Activity: We are stardust

Consider our place within the cosmos and across time and space.

We are all made of stardust. All the elements that make up the human body, and all that is on Earth, were formed in long gone stars. The interrelatedness of human beings with all that is around us has been understood in mātauranga Māori for all of time.

Humans are made up of oxygen (65%), carbon (18.5%), hydrogen (9.5%), nitrogen (3.2%), calcium (1.5%), phosphorus (1%), potasium (0.4%), sulphur (0.3%), sodium (0.2%), chlorine (0.2%), and magnesium (0.1%).

Image: Te Papa (silhouette of woman by macrovector/Freepik)

Investigating in science

Download the above infographic [JPG; 82.08KB – A4 size] and share with ākonga.

Discuss together:

What could this infographic’s title be?

What are the most common elements in our human body?

Do you think these are the same common elements of the universe? (Spoiler alert: they are!)

Connect with the cosmos

Watch and listen to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speak about this most astounding fact below. If you have younger ākonga, you can do a similar task with the storybook, You are Stardust by Elin Kelsey.

“We are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist

Ask ākonga to think quietly and then talk with the person beside them about the feelings that they have from listening to this interview. Discuss the feelings that have come about as a group – they may benefit from watching the video a couple of times through to extend ideas. There might be feelings of awe, curiosity, astoundment, confusion, or amazement – make sure you validate all the feelings that rise up.

Ask ākonga to draw a picture that reflects their feelings and to overlay a line from the interview (full transcript is in the video description) or write their own statement about the relationship between us and stars.

Our interconnectedness with the stars above us and the earth below us, has been understood within mātauranga Māori and other indigenous knowledge systems for all of time.

If you are a teacher of older ākonga, read and discuss the two quotes below together. If you are a teacher of younger ākonga, you may want to read these quotes yourself and consider ways to communicate this woven universe through such practices as a mindful nature walk, or meditation.

“When people hear the word “whakapapa” they often only think of it as a family tree: mum, dad, kids, grandparents, ancestors.

But you can go right back to Tāne and to this tree here, and to the rocks under our feet.

It’s a five-dimensional network: the three dimensions of space, plus time, plus the spiritual world. Whakapapa is the motivator and the reminder that everything is connected in time and space.”

– Dan Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato Tainui, Ngāti Whanaunga)
Māori Studies, University of Auckland

“To accept there is a concrete link between the celestial, cosmic and terrestrial spaces is the start of a re-humanising process – one of reconnecting.

This means bringing ourselves back to nature in acknowledgement that our bodies and the soil …emerge from the same origin.”

– Teina Boasa-Dean and Ruth Nesi Bryce-Hare
Te Mahi Oneone Hua Parakore: A Maori Soil Sovereignty and Wellbeing Handbook

Discuss together:

When we notice that we are the universe and the universe is us, what might change?

How does this sense of the woven universe help with the way we might choose to live on the planet with each other?

In the scale of infinite time and space, how wondrous is it to be alive?

There may be many questions that rise from this point of the Matariki inquiry. Be sure to record them, as they may provide useful directions for future inquiry paths.