By Amber Strong Makaiau
Can humans reverse the negative effects they have had on the environment? This was the compelling question that close to 250 public high school students and their teachers asked as they conducted a BioBlitz in the two ahupua‘a (Hawaiian land divisions) surrounding their school last spring. The BioBlitz, which was born out of professional collaboration between the Hawai‘i National Geographic Alliance, the Hawaii State Department of Education, and the Institute for Teacher Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, recently received national recognition as one of the ten winners of the “C3 Teachers’s Inquiry Challenge” for social studies curriculum design.
The purpose of the challenge was to support and reward social studies educators using the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards and the newly developed Inquiry Design Model™ (IDM). It was co-sponsored by C3 Teachers and the Social Studies Assessment, Curriculum, and Instruction (SSACI) Collaborative, which is part of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The winning BioBlitz was designed specifically for the students of Kailua High School, which is located on the Windward side of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. It was structured using the following learning steps:
- First, the students were introduced to the compelling question, “Can humans reverse the negative effects they have had on the environment?”
- Second, to provide some context to the question, the students were given examples of historical and contemporary interactions between humans and the environment. As a part of these lessons they were taught about the Hawaiian land subdivsion concept known as ahupua‘a. Directly following the lessons they were asked to generate their own questions about the relationship between humans and the environment in the two ahupua‘a surrounding their school.
- Third, to help them answer their questions, the students were taught a number of disciplinary concepts and tools related to the field of geography. For example, they learned how to analyze historical primary documents to evaluate the impact of human settlement activities on the environmental and cultural characteristics of specific places and regions. In addition, they learnedhow to use BioBlitz technologies (e.g. iNaturalist) to record contemporary environmental characteristics.
- Fourth, they were asked to use what they learned to evaluate two sources of evidence: (a) a number of place-based primary texts and (b) all of the data that was gathered during the students’ BioBlitz. Then, they compared the analysis of these two sources of evidence, developed claims to help them answer the compelling question, and used evidence from the two sources to support their claims.
- At the end of the inquiry, the students wrote about what they learned and took informed action in their classroom, school, or broader community.
The BioBlitz portion of the inquiry occurred on May 5, 2016 between 8:00am and 1:00pm HST. On this date Kailua High School teachers in three different cluster groups worked alongside volunteer biologists, marine scientists, botanists, cultural experts, and other officials from state agencies to support the students as they gathered data from five different geographic regions located in the Kailua and Waimanalo ahupua‘a.
The national prize awarded for this entire effort helps to reinforce the powerful role that National Geographic initiatives like BioBlitz can play in supporting innovative approaches to interdisciplinary, action-oriented, and inquiry-based teaching and learning within mainstream social studies education. It is the type of curriculum innovation that we can’t afford to wait for. Today’s students must have the tools they need for asking and answering the tough questions that will move us all closer to the collective action that is needed for improving the relationship that humans have with their environment.
Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau is the Director of Curriculum and Research at the University of Hawai‘i Uehiro Academy for Philosophy and Ethics in Education and an Associate Specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Education Institute for Teacher Education Secondary Program. She is a dedicated practitioner of philosophy for children Hawai‘i who achieved National Board Certification while teaching secondary social studies in the Hawaii State Department of Education for over ten years. In 2011 she won the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Culturally Responsive Teaching. Her current projects include carrying out multicultural, social justice, and democratic approaches to pre-service social studies teacher education, using self-study research methodologies to promote international collaboration, and developing the emergent field of deliberative pedagogy.