Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sea Urchins Project-Based Learning

A year ago, Dr. Rick Jones of University of Hawaii, West-Oahu, came to us with a proposal to raise sea urchins as part of a NOAA grant he had received.  He purchased aquariums and other necessary materials and was ready to serve as our mentor.  Would Hale Kula be interested?  One part of me wanted to say "yes" immediately; however, I realized that the timing wasn't right.  School was just beginning, and teachers had too much on their plates already with the crossover to implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  Sea urchins?  We couldn't count on the kind of interest or commitment we needed from teachers to start something of this magnitude.  Fortunately, Dr. Jones was patient and agreed to put the project on-hold for a year.  The delay allowed us to prepare, a necessity when implementing a project like this one.  This past summer, we received valuable professional development from Dr. Jones and as the teachers learned more, they realized the importance of this project and how our students would now be part of the solution to a bigger problem that is plaguing our coral reefs here in Hawaii.  The teacher volunteers were on-board and committed to participating and learning together.

Yesterday, the sea urchins were delivered.  I wish I could have captured the excitement of the students in every classroom!  They have just started learning about sea urchins, sharing what they already know, asking questions and researching to find the answers.  They are learning to use different resources on-line and in print to discover new knowledge.  These students are not yet aware of why they are raising the sea urchins and the importance of  what they are doing, but by the time these sea urchins are big enough to be released in Kaneohe Bay in about 4 months, the students will  understand about sustainability and stewardship and realize the responsibility we all have to take care of our world.

Our public schools are under fire these days for not "educating" our students to the public's satisfaction.  We hear that our country's scores on PISA are miserable, that our students are unprepared for college, and that America's students are being left behind.  Teachers are being evaluated based on test scores or the growth model (based on test scores).  Companies inundate principals with promises to increase student proficiency in reading, or math, or science if we purchase their product.  As school budgets shrink, principals are forced to make difficult decisions regarding which positions to keep and which ones to eliminate to balance the budget.  Sadly, positions for counselors, librarians, music, and art are often the first to be cut as schools focus their energies on raising test scores to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind.

As a principal, I need to balance the goal of ensuring that our students have the skills to meet AYP while also focusing on what education can and should be in today's 21st century world.  It shouldn't be only about passing a statewide assessment with a targeted score.  There is so much more to learning than what can be measured on an on-line assessment.  This sea urchin project will be an example of the 3R's meeting the 4C's!   and I can't wait to see the teaching and learning this year!


  1. Aloha Principal,

    I couldn't agree more with you comment, "There is so much more to learning than what can be measured on an on-line assessment." This experience will be one that probably can't be measured with the simple multiple choice questions you typically find on these assessments, questions like, what phylum are sea urchins found in or what percentage of the engineered feed is kelp meal. These students are now part of something much bigger than themselves. They are part of a project that will show them the interconnection of all their subjects as well as their interconnection to the island they call home.

  2. Thank you for your comment! Seeing the students' excitement and wonder at having the sea urchins in their classroom was priceless! For our military-impacted students who may be in Hawaii for only a few years of their lives, I want them to leave our island state with a deeper understanding of the responsibility we all share to preserve our environment for the next generation.