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Freshmen KS Maui students shared their experiences with The Pili Project.

Pili Project takes learning outdoors for KSM freshmen

Feb. 10, 2017

Through projects like The Pili Project, Kamehameha Schools gives haumāna new, and innovative learning opportunities, while connecting them to their culture and to the ʻāina.

With a different approach from classroom learning, Kumu Brooke Holderbaum connected her high school students to the environment and their culture through an outdoor learning project entitled, The Pili Project. A group of eight students in the freshmen class were chosen to participate as part of their biology course. They were urged to use their critical thinking skills to answer the driving question, “ What does it take to thatch a hale with pili grass?” To do this, the students needed to create an area on Kapikohānaiāmālama to grow pili grass and assemble a presentation at the end of the quarter to showcase their project accomplishments.

The students had approximately two and a half months to meet their deadline. The weeks were split where half the class time was spent indoors, piecing together information and performing research, while the other half was spent outside at Kapikohānaiāmālama. Since they were limited to only one class period a day, smart time management was required to assure the tasks of the day could be completed in time.

“My experience throughout this project was great,” said freshman Tiliti Adams. “I was given the opportunity to work outside of the classroom and work on something very different and interesting.”

Along with the construction of a pili grass growing space, each student focused on an individual project that both related to the driving question and biology. Such projects included creating a scale model of a hale pili using traditional materials, assembling stone stairs and pathways to assist with erosion, microscopy, kapa dye using pili, cost analysis, a google sketch up of the design, and a video of the progress. Their everyday accomplishments and challenges were logged daily in an online journal on the project’s website. This website was a place where students could record and share photos and videos, new information, and data from their day with their kumu and peers.

“I appreciated this project a lot because I was struggling in the first quarter and I am also a lot better hands on as an outside worker because I love to be with nature,” said Ezekiel Matutino. “I have also learned so much through this awesome experience.”

Even though support was provided throughout the project, self-motivation and independence were highly encouraged. The goal of the project was to not only increase the students’ knowledge of biology and Hawaiian culture, but to also improve their leadership skills. If one of the students needed to get a task done, they would have to come up with a plan amongst themselves and allocate resources necessary to accomplish it.

“I enjoyed almost every bit of the project mostly because I like working, especially outdoors it makes me focus better and get the job done,” added Kalewa Kailiehu.

As the KS Maui campus continues groundbreaking for the Kapikohānaiāmālama site, initiatives like The Pili Project will be the driving force in progress. By bringing students, teachers, and other faculty members together with a common goal, there is no limit to what can be achieved on this site.

Link to The Pili Project website:


SP2020 is a five-year strategic plan that will guide Kamehameha Schools from 2015 to 2020. The plan marks a starting point toward KS’ Vision 2040, which envisions success for all Native Hawaiian learners.

This aligns with Goal 3 of SP2020 as KS aims to cultivate a strong Native Hawaiian identity. It also aligns with Action 5 of Kamehameha Schools’ Ten Actions for fiscal year 2016-17, calling for the integration of cultural principles.

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