Teaching students how to mend our Island Earth


As the Polynesian voyaging canoes Hōkūle'a and Hikianalia continue their journey around the world, here's how one teacher is incorporating "​​Mālama Honua," the mission of the voyage, in her classroom.

​​​​​​​Mālama Honua (to care for the Earth) is a personal mission for Kailua Intermediate social studies teacher Shauna Hirota. It is rooted in lessons from her grandmother whose conservative ways made an impact. Hirota remembers her grandmother berate the modern "throw-away" generation who she believed should "mend the torn dress instead of buying another so quickly."

In 2013, the Polynesian voyaging canoes Hōkūle'a and Hikianalia began sailing across Earth's oceans to motivate a global movement toward a more sustainable world. Since then, Hirota has been involved in professional development programs focused on the voyage and its mission. She believes the Mālama Honua initiatives are a re-investment of past values that speak to the need to preserve the "Island Canoe" called Earth, and has brought those lessons into the classroom.

Hirota thoughtfully crafted an online, hands-on experience that meet the grade level standards by integrating social studies, English and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), as well as inspiring a basic need for all students to gain a passion for learning.​

In spring 2015, she participated in courses sponsored by Pacific Asian Affairs Council (PAAC) and the Library of Congress, which allowed her to join the voyage in New Zealand. While there, Hirota and other educators examined the Maori school system and imbedding culture into the learning experience. The Library of Congress workshop, E Noi'i Kākou, introduced the use of primary sources to create STEM lesson plans related to Mālama Honua. The purpose was to incorporate primary documents from the Library of Congress and other databases to build STEM lessons that integrated socio-historical ocean exploration and storytelling.

​​ ​​​​"I emphasize to all of my students that Mālama Honua impacts them, it's not just a Hawaiian thing,
it​'s a Hawaii thing. We all call this place home and it's important for us to take care of it no matter our background."
- Shauna Hirota

Hirota says these professional development opportunities sharpened her ability to create interdisciplinary courses for her students at Kailua Intermediate where they are tracking the voyage progress and are also connecting with crewmembers through technology.

"Mālama Honua lessons emphasize a sense of community and respect for others," said Hirota. "Traditional knowledge, when shared, provides a sense of belonging, understanding of culture, and reverence for the past. I tell my students that they all have a gift to offer the world, and I try to give them the freedom to explore and learn."

A well-attended Wa'a Talks session in May 2015 at Kailua Intermediate provided another learning opportunity for teachers and community members. Hirota organized the event to incorporate Kailua community values (place-based learning), energy conservation, and digital communication technology in relation to Mālama Honua and the World Wide Voyage.

Hirota also shared the Navigators Project, an initiative that focused her students on their "community" through exploring the physical environment and listening to the stories of family members. This enabled some students to connect to their history, including a project that involved farming in Waimanalo. Hirota said the student presented his findings with a strong sense of pride - life as a farmer.

When Hōkūle'a landed in South Africa, Hirota's students participated in a Google Hangout with crewmembers and scientists, who shared their excitement in meeting their hosts.

"It brought to light everything I've been covering in my class about Mālama Honua and the voyage. What was really impactful for my students was being able to talk to Dr. Nilssen, a world-renowned archaeologist, who didn't look like a scientist at all. He was approachable and students pointed out that he was dressed casually instead of in a white lab coat or suit, which is what the students typically see in television shows and movies," stated Hirota.

As the voyage continues, Hirota is committed to ensuring more students identify with the universality of human experience and understanding the need to care for each other and for the Earth.

"When students get to discover and make a real life connection to the curriculum, they value it more," said Hirota. "I emphasize to all of my students that Mālama Honua impacts them, it's not just a Hawaiian thing, it's a Hawaii thing. We all call this place home and it's important for us to take care of it no matter our background."


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