Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The World Looks Different from a PBL Perspective

My husband and I decided to take a vacation to Maui this past weekend. No golf, no plans, just to relax. It was great! We walked part of the Lahaina Historic Trail and learned about the history of the once-capital of the Hawaiian Islands. Later, while waiting for our hotel room to be ready, we went to watch a USTA tennis tournament for adults and got to talk story with someone we hadn't seen since our boys played junior tennis twenty years ago. It was wonderful to catch up with how our kids - now adults with kids of their own - are doing. It brought back memories of all those weekends on the tennis courts when the boys were playing competitive junior tennis.

On Sunday, we planned to go to Iao Valley since my husband had just finished reading a book about the kings of Hawaii and was curious about the Battle of Kepaniwai that took place at Iao Valley where so many warriors died that the river "ran red with the blood of the dead."  Along the way, I saw some signs that said "Restore the Flow." I was curious. . .

Unfortunately, there was a gate at the entrance to Iao Valley. Apparently, a storm caused damage to the parking lot, and the repairs were not completed. We were disappointed, but continued down a side road, thinking we'd turn around and go back to Wailuku. Instead, we discovered Kepaniwai Park, a cute little park with a walking trail and cultural structures that are maintained by different cultural groups who settled in Maui - a missionary house as well as houses from Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Portugal, and the Philippines.

As we were walking the trail, I noticed a sign that said, "Caution. Swim at Your Own Risk." I looked at the river and wondered who would swim there. There was very little water, and the rocks looked like there had been no water flow in quite awhile. I realized at that moment what the "Restore the Flow" sign meant. It intrigued me. Why would anyone stop the river from flowing? How did this impact the animals and plants that lived in the river? How long has it been since the water flow was reduced? I realized at that moment that I no longer saw problems in quite the same way. Project-based learning had changed my perspective, and if I were teaching at a school on Maui, I believe that this could be a relevant problem that my students could explore.

As you can see, the river bed is very dry, and the rocks look as if they haven't been under water in quite a while. Look at how white they are!

When I returned home to Oahu, I read up on this fight over the water which was diverted years ago by a sugar company. An article from 2013, "Fight over water's flow" explains the conflict.  I don't know when or if the river will ever be restored to how it was back during the days of the Battle of Kepaniwai. It appears that the fight is not over, and after the storm in September 2016 - probably the one that damaged the Iao Valley parking lot - there are further clashes between the "Residents, activists, and engineers . . . "  So who "owns" the water and what can be done to restore the river to its former glory? Is there a win-win to this problem on Maui? Wouldn't it be great if students could suggest solutions that could resolve this conflict?

Recently, our fourth graders learned about how climate change is impacting native plants and animals at Kahuku Point, and they went on a field trip to remove invasive plants and replace them with native plants. Our second graders are learning about taking care of our community and our earth by reducing, reusing, and recycling, and they have embarked on a campaign to encourage our school community to do our part to reduce the amount of paper we use and to recycle. 

In the past, our teachers created interdisciplinary units that embedded different content - literature, researching, writing, science, social studies, math, the arts - into their lessons, but IDUs were teacher-directed. Today, through project-based learning, students ask the questions that determine what they learn about a topic and how they can share their learning. PBL is student-driven, and it's a powerful way for students to learn. When our students become the activators of knowledge through their probing questions, they begin to realize that they can have a positive impact on their school or their community or their state or their world. This is especially important to us here in Hawaii because we are an island state with limited resources.  Our students and teachers can use the PBL process to collaborate with others to solve problems, communicate their ideas, and to hopefully make a difference in our world. Project-based learning is an opportunity to take a problem and to look at it from different perspectives. It's real-world learning that has the potential to create the kind of global citizens who can make a positive impact on this world. 

Fourth graders were proud to make a difference by ridding the area of invasive plants and replacing them with native plants. 

At our last PBL professional development session, teachers were asked "Why PBL?" They shared responses that reflected their growth in understanding how PBL can engage students in deeper learning and in making a difference in their way of thinking. 

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