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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Kids Learn About Culture and Caring for the Environment

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
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Being an educator in Hawaii is a truly humbling experience. Each day -- as you work with high-need schools -- you realize that your personal contribution will help not only the immediate community of teachers, students, and families but also future generations as well.

Hawaiians respect the past, present, and future equally as they make decisions that will keep them imua (moving forward). Mindful that people have neglected and mistreated many of the natural resources in moku (local district areas), a lot of Hawaiian schools are using project learning to recapture their land and ocean resources. Doing so provides youngsters with a way to follow the traditional values of 'ike (knowledge), laulima (cooperation), malama (care), ho'omana (spirituality), lokahi (harmony), olakino (health), and kuleana (responsibility).

A Shared Dream

In Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu, Herb Lee, executive director of the Pacific American Foundation, has been rebuilding the ancient ali'i (royal) loko 'i'a (fishponds) with help from state and foundation grants. Lee's success in engaging multiple levels of his community in this preservation project has proven to be quite inspiring for many islanders.

The Kamaile Academy is located on the same island as Lee's project, but it's on the opposite side of the Ko'olau Mountains, in the Wai'anae Moku. The families of the academy also need to protect the living waters of their community.

Tragically, there are no longer any fishponds on the Wai'anae Coast like the ones whose outlines are still visible in Kaneohe Bay. People removed the water, and the ponds dried out. Instead, residents now use Wai'anae's former fishponds as landfills or as places to build homes. Wai'anae Moku communities plan to tackle this problem by reversing the damage to their fishponds the same way it was done in Kaneohe Bay.

So these residents are modeling their efforts after Lee's project and are using cultural-based curriculum as part of the restoration project in Kaneohe Bay. Wai'anae's loko 'i'a will become an outdoor classroom for the students and families of the Kamaile Academy. With dynamic, highly interactive hands-on science and math activities, these projects will provide time for students and parents to work with local kupunas, honored elders who are community leaders. Students will watch and learn the nearly forgotten traditional ways to be caretakers of their 'aina and loko 'i'a and to reclaim the spiritual connectedness to their islands.

Becoming a Reality

At the Kamaile Academy, educators are designing an instructional system for the upper-elementary schools and middle schools that will have strong cultural, science, and math projects. The 32 new teachers who came to the school this year will contribute greatly to the subject matter with their areas of expertise. When Kamaile converted to charter school status, it lost many teachers. However, the school gained the flexibility to initiate innovative curricula, such as this project, to meet the unique needs of the community and to move forward.

Students will be able to perform experiments in water testing and will use digital microscopes, attached to laptops, in the outdoor classroom at the fishponds. They'll examine the microbiology of the water system for algae growth and salinity levels. The students will bring the information back to their classrooms to present and discuss it with their peers and teachers. Then the students will create a Web page on the school site where they can reflect on and share their work with other schools globally.

Undoubtedly, all the Hawaiian Islands stand to benefit from this project. Driven by the results and the excitement of their outdoor-classroom experiments, students will develop the leadership skills so desperately needed to advocate for the preservation and conservation of the land and ocean areas, not only along the Wai'anae Coast but on other islands as well. As the future caretakers of these islands, the students will need such leadership skills. In truth, these students will be working to ensure a better future for all of us on this planet. Perhaps you have heard me say this before, but if we lose our oceans, we will lose our world as we know it.

How do the connections between community, culture, and the environment resonate with you? As a teacher, what ideas have surfaced for you from reading this post? I am excited to hear your ideas!

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Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Juanita Adams 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm Ms. Adams from Dallas, Texas. I teach third grade. I feel that cultural plays an important role within the classroom. Making sure the students feel comfortabe about who they are and where they came from is exactly what they need in order to be successful.

Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Could you please send me the curriculum that you developed?

Jake Seibel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Katie ~ I was truly moved by the outstanding shared community and educational projects that are being coordinated on Oahu. I have visited the incredibly beautiful islands three times, with Oahu being one of those trips. I was so impressed that all the beaches are public and everyone has a shared responsibility to protect and enjoy them. One of my former colleagues is married to a Hawaiian. The family and its culture and tradition are closely intertwined. I remember in my cultures class when I was adding my ESOL certification, the importance of the community collaboration, with the kupunas teaching the younger members about the history and the ways to preserve it. It is invaluable to teach our young people about the traditional values of life, no matter what the culture. As I reread your article, I realized that this undertaking occurred as a part of the flexibility of the charter school model. I currently teach seventh grade life science at a new middle school and I sure would be interested in an outdoor classroom community project that can be implemented along the same lines as your service and leadership project. Can you provide me your school's website address or share any results of your project?

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Jake, how truly wonderful that you have experienced first home not only the beauty of these islands but the warmth of its people. You are so correct, when Kamaile Academy converted to charter school status, it opened up so many new doors to them. In Hawaii, we have 3 types of schools: DOE (Department of Education), start up charters, and conversion charters (which Kamaile Academy is now). We would love to have our children (keiki) share in an outdoor classroom community project with your students...Kamaile has extended to 7th and 8th grade this year, and will add one grade to move the same group of students up through high school and possible community college. So our students can travel along the same path as yours as they move from your class to someone else's class in eight grade later. My email is kklinger@nu.edu for us to continue this conversation...and then we can highlight what the two groups of students do together in the future on this blog site. I look forward to our "talk story" about how to make this happen for our children together...Warmly, Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Scott, we would love to share this curricula with you - it is targeted for middle school students. Please send me an email at kklinger@nu.edu so we can discuss what we have and how it might fit into what you want to do with your students. Warmly, Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Juanita, I totally agree with you...we call it understanding their place on these islands as caretakers of the land, sea, sky, elders, etc. For the Hawaiians, the family is on the continuum of those ancestors who have gone before them "over the rainbow" - to the other side of life- and those individuals who are not born yet - those still on the other side of the rainbow. So whenever a Hawaiian child sees a rainbow, they have been taught that the people being born are arriving on the bright color bands of red, orange,etc and those departing this world are traveling along the dark blues and violet bands. Culture does enrich us all, as you pointed out so well...Warmly, Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Angela, the term "charter school" actually has several dimensions, but it is essentially a school where innovations can be tried and then, the concept is, passed along to traditional schools for replication. In Hawaii, we have 3 types of schools: DOE (Department of Education), start up charters, and conversion charters (which Kamaile Academy is now - school in my blog.) Charters are excellent decisions for communities who are willing to help the school succeed...the school cannot do it in isolation. What school are you at right now? Warmly, Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Louris, you have pointed out several of the key success factors in project based learning: engaging the students outside the classroom, being trusted with tools that an adult would use professionally, and contributing to the community (in Hawaii's case, many of the community are their aunties, uncles, and tutus (grandmothers)...I thank you for your reinforcement of our ideas... Are you doing something similar in your community? If so, I would really like to learn about it...Warmly, Dr. Katie

Mary Lynn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Katie,

As an aspiring educator, I found your project to be not only beneficial to the environment, but engaging and meaningful for the students involved. By allowing them to work with the environment and contribute to their community, you are teaching them to care for the world we are given. I find this truly inspiring and hope that everything is working out for you and the project, as a whole. Taking your students outside of the classroom to learn will not only provide a different environment, but allow them to have meaningful learning where they feel that their work is truly making a difference in this world. I am also interested to see the website your students have created, and would love if you could provide the address! I believe that we need to preserve the earth and take care of what we have been given, and your students are advocates for a beautiful future! Thank you for everything that you continue to do in the educational world, and good luck with your project!

Sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am very interested in hearing about how you were accepted into the Hawaiian classrooms. I had a roommate in college who spent a year at the University of Hawaii, and often told me how she often felt like an outsider from the locals, and was not openly welcomed. Did you experience this, and if so, how did you overcome it? Or did you notice a difference in the cultural openness of the younger students than the one I have heard about in the older?

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