A journey of a lifetime for Hillcrest Normal students

Stacey Vowles, teacher from Hillcrest Normal Primary shares her experiences with the Virtual Great Walker competition win:

Last year the Department of Conservation with sponsorship from Air NZ,  ran the Virtual Great Walker competition, aimed at getting Kiwi kids out walking and learning about our national parks and native species.

To be eligible for the competition prize of a trip to one of the national parks, the groups were encouraged to explore their local parks, reserves and tracks until they had clocked up at least half the distance of their designated Great Walk. In addition, the groups had to compile a creative presentation to communicate what they had discovered and learned on their outdoor adventures.

Being an Enviroschool and a teacher passionate about the bush, I decided to enter my class in the competition that would become a year long journey.

I began to read my favourite book- Harry Wakatipu by Jack Lasenby, that is set in the Te Urewera’s. The children fell immediately in love with the area described and we decided to “Virtually” walk the distance of Lake Waikaremoana. We undertook 6 walks as a class, both on our doorstep (Hamilton Gardens, Hammond Park, Our local library) and further afield (Maungatautari and the Taitua Arboretum). Each walk had a focus that allowed us to learn about the living world and compare our local treasures to that of Lake Waikaremoana.

The students collaborated on recording our learning on a class website http://hnsgreatwalkers.weebly.com/. Over the term they also chose a native species to look at through a scientific and conservation lens.

The children were also encouraged to do their own walks with families. Together we walked 2296.9km.

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We were lucky enough to have our website chosen as the winning entry! In November, conservation week,  the students of Room 7 at Hillcrest Normal School, were flown along with 8 adults to Nelson, where we would continue on to do the first leg of the Abel Tasman coastal track. This track was chosen because of the tracks easy gradient and warmer weather at this time of year.

The students learnt how to pack minimally and carry their own gear for 12km to get to our accommodation at the Anchorage hut. They learnt perseverance and used their growing skills of noticing. The Department of Conservation was amazing. They had organised a 3 day trip, all expenses paid for. Many of my students had never been on a plane, out of the North Island, or away from home. It was an amazing opportunity and the Abel Tasman is such a beautiful place.

My students gained an appreciation for the natural world around them. Between them, they represented over 12 different ethnicities. We looked at our environment from a bicultural perspective but also through a multicultural lens. We are all guardians of New Zealand, so it’s important they know the unique things about our country. Our big focus was to notice, to look for things they wouldn’t normally see.

Because of their growing appreciation and passion for the natural world, the students were also spurred into action over the year. One of these projects involved writing our production around the work at Maungatautari. The students wanted to get across the message that we are all responsible. Through their production they also raised $100 for the trust.

The Virtual Great Walker is a great competition and an excuse to get outside to learn. If the competition is run again, I definitely recommend it. Plan your walks early and make it very clear to parents what the learning intentions and benefits of the walks will be. Maximise on all areas of the curriculum – we did native species speeches, art, poetry etc. It even allowed me to introduce big concepts such as MRS GREN (acronym to spark memory about the seven activities of living things: movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition.)

Taking part in the Virtual Great Walker competition does present a lot of hard work, but is well worth the ride!

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