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Natural world enhancing our education

A seasoned science educator is supporting Wairarapa youngsters to explore the wonders “right at their doorstep” — from ancient marine fossils at Palliser Bay, to the volcanic history of humble river stones in the Ruamahanga.

Carterton-based Chris Hollis is one of the Wairarapa facilitators for Field-Based STEM: A national organisation helping schools and kura incorporate outdoor education into STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].

Field-Based STEM, supported by the Ministry of Education’s professional development funding, organises outdoor learning programmes to connect students and teachers with the natural world.

Programmes are focused on a range of disciplines — from entomology to astronomy — and usually include field trips, citizen science projects and climate education, and mātauranga Māori.

Educators are supported by facilitators to adopt their own field-based learning plans.

Hollis, a geologist and paleontologist of over two decades, works alongside five Wairarapa schools — the region’s vast rocky landscape, from the Tararua Range to the Wairarapa Coast.

In fact, the latter site was recently found to house evidence of the tsunami that helped wipe out the dinosaurs — discovered by Hollis and an international team of researchers.

While visiting significant sites, students learn more about the natural history, evidence of climate change throughout the ages, and how to identify and mitigate natural hazards.

Hollis said programmes like Field-Based STEM allow young people to engage and interact with their own environments — and see how scientific principles play out in the real world.

“A lot of classical science hasn’t always been relevant to the areas we’ve grown up in,” he said.

“We learned about volcanoes in Hawaii, but not about volcanic activity in our own country and how it shapes our environment.

“Children should be able to learn about their own places — their tūranagawaewae. For example, where a river goes when it floods, what a floodplain is and what happens when you build houses near it, the role of tectonic plates and fault lines, which plants in the bush have medicinal uses.

“Plus, there’s so much cool stuff in Wairarapa to discover. We’ve got some fascinating geology in the Tararuas – on our doorstep.”

In his two years with Field-Based STEM, Hollis, a former GNS researcher and current lecturer at Victoria University, has worked with Carterton, Kahutara and Pirinoa Schools, Chanel College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa.

One of his favourite sites for outdoor learning is the Tararua Range— composed of different types of rock originating from ancient undersea volcanoes, pushed upwards by tectonic plate collision.

The evidence of the mountains’ origin, he said, can often be found in the Ruamahanga River: Rocks found further downstream are often “smaller and more rounded”, shaped and worn by currents over thousands of years.

“Whereas rocks in other parts of the river are larger and more angular – meaning they’ve been deposited by recent tectonic activity.

“A lot of these things you don’t notice when you’re out hiking.

“Looking at the rocks tells a story and helps unravel the history of the area.”

Hollis said the Tararua Range also has much to teach about native plants – for example, identifying the difference between lowland plants and those growing on mountain slopes, and learning to navigate an area based on the proximity of the different vegetation.

For field trips, he often teams up with fellow educator and environmental advocate Joseph Potangaroa, who provides a matauranga Maori perspective on native medicinal flora.

South Wairarapa pupils have learned about liquid erosion at the Putangirua Pinnacles, discovered fossilised sea life embedded within Kupe’s Sail, and explored the beach terraces at Tora — composed of rocks formed in both deep and shallow waters, pointing to evidence of sea level change.

Tora’s rock formations also contain sediments deposited by a massive tsunami, most likely that resulting from the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago— a connection particularly impressive to the children.

Hollis said he has enjoyed seeing teachers’ renewed appreciation for their surroundings and for teaching science – and has found their students’ enthusiasm especially gratifying.

“I was getting burnt out by my past work in science — as you’re often having to justify [to other scientists] why something is important.

“But science has inherent interest value. And the kids pick up on that — they enjoy it, because it’s interesting.

“I hope this will encourage them to pursue a career in science — or even just embrace science as a part of daily life.” the region’s vast rocky landscape, from the Tararua Range to the Wairarapa Coast.

In fact, the latter site was recently found to house evidence of the tsunami that helped wipe out the dinosaurs — discovered by Hollis and an international team of researchers.

While visiting significant sites, students learn more about the natural history, evidence of climate change throughout the ages, and how to identify and mitigate natural hazards.

Hollis said programmes like Field-Based STEM allow young people to engage and interact with their own environments — and see how scientific principles play out in the real world.

“A lot of classical science hasn’t always been relevant to the areas we’ve grown up in,” he said.

“We learned about volcanoes in Hawaii, but not about volcanic activity in our own country and how it shapes our environment.

“Children should be able to learn about their own places — their tūranagawaewae. For example, where a river goes when it floods, what a floodplain is and what happens when you build houses near it, the role of tectonic plates and fault lines, which plants in the bush have medicinal uses.

“Plus, there’s so much cool stuff in Wairarapa to discover. We’ve got some fascinating geology in the Tararuas – on our doorstep.”

In his two years with Field-Based STEM, Hollis, a former GNS researcher and current lecturer at Victoria University, has worked with Carterton, Kahutara and Pirinoa Schools, Chanel College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa.

One of his favourite sites for outdoor learning is the Tararua Range— composed of different types of rock originating from ancient undersea volcanoes, pushed upwards by tectonic plate collision.

The evidence of the mountains’ origin, he said, can often be found in the Ruamahanga River: Rocks found further downstream are often “smaller and more rounded”, shaped and worn by currents over thousands of years.

“Whereas rocks in other parts of the river are larger and more angular – meaning they’ve been deposited by recent tectonic activity.

“A lot of these things you don’t notice when you’re out hiking.

“Looking at the rocks tells a story and helps unravel the history of the area.”

Hollis said the Tararua Range also has much to teach about native plants – for example, identifying the difference between lowland plants and those growing on mountain slopes, and learning to navigate an area based on the proximity of the different vegetation.

For field trips, he often teams up with fellow educator and environmental advocate Joseph Potangaroa, who provides a matauranga Maori perspective on native medicinal flora.

South Wairarapa pupils have learned about liquid erosion at the Putangirua Pinnacles, discovered fossilised sea life embedded within Kupe’s Sail, and explored the beach terraces at Tora — composed of rocks formed in both deep and shallow waters, pointing to evidence of sea level change.

Tora’s rock formations also contain sediments deposited by a massive tsunami, most likely that resulting from the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago— a connection particularly impressive to the children.

Hollis said he has enjoyed seeing teachers’ renewed appreciation for their surroundings and for teaching science – and has found their students’ enthusiasm especially gratifying.

“I was getting burnt out by my past work in science — as you’re often having to justify [to other scientists] why something is important.

“But science has inherent interest value. And the kids pick up on that — they enjoy it, because it’s interesting.

“I hope this will encourage them to pursue a career in science — or even just embrace science as a part of daily life.” the region’s vast rocky landscape, from the Tararua Range to the Wairarapa Coast.

In fact, the latter site was recently found to house evidence of the tsunami that helped wipe out the dinosaurs — discovered by Hollis and an international team of researchers.

While visiting significant sites, students learn more about the natural history, evidence of climate change throughout the ages, and how to identify and mitigate natural hazards.

Hollis said programmes like Field-Based STEM allow young people to engage and interact with their own environments — and see how scientific principles play out in the real world.

“A lot of classical science hasn’t always been relevant to the areas we’ve grown up in,” he said.

“We learned about volcanoes in Hawaii, but not about volcanic activity in our own country and how it shapes our environment.

“Children should be able to learn about their own places — their tūranagawaewae. For example, where a river goes when it floods, what a floodplain is and what happens when you build houses near it, the role of tectonic plates and fault lines, which plants in the bush have medicinal uses.

“Plus, there’s so much cool stuff in Wairarapa to discover. We’ve got some fascinating geology in the Tararuas – on our doorstep.”

In his two years with Field-Based STEM, Hollis, a former GNS researcher and current lecturer at Victoria University, has worked with Carterton, Kahutara and Pirinoa Schools, Chanel College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa.

One of his favourite sites for outdoor learning is the Tararua Range— composed of different types of rock originating from ancient undersea volcanoes, pushed upwards by tectonic plate collision.

The evidence of the mountains’ origin, he said, can often be found in the Ruamahanga River: Rocks found further downstream are often “smaller and more rounded”, shaped and worn by currents over thousands of years.

“Whereas rocks in other parts of the river are larger and more angular – meaning they’ve been deposited by recent tectonic activity.

“A lot of these things you don’t notice when you’re out hiking.

“Looking at the rocks tells a story and helps unravel the history of the area.”

Hollis said the Tararua Range also has much to teach about native plants – for example, identifying the difference between lowland plants and those growing on mountain slopes, and learning to navigate an area based on the proximity of the different vegetation.

For field trips, he often teams up with fellow educator and environmental advocate Joseph Potangaroa, who provides a matauranga Maori perspective on native medicinal flora.

South Wairarapa pupils have learned about liquid erosion at the Putangirua Pinnacles, discovered fossilised sea life embedded within Kupe’s Sail, and explored the beach terraces at Tora — composed of rocks formed in both deep and shallow waters, pointing to evidence of sea level change.

Tora’s rock formations also contain sediments deposited by a massive tsunami, most likely that resulting from the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago— a connection particularly impressive to the children.

Hollis said he has enjoyed seeing teachers’ renewed appreciation for their surroundings and for teaching science – and has found their students’ enthusiasm especially gratifying.

“I was getting burnt out by my past work in science — as you’re often having to justify [to other scientists] why something is important.

“But science has inherent interest value. And the kids pick up on that — they enjoy it, because it’s interesting.

“I hope this will encourage them to pursue a career in science — or even just embrace science as a part of daily life.” organising field trips exploring the region’s vast rocky landscape, from the Tararua Range to the Wairarapa Coast.

In fact, the latter site was recently found to house evidence of the tsunami that helped wipe out the dinosaurs — discovered by Hollis and an international team of researchers.

While visiting significant sites, students learn more about the natural history, evidence of climate change throughout the ages, and how to identify and mitigate natural hazards.

Hollis said programmes like Field-Based STEM allow young people to engage and interact with their own environments — and see how scientific principles play out in the real world.

“A lot of classical science hasn’t always been relevant to the areas we’ve grown up in,” he said.

“We learned about volcanoes in Hawaii, but not about volcanic activity in our own country and how it shapes our environment.

“Children should be able to learn about their own places — their tūranagawaewae. For example, where a river goes when it floods, what a floodplain is and what happens when you build houses near it, the role of tectonic plates and fault lines, which plants in the bush have medicinal uses.

“Plus, there’s so much cool stuff in Wairarapa to discover. We’ve got some fascinating geology in the Tararuas – on our doorstep.”

In his two years with Field-Based STEM, Hollis, a former GNS researcher and current lecturer at Victoria University, has worked with Carterton, Kahutara and Pirinoa Schools, Chanel College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa.

One of his favourite sites for outdoor learning is the Tararua Range— composed of different types of rock originating from ancient undersea volcanoes, pushed upwards by tectonic plate collision.

The evidence of the mountains’ origin, he said, can often be found in the Ruamahanga River: Rocks found further downstream are often “smaller and more rounded”, shaped and worn by currents over thousands of years.

“Whereas rocks in other parts of the river are larger and more angular – meaning they’ve been deposited by recent tectonic activity.

“A lot of these things you don’t notice when you’re out hiking.

“Looking at the rocks tells a story and helps unravel the history of the area.”

Hollis said the Tararua Range also has much to teach about native plants – for example, identifying the difference between lowland plants and those growing on mountain slopes, and learning to navigate an area based on the proximity of the different vegetation.

For field trips, he often teams up with fellow educator and environmental advocate Joseph Potangaroa, who provides a matauranga Māori perspective on native medicinal flora.

South Wairarapa pupils have learned about liquid erosion at the Putangirua Pinnacles, discovered fossilised sea life embedded within Kupe’s Sail, and explored the beach terraces at Tora — composed of rocks formed in both deep and shallow waters, pointing to evidence of sea level change.

Tora’s rock formations also contain sediments deposited by a massive tsunami, most likely resulting from the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago— a connection particularly impressive to the children.

Hollis said he has enjoyed seeing teachers’ renewed appreciation for their surroundings and for teaching science – and has found their students’ enthusiasm especially gratifying.

“I was getting burnt out by my past work in science — as you’re often having to justify [to other scientists] why something is important.

“But science has inherent interest value. And the kids pick up on that — they enjoy it, because it’s interesting.

“I hope this will encourage them to pursue a career in science — or even just embrace science as a part of daily life.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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