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  • Chloe Stantiall, a year 5–6 kaiako at Silverdale Normal School, shares her experiences and insights from a week-long teaching and learning sequence about kōwhai. Chloe worked with Associate Professor Maurice M. W. Cheng as part of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI)-funded research project Envisioning student possible selves in science: Addressing ‘plant blindness’ through place-based education.

    Rights: Chloe Stantiall

    Tamariki collecting kōwhai seeds

    Tamariki at Silverdale Normal School collect kōwhai seeds and seed pods as part of an investigation into the past, present and future uses of kōwhai. This activity was used as a hook into a week-long inquiry unit about the uses and different knowledge sources of kōwhai.

    Kōwhai generally flower in late winter to early spring. Seeds are available to collect from beneath trees and from their pods for most of the year.

    Why kōwhai?

    I was part of the research team that was seeking to address the minimal number of students in our Kāhui Ako (Community of Learners) taking science-related classes once they reached high school.

    Heading into this teaching sequence, I had previously taught week-long units about kūmara and harakeke. I wanted to choose another plant that would be physically accessible and relatable to my students as well as having many connections to te ao Māori. There are kōwhai trees outside the office where we began brainstorming our next focus. I knew they were going to be blooming at the time of the unit. It felt like perfect timing to open my eyes and students’ eyes to this iconic tree.

    Class background

    My class was an even mix of year 5 and 6 students. Our school community is a beautiful reflection of the diversity of the Waikato area with an ethnically, academically, physically and socio-economically diversity of students. The students brought a range of experiences and prior knowledge to this learning sequence.

    Our localised curriculum

    As a senior school syndicate (five classes of year 5–6 students), we follow the teaching method of project-based learning. We find this to be an effective way of teaching necessary life skills such as problem solving, creativity, teamwork and resilience. Each term, students move through at least two sequences where they are required to build a project that meets a real-world need, solves a meaningful problem or answers a question. In doing so, students move through the inquiry cycle, which we have condensed into three stages: ako | learn, hanga | create and whakaputa | share. Students know we may move through this cycle in a single lesson – for example, learn how to tell the time, make a clock to practise this learning and use the clock to teach another student – or we use this cycle over an entire term – for example, to create a 3D model of a native bird that reflects their learning of its habitat, prey and appearance. All learning is integrated across the curriculum areas.

    Rights: Chloe Stantiall

    Kōwhai Wonders

    Kōwhai Wonders is an anthology of poems and infographics produced by students after a week-long kōwhai unit. Having the opportunity to share their scientific learning in creative formats allowed students to see the relevance of science in all areas of school and everyday life.

    What we did

    With this context in mind, as well as the needs and goals of the TLRI research project, I designed and carried out the following activities:

    • Exploring – we found kōwhai trees in and around our kura.
    • Collecting seeds – from the ground or directly from seed pods.
    • Planting – we planted the seeds in the last week of term 2 and this teaching sequence took place during the first week of term 3.
    • Observing – I taught and applied the skills of observing and sketching flowers, leaf arrangement and other aspects of a kōwhai tree.
    • Collecting and pressing flowers – some students brought back flowers to observe more closely so we pressed some.
    • Research – I posed the questions: “Who might have been the first to observe and investigate kōwhai?” and “How were/are Māori connected to kōwhai?”. Students completed research online using curated links.
    • Sharing – I posed the question: “How might we share our learning and observational skills with others?”. We decided to use infographics and poetry.
    • Exploring iNaturalist NZ – an online database of scientific observations from the public. Students recognised the lack of kōwhai in this database and uploaded images from our kura.
    • Graphing – using the information from the iNaturalist website, some of the more confident students graphed the differences in observations of kōwhai trees around Aotearoa.
    • Exploring our local gully – we went into the nearby Mangaonua Gully system to identify kōwhai and other native plants.
    Rights: Chloe Stantiall

    Exploring the local environment

    Students from Silverdale Normal School visited the Mangaonua Gully system near their school to gather first-hand knowledge of native plants.

    What worked well

    • Restricting the learning to a week – though the infographics and poems flowed over into the next – meant that students stayed engaged and each session brought new learning.
    • There were many opportunities to draw on mātauranga Māori. In fact, most of the information they researched for their infographics was exactly that. As a part of teaching mātauranga, it’s important to me that students recognise Māori as the source of knowledge. I often posed questions to help students recognise the research and investigation Māori did of te taiao to gain such knowledge. Questions such as “How might Māori have known kōwhai seeds were poisonous?”, “What is a scientist?”, “Were Māori scientists?” and “Do you need to go to university to be a scientist?” help with this.
    • There were many opportunities for students to be outside, and the flow of learning in and out of the classroom felt very natural.
    • The poems students produced were particularly impressive and we attributed this to their complete immersion in the kōwhai topic for an entire week. They had all the vocabulary and knowledge they needed and used it to produce writing that for some was well above their standard writing level.
    Rights: Chloe Stantiall

    Kōwhai poems

    The poems and illustrations demonstrate careful observations of kōwhai trees and flowers made by the authors.


    • Finding research material relating to kōwhai for NZC level 1–2 readers to access was a challenge. I didn’t want their ability to learn to be hindered by their ability to read so we used a lot of mixed ability research groups during the research phase. Also, finding videos for these students to watch allowed them to access learning by listening and watching.
    • Because it was a week-long unit, it was challenging at times to know what to prioritise in the teaching and learning and what to leave out. This is the daily struggle of a teacher, so I tried to balance what I had planned with the students’ own curiosity.
    • Finding local stories that are specific to the Waikato or even the Silverdale area was and continues to be a challenge as we endeavour to teach from a place-based framework.
    • Completing both a poem and infographic was a lot for some students. Perhaps next time I would have students choose the format they felt most drawn to.

    Kaiako reflection

    Overall, this unit was a great success and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching it. Students were engaged and demonstrated their learning effectively though their infographics and poems as they sought to teach others about kōwhai. Through my involvement in this entire research project, I have come to see the benefits of conducting short, fully integrated teaching units. When these units led into our overarching term inquiry – We are kaitiaki of our environment – they set students up with a strong foundation of scientific knowledge and skills.

    It was my privilege to work alongside researchers Maurice Cheng and Bronwen Cowie throughout this project as well as teachers Nick Bryant and Natalie Thompson.

    Mātauranga Māori of kōwhai

    This article is part of a wider teaching/inquiry sequence. Additional resources include:

    Related content

    The Hub has numerous resources with mātauranga Māori content. Visit the mātauranga Māori topic and the māramatanga Māori concept and use the filters to narrow your search.

    Ngā rākau ❘ Trees curates bilingual articles that present the fundamentals of plant biology in a way that is accessible to anyone who may have limited prior knowledge of botany. These resources are extensively illustrated with images and bilingual diagrams. They have Word downloads in te reo Māori to enable adaptation for individual kura needs.

    Learn more about iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao, a citizen science project used by citizens and scientists to monitor species presence and distribution. It’s also helpful with species identification.

    Learn how to press and dry leaves and flowers.


    This article was written by Chloe Stantiall as part of the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project Envisioning student possible selves in science: Addressing ‘plant blindness’ through place-based education. The project explores students’ sense of place and science-related possible selves through local curriculum units that focus on plants. Chloe was assisted by researchers Maurice M. W. Cheng and Bronwen Cowie from The University of Waikato.

      Published 29 May 2024 Referencing Hub articles
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