Kids become myrtle rust busters with new game

A pair of innovative educational apps, developed by Scion’s Maori team in collaboration with an Indigenous environmental researcher, aim to engage young people and equip them with the knowledge to become future conservationists, or kaitiaki. The apps, named ‘E heke e Heka!’ and ‘Mātaihia te heka’, are designed to impart information about myrtle rust, a destructive fungal pathogen that affects myrtle family plants, in an engaging and interactive manner for target users, the rangatahi (young people) population.

‘E heke e Heka!’ is an English and Te Reo Māori bilingual app that takes users on a immersive, interactive walk through the New Zealand forest guided by Tiki, the native stick insect. The app features engaging narrative and embedded games to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and the community.

Simultaneously, ‘Mātaihia te heka’, an augmented reality app, brings to life the New Zealand forest experience by enabling users to view realistic virtual tree branches and leaves on surfaces such as carpets or flat surfaces, in search of tell-tale signs of myrtle rust infestations.

The researchers behind these apps believe the approaches they have taken will inspire creativity, curiosity, and empower their target audience, fostering a new wave of informed explorers and conscientious guardians of New Zealand’s environment. Initial reactions from the test group of testers indicate that the apps generate enthusiasm for learning about myrtle rust, with one user even discovering myrtle rust on a real pōhutukawa tree.

Both applications, ‘E heke e Heka!’ and ‘Mātaihia te heka’ can be downloaded for free on Android, iOS, and other compatible platforms. Upon their release, the apps were utilized by students from three kura as part of a launch event, with organizers hoping that the apps not only encourage curiosity but spur the development of the next generation of conscientious scientists and kaitiaki who are already strongly connected with New Zealand’s environment.

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