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Last updated by Joy Kitt

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When you look up waka in "Te Ara - the encyclopedia of Aotearoa" it says:

"New Zealand’s abundance of wide-girthed trees such as tōtara meant that Māori could build much more diverse waka (canoes) than in their Polynesian homeland. They developed a variety of vessels for coastal and inland waterways. Each had its special function, from the grand carved waka taua for war parties, to handy rafts for fishing."

Screen shot 2012-11-20 at 11.15.12 AM.png  Totara Tree

The phrases 'wide girthed trees', 'variety of vessels', and 'special funtions' immediately set me off asking a number of questions that could be investigated.  Why were wide girth trees important?  What did they build waka from before?  Why did they need different waka for coastal and inland waterways?  Did it matter what kind of wood they were built from?  What shape were waka and why? What questions can your class come up with?

Investigations need to be designed so have your class explore different ways they could test their ideas.  They will probably need to build models - of waka, or tanks for different kinds of waterways. This may be a good investigation to do during the swimming season so your class can use the pool for their tests - just don't tell the caretaker!

Who could your class ask for help or insight into boat building?  The Science Learning Hub has a great entry about waka and how they were used, as well as a discussion on maori navigation as well.

Does your local museum have a waka or exhibit the tools for building them?  Is there a local carver who could give your children a demonstration and teach them about the lore of carving and the images carved on waka?

Can you find a way for your children to have a go at carving their own canoes?  Balsa wood would be awesome.  If carving and exploring aero-dynamics are of interest to them then you might want to consider trying CO2 cars. These can be bought as kits and give the children the chance to carve their own car, then race it, powered by a CO2 gas sparklet. The wood can be carved using sandpaper and potato peelers. It is also a chance to have the Dads come in and help out (and bring their tools too). Great fun and a genuine opportunity to explore aerodynamics in action.   

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  1. carving takes some time    2. Carved but not painted     3. Ready to race!