The progression of LEARNZ virtual field trips

The progression of LEARNZ virtual field trips

Written by Andrew Penny, LEARNZ facilitator / kaiārahi

A quick history lesson

Can you believe that LEARNZ virtual field trips have been around for 28 years? I’ve been a part of this incredible journey for half of that time! 

LEARNZ began life in 1995 as an Antarctic focused education programme harnessing the great stories that came from New Zealand Antarctic science research. LEARNZ at that time was an acronym for Linking Education and Antarctic Research in New Zealand. We’ve since broadened our horizons…

An evolutionary shift : Embracing the New Zealand curriculum refresh

At LEARNZ, we’re all about continuously improving to meet your needs as educators. The recently refreshed New Zealand Curriculum, Te Mātaiaho, is an opportunity to reflect on how our virtual field trips are staying up-to-date and relevant. 

While we've always had a strong focus on science, we're now diving deeper into a more interdisciplinary platform. We've been inspired to bring the big ideas and progress outcomes outlined in Te ao tangata | Social sciences and Aotearoa New Zealand's histories (ANZH) to life. This, along with the Tātai Aho Rau focus and vision for equity, has led us to engage with knowledgeable experts who can share diverse perspectives, mātauranga and pūrākau in our virtual field trips. Highlighting people's stories and knowledge unique to Aotearoa will encourage ākonga to develop a deeper understanding of social and historical contexts, while nurturing cultural competency, critical thinking and empathy - lifelong skills essential for engagement in our diverse, rapidly changing world.  

A key moment : Meeting Tā Tipene O'Regan

As mentioned, I have been with LEARNZ for a number of years. During this time as a LEARNZ kaiārahi and videographer, I have engaged extensively with a range of people to create and present virtual field trips from across the motu. One particularly notable engagement took place early last year. During filming for a trip called Te tapa whenua: Naming the land, I had the privilege of meeting Tā Tipene O'Regan, New Zealander of the year 2022. 

Spending time with Tā Tipene was truly remarkable. His wisdom and mana left a lasting impression on me. His kōrero on the field trip topic was a light bulb moment that helped me to appreciate more the importance of cultural and historical connections to the land. Tā Tipene’s re-telling of the Aoraki creation story and his view on the value and importance of original place names, encouraged me to contemplate te taiao and my own and others’ connection with the whenua that surrounds us. I also developed a greater understanding of our indigenous mātauranga and perspectives. The experience helped me to grow my respect and empathy towards our environment, our history and our people. 


LEARNZ kaiārahi Andrew with Tā Tipene in 2022. Image: LEARNZ.

This is what LEARNZ aims to do: to provide opportunities for ākonga and educators to delve deeper into, to understand and to value the topics and holistic perspectives we develop and present. 

More than ever we are working closely with key people who hold cultural and historical knowledge within their respective rohe. These field trip experts truly understand the pūrākau of their regions. It’s a huge privilege to collaborate with mana whenua and by doing so, we can ensure that our virtual field trips capture the essence of their mana, authority and mātauranga. 

Shane Te Ruki, historian and story teller from the Our place names: Ngāti Maniapoto stories field trip 2023.


A video by ākonga for ākonga : Placing students at the forefront of our learning

We are also placing student agency front and centre. We want learners to feel empowered to take an active role in their learning. That’s why we’re inviting ākonga to co-develop virtual field trip videos, feature in our trips and share their own stories and perspectives. LEARNZ field trips also act as a springboard into student-led inquiry. As immersive learning experiences, our virtual field trips aim to ignite curiosity and encourage further exploration. 

Supporting student agency aligns with the NELP (National Education for Learning Progression), by emphasising active participation and having ownership of their learning. When ākonga have a voice and are actively involved in their learning they are far more likely to be invested in the learning journey. 

Tokotaha from the Tāmaki College Samoan Polyfest group who co-developed video content for the Showcasing our Pacific cultures virtual field trip. Image: LEARNZ.


A meaningful kaupapa

Selecting meaningful topics is critical if ākonga are to deepen their understanding of social sciences’ big ideas and be able to apply them to both familiar and new contexts. (Aotearoa NZ Histores purpose statement

This statement aligns well with LEARNZ’s own kaupapa. Our values and aim of equitable outcomes for all ākonga means focussing on delivering virtual field trips in contexts which fit well within this scope. LEARNZ is making a genuine effort to work with people and organisations who help us align with this aspect of the ANZH curriculum purpose statement. If you look through the selection of field trip topics featured on the LEARNZ homepage, you will find a range of meaningful topics which will help kaiāko to support ākonga to deepen their understanding of social sciences’ big ideas. 

In summary

LEARNZ virtual field trips is undergoing an evolution from a predominantly science-based programme to a more social and historical platform that places people, their stories and knowledge at the forefront of information and learning. More than ever before, LEARNZ is committing to an inclusive and equitable approach to its virtual field trips. 

This journey sees our online content encompassing a much broader scope of perspectives that aims to captivate learners of all ages and deepen their understanding of the diverse stories of Aotearoa. We are endeavouring to connect more with authentic, passionate people who have the mana to not only share relevant local stories and history, but to also help lead the direction of a virtual field trip topic. With a greater emphasis on empowering voices and highlighting mana whenua and an indigenous perspective of the relationship between culture and environment, LEARNZ is creating a deeper learning experience where ākonga will make better and more profound connections with the places, people and whenua around them. 

Andrew Penny, LEARNZ facilitator / kaiārahi

My mission is to create opportunities for ākonga to discover and experience local, authentic learning that extends beyond the walls of the classroom. I aim to connect ākonga to people, places, and kaupapa that encourage curiosity, generate awareness, and inspire action.

Andrew Penny, LEARNZ facilitator / kaiārahi
Andrew Penny HS


LEARNZ is a programme of free virtual field trips, helping students access the inaccessible. Visit inspiring places around Aotearoa, Antarctica and beyond. Let us take you there!

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