George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Using Kites to Teach Science

July 14, 2010

I continue to be amazed at the high quality articles in our local in-flight magazine. Hawaiian Airlines should receive a medal every year for their astounding Hana Hou magazine, which fortunately for everyone "off island" is also featured online.

Not only do they cover unique aspects of these incredibly beautiful and sacred islands, they do so from a perspective that celebrates the diversity of life. Last month, a small piece in the Native Intelligence section caught my eye: It was about kites! How many of us have memories of flying a kite?

The article's illustration shows an ancient kite design held aloft by a beautiful Hawaiian woman. I immediately thought about the soft but strong trade winds that sweep my own side of Oahu in Makaha Valley. I envisioned the author describing the aerodynamics of flight by these earliest shapes modeled on petroglyphs found near our volcanic beaches and in our lush green valleys.

Instead, this article totally surprised me. Its first sentence quietly prompts, "What do kites have to do with science?" Well, now I was hooked since STEM education has become a passion in my life.

The article was not about flight, instead its extraordinary richness lay in exploring the science of fermentation of the kite's kappa (bark cloth) and the legends that inspired such kites for centuries in the Polynesia realm.

The Bishop Museum's science educator, Amber Inwood, and native Hawaiian artist, Dalani Tanahy, partnered in educating Waianae Coast fourth graders about Polynesian kites, their sacred place in myth and tradition, the role of our islands' climates, and the process of fermentation in general. The result? Sixty-four students teamed to create kapa kites by hand using multicolored plant dyes, fibers, gum, resin, and pounded bark. And, yes, they flew their kites over the island -- a testimony that adventure can often come from ancient knowledge.

For those of you intrigued as I am by this short and enticing article, you can learn more about making kapa cloth with your own students and the history and craft behind Hawaiian kapa cloth at this website. Also, check out the students kapa kites exhibit at the museum.

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Science
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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