Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Kids Learn About Culture and Caring for the Environment

February 17, 2009

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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Filed Under

  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Science
  • 6-8 Middle School

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