Linking Ako researchers through connection to place at Onuku Marae

Sara Tolbert and Ben Kennedy join LEAF colleagues for a day of connection and discovery around Akaroa Harbour.


It had been a crazy Covid year and we were all pretty washed out; we needed to reignite our passion for Ako (teaching and learning). As a cluster, we represent multiple colleges and community/school partners. We are a relatively new as a group of researchers from all over UC and Waitaha, with a shared goal of researching innovative place-based approaches to teaching and learning—and we love to kōrero together outdoors. One thing we agree on is connecting with each other and place helps learning.

We call ourselves LEAF – Learning for Earth Ako Futures – and we wanted an informal place to connect, and as a geologist (Ben) and environmentalist (Sara) we know there is no better way than a fieldtrip.

UC’s kaiārahi Mel Tainui suggested the perfect place. Mel has been campaigning for years to appropriately represent the cultural status, political history, and knowledge of her home, and we were lucky enough that Mel and her whānau volunteered to share her whānau’s stories-in-place with our group.

Researchers from the Colleges of Education, Arts, Science, Engineering, and representatives from Banks Peninsula Geopark and the International Antarctic Centre together enjoyed a trip around Akaroa Harbour. Discussions ranged from learning through community gardening, types of lava flows, Māori fishing holes, tino rangitiratanga, wastewater politics, serious computer gaming, Nikau palms and penguins, and vigorously debated terminologies (crayfish or rock lobster—same same or different?). But as soon as twenty kōura were pulled on board the focus shifted to kai, and we were treated to a feast complete with aroha and manaakitanga at Ōnuku.

Special thanks to our partners at the UC Child Wellbeing Institute for helping make this trip possible. As researchers, we felt re-energised, and enthusiastic to work more with this fun diverse group of colleagues addressing some huge issues that will face our learners over the next decade. We are looking forward to a productive and impactful year as LEAF!

Sara Tolbert is an Associate Professor in UC’s College of Education, Health and Human Development. She is centrally concerned with science and education as essential parts of a collective effort toward a just, caring, & sustainable world.

Ben Kennedy is Professor of Geology in the School of Earth and Environment. His research and teaching are driven by a love of volcanoes, and learning. He focuses on projects that are fun, exciting, and important to society.