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Digital Explorers go retro to celebrate Te Maro

Tonui Collab has been game development central over the last month as Year 5 students from across Tairawhiti worked collaboratively to develop retro arcade-style games that celebrate the life of Te Maro.

The students are part of Aurora Education Foundation’s Digital Explorers programme and were selected because of their enthusiasm for digital technologies.

Over three day-long workshops, they learned how to design and code games using the freely-available, web-based platform Microsoft MakeCode Arcade.

“In this series, the game development is not only coding, there is the creative component, with the children designing the characters and objects for the game, and the historical component, with the children having to recall what they’d learned about Te Maro,” said Tonui’s Collab’s Mckay Burgess, who led the workshop.

Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae kaitiaki (guardian) Charlotte Gibson spent an afternoon at Tonui Collab talking about Te Maro with the children.

Te Maro was a prominent leader shot dead by a member of Captain Cook’s crew, but Ms Gibson said his death should not be the only thing we remember about him.

“He was a kaitiaki, he was a scientist.”

She shared details of his gardens located across Tairawhiti and the children drew on this new knowledge to develop games that celebrated his life.

“Children used what they had learned to develop complex game narrative, said Tonui Collab director Shanon O’Connor.

Details of Te Maro informed the plot, interactive elements and gameplay.

Working mostly in pairs, children designed and coded games where Te Maro is the player character and the objective is to get him to a destination. The interactive elements included streams, mountains or hills, fish and various plants such as aloe vera, which Te Maro was renowned for growing in various gardens across Tairawhiti.

Ms O’Connor said a fundamental part of game development was problem-solving and tamariki were encouraged to collaborate with their peers to debug their games.

“It was great to see tamariki crossing the lab to help peers.”

Aurora Education Foundation executive director Sunny Bush said the group thoroughly enjoyed the programme and were eager to come back as a group in 2021 to try something new and build on their coding and gaming skills.

“It was a highly successful programme to accelerate the thinking and learning of our original and ingenious thinkers.”

Tonui Collab will be sharing these games on its website for the wider community to engage with.

See also the 'Sunshine in a box' story here by Kim Parkinson.

TECH SAVVY: Children chosen for their problem-solving ability and enthusiasm for digital technology took part in the Aurora Education Foundation’s Digital Explorers programme at Tonui Collab. Here Leyla Fawcett and Kylah Loftus from St Mary’s School demonstrate the game they created based on the story of Te Maro. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell