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Sophomores Honu Gaspar and Isabelle Kuni wait to ask their questions to Mālama Honua Leg 24 Captain Bob Perkins.

Wa'a Wednesday: Kumu find new ways to connect their classrooms with the voyage

Oct. 12, 2016

Contributed by Shaundor Chillingworth

Since launching in 2013, the Mālama Honua Hōkūleʻa Worldwide Voyage has connected with hundreds of classrooms around the world, both in-person and virtually. Kamehameha Schools classrooms have been at the forefront with kumu consistently incorporating the voyage into their curriculum and taking advantage of opportunities for their students to talk with members of the crew while they are circumnavigating the globe.

As the voyage nears year four, one of the challenges is how crew members can deeper engage students into the content and context of the voyage, particularly for ones that have been consistently connecting since the start. How do you move past the “where do you go to the bathroom” and “where are you now” types of questions and still be relatable and engaging for students.   

Working with KS senior program manager Mark Ellis, who is currently on Leg 24 of the voyage, three KS kumu have recently hosted Waʻa to Papa (Canoe to Classroom) sessions organized around specific topics that align with their curriculum.

In kumu Hōkū Akana’s KS Kapālama World History course, students examine leadership from a historical perspective, looking at leaders throughout history from Alexander the Great to Hawaiʻi’s ali‘i.

Akana has had her classes interact with the voyage since it first launched. But working with Ellis, they decided to focus on leadership so students can better understand what pono leadership looks like around the world to understand what that might look like for a modern Hawaiʻi.

She has one of her four classes interact via a video calls with the waʻa and records the call for her other classes to watch later.  All four classes work on generating questions that will be asked during the engagement.   

The concept of leadership is something Akana is passionate about. For her Master’s project, she is examining how students adapt to leadership.

“The wa‘a presents another lens in which to examine leadership,” shared Akana.  

For the second of three engagements with the waʻa, students spoke with Leg 24 captain Bob Perkins, while the canoe was docked in New York. Ten students from Akana’s Period 1 class took turns asking questions of Perkins, one-by-one.

“How does a pono leader make decisions on the waʻa while still taking the crew’s feeling into consideration?” asked sophomore Honu Gaspar.

Sophomore Isabelle Kuni asked, “Do you think that 21st century productivity impacts our time to build relationships/pilina? If so how?”

Other questions included if there were any communities Perkins had previously visited that would be good to revisit and create a student exchange for leadership development and how the challenges of living sustainably on a canoe can produce leaders who can impact global communities.

Perkins frequently expressed how impressed he was with the depth and quality of their questions. He provided thought-provoking answers in return. Following the call, students were asked to reflect on and decide what their biggest takeaway was. Then Akana tasked them with coming with one follow-up question per table group for their next waʻa to papa session.

“When you think about the follow-up questions for the waʻa, think in terms of what traits you are seeing out there in the world,” said Akana.

The traits question related back to a poster project students were working on, presenting traits they researched in historical figures. Between doing research on their own and being able to ask a Hawaiʻi group who has spent the past three years interacting with groups across the globe, they are able to hear how leadership and culture is perpetuated in other communities.

KS Maui kumu Robin Prais was able to coordinate with her teaching team and combine classes so the entire eight grade class was able to be on a session. Together, the group talked with one of Prais’ former students and KSM ’08 graduate Kaipo Kīʻaha, who serves as a photographer with ʻŌiwi TV on Leg 24 of the voyage. The session was organized around values, skills and relationships.

“One of the questions was ‘how attending KS and having Hawaiian values and Christian principles infused into his education at KS has helped him throughout life’,” shared Prais.

“His response was very poignant. He said when he was a student, he was in the ‘KS microcosm’, dealing with the same people and environment every day, and he took for granted a lot of what is taught here, thinking that it was the same everywhere, and that people all over had common values. However, when he moved on to life outside of KS, he realized that not everyone had the values instilled in them, and he came to appreciate the gifts that were given to him through his education at KS. He also said that values such as kuleana and hoʻomau helped him take responsibility in life and not give up when things got tough.   

“I think that was invaluable for our students to hear, and if they donʻt realize it now, I am hoping that the seed has been planted and they will remember that moment when a similar thing happens to them.” 

Prais and her teaching team does targeted instruction on Kamehameha Schools’ core values through their advisory program, so the session with Kīʻaha was a nice tie in and application of values in action. 

“This was an awesome opportunity for both myself and my students to experience 21st Century learning in action,” said Prais.

“To think that we could be in a class on Maui conferencing with a Hōkuleʻa crew member on board the waʻa in New York is amazing. 

“This type of authentic learning experience brings education to life, making it relevant and relatable.  For me this has been such an inspiration to continue on in seeking out similar opportunities for my students to connect and collaborate with the global community in the learning process.”  

Even for kumu connecting with the voyage for the first time, being able to connect the content and make the sessions relevant and timely for students was a positive step forward.

After having her students study latitude, climate, weather, currents and Hōkūleʻaʻs course, KS Maui kumu Brooke Holderbaum shared how the timing to make a direct connection with the crew was perfect, especially on the heels of a presentation around the star compass by apprentice navigator Kalā Babayan Tanaka.

“The students were very excited to make a connection with the crew and listen to a Maui-born crew member Nakua Konohia-Lind share his experiences on Hōkūleʻa,” said Holderbaum. 

 “It was a good learning experience for me and the students. Now I know the format for these sessions and feel confident that they will run smoothly.”

Holderbaum is already looking for a chance to connect next semester, and has thought of ways she will adjust to take advantage of the opportunity within the limitations that may exist.

Connections like these will continue to grow and evolve as Hōkūleʻa makes her way back home after this amazing journey. The question then will be what’s next.

Hōkūleʻa is expected to arrive for dry dock in Virginia on October 15 and she will remain there until early November. Hōkūleʻa's last dry dock was in Cape Town, South Africa and this next dry dock will be the last major one for the voyage. Hōkūleʻa is scheduled to return home to Hawaiʻi in June 2017.

Kamehameha Schools is proud to be the Education Sponsor of the Hōkūleʻa Worldwide Voyage. For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Worldwide Voyage, visit or find the society on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+.

KS Maui 8th graders get to interact and learn from 2008 KSM graduate Kaipo Kīʻaha.

Students in Brooke Holderbaum's KS Maui biology class connect with Maui-born Hōkūleʻa crew member, Nakua Konohia-Lind.

KSK kumu Hōkū Akana asks students to think about leadership traits when they create their follow-up questions for their next Waʻa to Papa session.

Kumu Akana's World History class performs Oli Mahalo to thank Captain Perkins for his time and manaʻo.

Working in table groups, students discuss what their takeaways are and work together to create a follow-up question.

Akana's World History class reconnects with KS senior program manager before Captain Perkins is introduced.

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