inside the world that teach students:

  • Māori Vowel Sounds
  • Māori Consonant Sounds
  • Māori Numbers

Realistically, however, there are infinite ways Ngā Motu can be used to teach any number of concepts. I hope to update this post in the future with new ideas and also how the world itself evolves in future iterations.

Final Thoughts:

I am incredibly proud to have been able to contribute to this project in various ways, thrilled by the new relationships it has introduced me to and excited for the possibilities that Ngā Motu will be used by educators in both Aotearoa (New Zealand) and beyond.

Seeing the collective reactions of people to this world during the development and pre-release stages has been humbling – everyone loves the work Whetu has contributed to this project.

I am going to finish this blog post with a final whakataukī (proverb):

Takoto kau ana te whānau a Tāne

The children of Tāne lie prone

This proverb means that once the trees are cleared away, the work is done: it applies to any work that is now completed (in Māori mythology, the forest trees are the children of Tāne).

With Ngā Motu now finished and released as a koha (gift) to the global education community the hīkoi (journey) may be drawing to a close, but the whanaungatanga (relationships and connectedness) will endure.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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