A parallel universe uncovered through transdisciplinary facilitation, hybrid story-ing and ungenreable activities.
Primary Location: West Papakura, South Auckland, New Zealand (37° 5' 0“ South, 174° 57' 0” East) http://www.maplandia.com/new-zealand/auckland/papakura/
Interstitial Coordinator: Maggie Buxton
West Papakura is a economically deprived area populated by indigenous maori, pacific island, and migrant groups. It has recently warranted special focus by police and civic authorities due to high rates of criminal activity (drug houses and labs, gang violence, truancy, tagging, theft etc). Initial entry into the area came via the local community constable who needed some community development consultation and expertise. He and his colleagues had initiated the Awhiwraparound Project, an experimental initiative where 11 streets in a square block are given a dedicated police presence and community centre. (Awhi means embrace in Maori)
In this socially deprived area the physical, digital and imaginal realms have been deactivated and disconnected. There are large tracts of land that are underutilised and abandoned: A set of 6 netball courts that have not been used for ten years, and Te Koiwi Park which is an ancient spring/swamp with a foreboding atmosphere. Access to the virtual world is challenging, and not widespread.
There are also large areas of potential, with the local primary school forming a strong positive influence on the surrounding community. The innovative staff are working on numerous projects to enhance the lives of their children, including cultivating a large community organic garden in the grounds of the school. Their vision is for this garden to spread into the backyards of the inhabitants feeding their tummies and rejuvenating their souls.
There is also a strong community spirit flowing throughout this area and the relationship oriented cultures that exist in the few square kilometres of the boundary do much to counter the social and economic hardship many families face.
While working on the Awhiwraparound project it became clear through a number of peripheral conversations, haphazard archeological finds, and awkward interuniversal encounters, that a parallel world existed. This world seems to be connected through a complex web of synchronicity lines and interdimensional portals.
Discovery is only recent, but already interworld activity is taking place. Locations for this activity are the primary school garden, backyards and walkways of neighbouring houses, Smith's Avenue Netball courts, and Te Koiwi Park. New hubs, portals and connection lines appear every day.
It seems as if Awhiworld (as we have named it) is a thriving interstitial realm inhabited by hybrid creatures and structures connected through imaginal doodlings and daydreams, digital meanderings and ungenreable physical artefacts and activities. Children and young adults seem most able to engage with Awhiworld, and given the importance of this discovery, we aim to work mainly with this group (together with local Kaumatua/Maori Elders) to uncover and map out Awhi Territory. The local primary school has dedicated their curriculum for the remainder of 2008, to uncovering Awhiworld, and all science, social studies, english and health materials will be directed toward the generation of ungenreable artifacts and activities and hybrid story-ing themed around Awhi archeology, anthropology, geography etc. A local alternative education school (for pupils excluded from mainstream education), are also engaged with the uncovery process.
As part of uncovering Awhi, varous portals need to be reactivated in order to more deeply understand their purpose and power. To work on this area we are partnering with Nextspace who are assisting with virtual portal reactivation, and local law enforcement agencies and civic authorities who are providing resources to reactivate portals in the physical realm.
The secret nature of the world means that information appears only in fragments, and mysterious clues. We are working out systems to interpret these clues and children seem particularly adept at this process. Due to the significance of this find much of our work is done undercover, although once a large amound of evidence has been recovered, we hope to exhibit this to the larger Papakura community.
[For reasons of confidentiality, and to maintain calm in the face of extremely disturbing and extraordinary phenomenon, the name and exact location of the school is currently hidden]
Meeting with [ ]Primary School teachers to meta-plan Awhiworld uncovery project.
Alternative Education Students from CEAT Ltd put together music visual exploration of Smiths Avenue Netball Courts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN3F65vssec
Material is shown at a Matariki (Maori New Year)event (27 June 2008) attended by Mayor of Papakura. M/V asks for physical reactivation of Smiths Avenue space. http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/06/matariki-mirror-building.html August 2008
Teachers create systematic and detailed lesson plans based around AwhiWorld concept. Plans for unveiling of world begin in earnest. Expected launch date 25 August 08.http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/06/welcome-to-awhiworld.html
25 August 2008:
8.55am - Awhiworld uncovered. Patuapairehe intercept police communication network to send a message. This message is recorded on CD by police person who runs it sirens blazing to school.9.00am school children gather in assembly for Monday morning karakia (prayers)and songs to start their week.
9.05 am - police car enters school grounds, policeman in full riot ensemble enters hall to present message to teachers.
“I am from the Patupaiarehe iwi of Pukekiwiriki. I have limited time to send you this message and have used the police communication network to make sure you receive it and that you know that it is IMPORTANT. You must know that you are about to begin a journey of discovery. Go back to your classroom you must listen very carefully to your teachers. I have given them some detailed information and instructions for you.” [sound sample is available]
9.15 am teachers rush students to classrooms where messages have been hidden in special boxes somewhere in the classroom. Once found the messages have detailed instructions from the Patupairehe..thus the uncovery of Awhiworld has begun. http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/08/breaking-news.html
Review meeting Teachers update as to activities thus far. Several have introduced a special powerpoint story made up for this programme and based on an old Maori myth of the area. [insert powerpoint]. All teachers are asking students to write or draw about a future earth that is now not able to support life due to current activities. Notes and feedback available in detailed form offline. September 2008
Second review meeting - detailed notes to be provided offline. Generally teachers are doing a lot of visual work with the students. Reading particular books and introducing ideas of portals and gatekeepers.Comments are that it is hard to sometimes grasp the concepts but that once grasped the students get really into it..particularly the boys who are enjoying making connections between their on-line game environments and the material in the classroom. http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/09/awhiworld-update.html
9/9: Forensic examination of portals was undertaken with assistance by Raewyn Turner (prominent NZ mixed media artist). Presentation started the proceedings. Then students were encouraged to look at their surroundings and work in small groups to investigate anomalous phenomena. This material will then become the focus for story production and writing. Students are undertaking mapping of the school grounds and surrounding community as part of their math curricula. They are also learning about the qualities and values inherent to gatekeepers of various kinds. Teachers are working with the children to identify gatekeepers in the local community (eg their Principal, the local police officer, the Kaumatua of the local Marae) http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/09/forensic-investigations-of-awhiworld.html
Gatekeepers and guardians were introduced by Raewyn and Maggie. When asked what portals were the children said: “they take you back in time”, “they take you to another dimension”, “they take you into the future”, “thats where the guardians come from”, “they are doorways”, “they are magical”. When asked about guardians they said: “they look after our school”, “they look after the world”, “we are guardians”. Children went back to classrooms to create sculptures in physical materials to be placed in portal in garden. Teachers were also taken to http://www.nextspace.co.nz to be trained in basic 3D storying work. This will seed Awhiworld activities next year when digital infrastructure is in place in the school.http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/awhiworld-update-and-3d-excursion.html
Awhiworld rests quietly over the summer season while schools are out. Two new guardians sit in the garden watching over the portals. http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/garden-guardians.html Work is taking place in the school so that ICT infrastructure is up to date. Debrief begins of Awhiworld activities over the term.
In general teachers were keen to repeat the experiment and this time embedd this into their long term planning to ensure it was given quality attention, and was more sustainable as a project.
Their comments showed that they saw behavioural shifts as a result of the material and the the children loved it. They also recognised areas for improvement and possibilities for the future. Many of these areas were related to factors that effected the whole school such as poor resources internally and issues related to poverty spilling over into the school at different times.
Teachers comments: [narrative extracts from debrief interviews]
“Great for boys to keep them engaged”. “Excellent to stimulate their imaginations”. “Much harder work than normal curriculum as you are working with their imaginations rather than hard data”. “Fun to not give The Truth..but to play with this with the kids”. “Needed a little more focused energy..too many other things going on in the school and couldnt do the concept justice”.“Children loved portals and gatekeepers theme”. “The dramatic introduction into the school worked..needed to have more of this on a regular basis”. “loved the portal examination” .“Hard to plan for but exciting to plan for..we could take any direction, children could go off on a tangent and I could follow them”. “They really got the gatekeeper idea, one boy told me: “I'm a gatekeeper because I look after the school, and the gardens””. “Great way to get them thinking about Kaitaikitanga [guardianship in Maori]”. “Notice that children are behaving differently around the gardens - at the beginning of the year were running over the gardens and dropping litter, now that is rare”.“The forensic investigation was fantastic - it made them observe more closely and that is a real area of need”. “Our children need to be introduced to things they would never be introduced to. Exposed to different ways of thinking, things and experiences. This did that for them”. “Need to have a much simpler storyline for the little kids”.“Teacher knowledge, skills and pedagogical framework plays a big part in how a project like this is delivered” “The trip to Nextspace was amazing. It was the highlight of the year for me and opened a door to a whole new world” “The children were really motivated and they loved the topic. They enjoyed drawing but struggled writing fiction. The work on gate keepers was successful. they responded really well to portal work and went looking for them in their own time.”. “I am hoping next time that we have more ICT equipment which would help us also and allow the students to be incredibly creative in 3D with computers etc.”
Interstitial Coordinator comments:
Given all of this the project was successful in assisting the teachers to extend their learning and practice. It introduced children to different ways of learning maths, science, social science and english making links between some of their leisure activities and learning. It also taught children to pay attention to their environment in a way that they would not have previously, and supported a number of different changes in their behaviours.
More fundamentally, it exposed both teachers and students to a paradigm that is beyond traditional concepts of true and false, and reignited their capacity to imagine. Exposure to new ideas and technologies in some cases generated a sense of awe and disrupted previously held notions and assumptions about what 'teaching' and 'learning' is about.
It is an excellent example of ARG's used in educational practice as it was fully integrated into the curriculum for nearly two semesters, not simply a 'nice to have' addition. There were multiple positive outcomes from a curriculum enhancement point of few, and there is currently discussion to embed Awhiworld into long term planning to ensure that it is integrated across multiple years of teaching.
The teachers are keen to take the project forward and move it to another level, integrating this even more fully into the curriculum and the community development initiatives taking place around the school. With further funding and support this is possible, as is the potential to further develop trans-local gardening iniatives with Foam, brussels.