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Using Kites to Teach Science

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
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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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Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

malcolm bellamy's picture
malcolm bellamy
Teaching and Learning Consultant in Southend, Essex, U.K.

Loved the concept of creating the kites, looking into the cultural history and the craft of Polynesian kite making. This is a great example of STEAM which is putting the arts back into STEM. An interesting blog post by Cathy Davidson on this idea of allowing creativity and artistic expression into science, mathematics, technology and engineering can be seen at

Laurie Chu's picture
Laurie Chu
Web Production Manager

Here's an Edutopia interview with Sandra Skea, a fifth grade teacher at The Mott Hall School in New York City, where she describes an interdisciplinary project in which her students researched, designed, built, and wrote about kites.

And watch the kids in action at "Mott Hall School: STEM Projects Encourage Students to Excel."

These are stories from our archives, but kite building never goes out of style!

Dr. Katie Klinger's picture
Dr. Katie Klinger
STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Dear Malcom, mahalo (thank you) for your perceptive comments and for the resource link. With our wonderful trade winds over here, kites become symbolic of many parts of our history and tie our ancestors to us and to our future generations. Warmly, Katie

libo's picture

Actually a links of london is a Heuer Tag creation with a long history of being precision Swiss timepieces that have evolved into being links of london bangles known simply as due to joining Techniques D'Avant-Garde who added features to their watch design that incorporated high end technology. The links of london bracelet creations that are now famous are such things like the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Automatic chronograph watches that are used by genuine divers, usually as a backup to their other computer systems.

Bryon Demerson's picture

Wow! I think its amazing how creative instruction can be. As educators, we must think of abstract ways that we can teach our students necessary information. Using a kite to teach fourth graders about fermentation is incredible!

Education must be hands on. Students need to "feel" instruction, instead of only "hearing" instruction. I can imagine the results of this exploration being enormous in comparison to simple note-taking. I would encourage all educators to approach teaching in this manner.

Zinda's picture

I like how the article grab the readers attention. What do kites have to do with science? My students are always asking me that question why do we have to learn this. It was interesting how the topic of kite making was spread across so many areas of curriculum. It touched on history, culture, how plants grow maybe what we are doing to our environment and how it may effect the growth of this plant. It was a topic that teachers of differents subjects could cover in the class. It brings the teachers together and the students get excited about learning about the same thing in many different classrooms. It really opens the lines of communication through teachers and students.

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