Service Learning In Hawaii, Part One: Fast and Curious

August 21, 2013

Big Island

Waipi’o Valley on the North Shore of the Big Island

Yes, it’s a hard sell to convince family, friends, and colleagues that I am actually working in Hawai’i. Yet, that’s what I am doing. Two weeks on three islands, ten days working, and four to play (plus a return for an additional three days in early October). However, I confess, it is challenging to use “work” and “Hawai’i in the same sentence.

This visit has four key objectives:

1)     To support seven schools who have received prior professional development on a curriculum I wrote at the request of the Hawai’i State Department of Education—Strategies for Success with 21st Century Skills and Science, a Learning Curriculum that Serves. This is a set of three scaffolded curricula designed for grades 6, 7, and 8. Each year includes six lessons on 21st century skills, a science-rich book with six articulated lessons, and a content relevant EarthEcho International Water Planet Challenge Action Guide that engages students in service learning. For more information about this specific curriculum set, please email

2)    To provide two days of professional development (PD) for two elementary schools who are integrating Strategies for Success with 21st Century Skills and Literacy: A Learning Curriculum that Serves, Elementary. This innovative curriculum integrates high level literacy skills with social and emotional development with a myriad of opportunities for service learning. The accompanying versions of the Student Guides are designed for grades K-2 and 3-5. This PD will also align the content with principles from the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme.

3)    To provide professional development for a high school complex (elementary, middle and high schools) on creating service learning units while also integrating Strategies for Success with 21st Century Skills and Literacy: A Learning Curriculum that Serves, high school level program.

4)    To model, articulate and promote engaging teaching strategies for everyday teaching, and align with additional state-wide education priorities.

NOTE: All the Strategies for Success curriculum support Common Core State Standards and, if science-related, Science Standards and Benchmarks. For more information about these curricula, please email

The State Department of Hawaii also aims for students to become:

These concepts are interwoven into all the curriculum and interactive seminars and consultations. These mesh perfectly with my approach to 21st Century Skills and Service Learning.

First stop: Honoka’a, on the north shore of The Big Island. This is lush land coming upon the ocean shore, stunning at every view. On day one, my host Cindy Navarro-Bowman, who teaches at the middle school, provided an in-depth tour of the school and the community. We went through downtown, looked at residences still standing from the years of sugar plantations, passed the power plant, and drove out to the famous lookout where you can see the taro farms in the Waipi’o Valley. We visited an agricultural wonder with diverse fruits and vegetables growing so heartily from the rich soil and dedicated care that protects the soil with plants that restore nitrogen and naturally prevent weeds. This provided the historical and contemporary context for working in more meaningful ways with the teachers and also identifying possible community partners when considering how to plan and shape service learning opportunities. (For visuals that include breathtaking views of the area and the plants, “friend” me on Facebook at Cathryn Berger Kaye.)

This area is known for sugar plantations and the influx of immigrants from many parts of the globe to provide labor. In addition to native Hawaiians, the population arrived from China, Japan, the Philippines, and Portugal. The local sugar plantations closure around 1993 had deep impact on the economy. According to Cindy, “September 11 also had serious consequences. People were reluctant to travel to Hawaii in case of another calamity that stopped air travel.” Working in hotels and tourism along with agriculture are today’s major industries. And this ever changing community now welcomes waves of environmental refugees from the Marshall Islands.

From this tour and the two workshops with teachers, it became apparent that this visual paradise still has many issues that can be addressed through service learning:

While both workshops provided the foundations of service learning best practice, critical to these teachers is developing engaging everyday teaching strategies. This is a mandate for all schools in the state, and indeed this is of concern on the mainland as well. For each session, I integrated Strategies for Success processes that can used to increase inquiry, critical thinking, mutually supportive classroom interactions, collaboration, and innovation. During the longer session, we explored six of the Strategy lessons including: Classroom Agreements based on understanding and practicing the concept of Support; Active Listening; Homework & Study Skills; Taking Notes; Action Research Methods; and Elevator Speeches. Teachers also experienced an array of engaging practices such as The One Minute Think Tank, Under-Direct, and Extended Plus-Delta.

With all we accomplished is it any wonder that one teacher, Dan, described our time together as Fast and Curious! That’s what we did—covered tremendous ground, found new ways to engage students in meaningful curricular based service learning, and augmented ideas for curiosity!

Mahalo to Cindy and all the teachers who participated so fully. Stay tuned for Part Two: Taking a Step Back to Take a Step Forward.