Hoku­le‘a’s journey to capture students’ attention

By Nanea Kalani on May 13, 2014
The Polynesian Voyaging Society has partnered with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education on a teacher training program called A‘o Hawai‘i. UH College of Education Dean Donald Young, left, educator Mary Matayoshi, interim UH President David Lassner, Board of Education member Cheryl Lupenui and state Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi steered Hokule‘a during a leadership voyage in November. (Photo: Courtesy Tara O’Neill)

The Polynesian Voyaging Society has partnered with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education on a teacher training program called A‘o Hawai‘i. UH College of Education Dean Donald Young, left, educator Mary Matayoshi, interim UH President David Lassner, Board of Education member Cheryl Lupenui and state Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi steered Hokule‘a during a leadership voyage in November. (Photo: Courtesy Tara O’Neill)

With the goal of “taking along” each of Hawaii’s 220,000 public and private school students on its awe-inspiring sail around the globe, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is partnering with teachers and other educators to establish a place for Hoku­le‘a in classrooms across the state and elsewhere.

The expedition — dubbed “Malama Honua” (Care for Our Earth) — is seen as a broad educational platform that aligns with a heavier emphasis that schools are placing on 21st-century learning and developing global citizens.

“We’re at the tipping point of an entirely new era in education,” said Robert Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools.

Witt, who is leading educational outreach efforts linked to the multiyear worldwide voyage, continued, “The vision for the 20th century was digital. … For the 21st century we need navigators to explore.”

The intent of building curriculum tied to the voyage’s dynamics, Witt said, is that Hokule‘a-inspired lessons in mathematics, science and other subjects tackled in classrooms will spur development of “scientific minds steeped in Hawaiian values.”

To help with that goal, the voyaging society is collaborating with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education on a teacher training program called A‘o Hawai‘i. (The word a‘o in Hawaiian means to teach and to learn.)

“Everything that I do now revolves around the goals and values of the worldwide voyage,” which emphasize environmental and cultural sustainability, said Mary Anna Enriquez, who teaches language arts for middle-school grades and eighth-grade religion at Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina.

Enriquez is one of 22 teachers from public, charter and private schools statewide who for the past two years have been undergoing training as part of the A‘o Hawai‘i program, which is grooming so-called master teachers as resources for the education community.

Jenna Ishii, education coordinator for the voyaging society, said the program, which is being funded by a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Education, “aligns with the values of the voyage, not necessarily voyaging.” For example, she said, classroom studies might cover topics ranging from science at sea to growing food or learning social studies.

The first cohort of master teachers has developed unit plans — a series of lessons around a focused theme — spanning multiple subject areas related to the planned circumnavigation, including geography, language arts, world history and meteorology.

Tara O’Neill, an associate professor of curriculum studies at UH-Manoa and co-founder and director of A‘o Hawai‘i, said the curriculum activities encompass a hybrid of the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math.

“We call it STEMs squared,” adding in social sciences and sense of place, “with the notion being that you’re integrating everything,” O’Neill said. “It’s interdisciplinary, real-world problem solving.”

She added that the lessons have to meet the Common Core State Standards, nationally crafted benchmarks for language arts and math adopted by Hawaii, 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

The 22 master teachers this school year were tasked with testing and validating their developed unit plans in their own classrooms.

“It’s completely changed my curriculum,” said Enriquez, the Maui Sacred Hearts teacher. “Like in sailing, when you’re offered a certain wind, you change your sails to take advantage of it. My students are still getting their literature, reading, vocabulary.”

The A‘o Hawai‘i lessons are being made available to teachers around the world at www.hokulea.com.

Separate from the curriculum resources, the website also has an interactive education portal called the Malama Honua Learning Center, which Ishii described as “the living library and resource center for the voyage.”

The Hikianalia — Hokule‘a’s eco-friendly, high-tech support vessel — is equipped with technology to keep the online portal updated with videos, photos and blogs of the voyage so students and others can stay fully engaged.

For example, students will be able to follow along as crew members collect data for six marine science experiments on land and at sea, exchange ideas with the crew members by way of blogs and Google hangouts, take virtual field trips and upload their own content.

Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson refers to the website as a symbolic third canoe joining the voyage, allowing for global connections. The education component toggling Hokule‘a to classroom learning is a fourth canoe.

The 36-month journey Hokule‘a and Hikianalia are poised to begin this month will likely involve more than 300 individual sailors on 25 voyage legs. Aboard Hokule‘a, Thompson became the first Hawaiian and Polynesian since the 14th century to practice the art of wayfinding — navigating without Western instruments — on a long-distance ocean voyage. Since first launched in the mid-1970s, Hokule‘a’s voyages have helped to inspire a cultural revival among Native Hawaiians.

Despite the significance and stature associated with the vessels, Thompson said, “If we didn’t have educational value, if there wasn’t that fourth canoe … we wouldn’t go.” 

“The real voyage is what happens after the voyage. … Hoku­le‘a and Hikianalia are just the needle, traveling across the earth, collecting all these flowers. In the end, you have all these flowers. Who creates the lei? I think it’s the education community.”