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Hawaii! -- Teaching about the 50th State

Lesson Planning ChannelHawaii celebrated its 40th anniversary of statehood on August 21, 1999! Take a tour of this exotic state, examine its wildlife, creep to the volcano's edge, and discover the wealth of culture and diversity that isolation can bring. Aloha!

After 20 years of classroom teaching, Lena Kanemori of Enchanted Lake Elementary School in Kailua, Hawaii, became a technology coordinator and teacher of the gifted and talented. While studying endangered species, she was shocked to discover that Hawaii has the greatest number of endangered species of all of the United States. In response to this revelation and as an introductory Web-publishing project, she and her students created Endangered Species of Hawaii.

"Three years ago, when my students were involved in their study of Hawaii's endangered species, they were amazed, and I was more so, to find out that we had the most endangered species in the nation," Kanemori told Education World. "Finding out why we had so many endangered species was also most distressing."

Because of its location, Hawaii is virtually isolated from the outside world, which causes plants and animals to develop that are unique to the islands. When Europeans visited Hawaii and brought with them plants, insects, and other animals, the "foreign invaders" flourished and made easy prey of the natural inhabitants of the islands. Because of that influx, Hawaii's native creatures are in trouble. The plight has earned Hawaii the unwanted title of "endangered species capital of the world."


Kanemori and her students prepared the Web site with information, pictures, and a lesson plan. "It was at the time that we studied about this topic that I first learned how to Web publish," she said. "I couldn't think of a better topic to do for my very first Web site. This Web site has taught my students and me the power of the Internet. When this Web site was developed, this was the students' very first exposure to the power of the Internet. They had very little knowledge about the Internet. The interest the site generated all over the world amazed them. The responses I've received are tremendous. I could say this Web site has literally transformed me from a classroom teacher to a global teacher."

The project and the learning didn't stop with the creation of the Web site. "The year after we studied Hawaii's endangered species, we wanted to share with others some [knowledge] of our endangered animals, and we wanted to know about endangered animals elsewhere," Kanemori recalled. "So we initiated a collaborative project called Project Lokahi. We mailed a box of items from Hawaii. One item was a stuffed animal, our state (endangered) bird, the nene goose, and [we sent] a book to go with it. We also were able to get information from the participants about their endangered animals. A chart called Why Are These Animals Endangered? shows the results of our study."

The study of endangered species has even spilled over onto the school walls. "Just weeks ago, Thomas Deir, from the Artists in the School program, and the fourth-grade class completed a beautiful painting of our wetland in our community that focuses on our endangered wetland birds," said Kanemori. "Go to Artists in the School to view this magnificent painting."


There is so much information about Hawaii to explore on-line; choose your favorite ideas from these activities.

  • Coral reefs. Lena Kanemori suggests that one popular theme among teachers who study Hawaii is the coral reef. Corals and Coral Reefs, from Sea World, offers tons of background information to help you with such an exploration. A special section of activities and facts called Focus on Coral Reefs will introduce your students to a coral shaped like the brain and animals that camouflage themselves by mimicking coral!

  • Ahupua'a. Kanemori also recommends investigating the ahupua'a, a traditional Hawaiian land division that contains mountain, land, and sea ecosystems. As an example, see one teacher's unit of study on the environmental and cultural significance of the Ahupua'a.

  • Fact-finding mission. Give your students a list of questions about Hawaii and send them to A Brief Overview of Hawaii with pencils in hand. Have the students answer the questions with the information they find at the site and share "just the facts" as you correct their mission reports.

  • Tele-touring. Have your students don their leis and take a virtual tour of the Hawaiian Islands with Virtually Hawaii: Virtual Field Trip. Here you will find a tour for any part of Hawaii that is of interest to you, with beautiful pictures and information. These virtual field trips were designed for would-be Hawaiian tourists, so you may want to make sure the tour you choose meets your educational goals before you share it with students.

  • PR department. Pretend that your students work for the state of Hawaii as public relations representatives. Separate them into small groups and have them prepare presentations for a new publicity campaign that focuses on the best features of Hawaii and encourages tourists to vacation in the state. The presentations should include catchy slogans and some concept illustrations. Take time for each group to give their presentations for the large group. School Reports and the home page, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, will be of great use to the class during this activity.

  • Eye on Hawaii. See what you are missing by sneaking a peek at a few of Hawaii's beaches and cities through Web cameras. WebCams in Hawaii links to 12 cameras that continuously capture scenes in Hawaii and share them with visitors to Web sites. Have your students compare the views of Hawaii with your climate. What is the difference in temperature? What vegetation can you see that is not found in your location?

  • Hawaiian government. Do you have a question about the state of Hawaii? Hawaii State Government is this state's resource for teachers, students, and other individuals who are interested in learning more about the island state. Find out what is going on in the governor's office by clicking on its link. Your students will discover recent bills considered by the legislature of Hawaii. Are they similar to issues faced in your state? Your students may send e-mail or postal mail to Hawaii's governor to share their opinions.

  • Tradition! Many people realize that Hawaii has celebrations and specialties that are found nowhere else, but few know very much about them. Teach your students about the unique cultural aspects of Hawaii with Hawaiian Traditions. When they read about the hula, kapa, and lei, your students will want to try them for themselves!

  • The luau. After you have learned about leis and the hula, take the experience one step further and have a luau. You'll find recipes and tips to follow at History of the Luau. Too messy for you? Cover your tables with white butcher paper and have your students decorate it with brilliant designs and colors. Each child can also bring in an exotic fruit for the table, and you can serve the fruits individually or in a salad. Don't forget the coconut!

  • In the news. What are the headlines in Hawaii today? Have your students turn to West Hawaii Today Online for the answer! This site will keep the class current with events going on in the state. You can even tour the "Big Island" through QuickTime movies. While you study Hawaii, have your students research each day's news and give a brief report as if they were presenting the morning news. Students may take turns playing the roles of anchors, reporters, writers, and camera operators.

  • Sail away. What could be better than turning back the clock and visiting a Polynesian settler on a canoe? Sailing on a reconstruction of one of these canoes -- today! Students can accompany (virtually) the traditional Hawaiian sailling canoe Hokule'a on its voyage to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) at Closing the Triangle: A Quest for Rapa Nui on the Hawaiian Voyaging Society Page. Plenty of lesson plans and teaching materials will give students insight into the methods that Polynesian navigators have used to explore the vast Pacific Ocean for over four thousand years.

  • Hawaiian economy. Through The Economic and Technological Character of Oceania, four lessons provided by the Geographic Education and Technology Program, sixth-grade students will discover that Hawaii is among the most technologically advanced areas of Oceania. This group of lessons could easily be adapted for use with older students.

  • Hawaii then and now. Another of the series of lessons from the Geographic Education and Technology Program introduces students to the history of Hawaii and its culture today. The Hawaiian Islands includes suggestions for bringing the flavors of this island to your classroom.

  • Living in... Share the on-line book Living in Hawaii with your students, and have them use it as a basis for creating a book about your state or town. To help motivate students, consider publishing their story on the Web.

  • Olelo o' Hawai'i. Teach your students to use a few Hawaiian terms from Native Tongue. This glossary includes phrases that mean "no problem," "love," and "delicious." Your class will enjoy using what they have learned of the Hawaiian olelo, "language," to impress their friends!

  • Vacation expenses. Have your students choose a tour from Kauai & Kona Zodiac Rafting Expeditions and compute the cost for the entire class. Whether you "see" Hawaii by raft, by kayak, or on horseback, it is beautiful!

  • Virtual slide show. The Hawaii Biological Survey has a large amount of data about the species of Hawaii. See its gorgeous pictures in the Image Gallery. You may give your students a slide show of Hawaiian creatures via this Web site! Galleries that are currently operating highlight fish, insects, birds, and plants, and more galleries are in development. These images can be somewhat slow to load; you should view the pages you want to use before your class period begins so they will appear more quickly.

  • Words to the wise. Have your students read about sharks that are present on the beaches of Hawaii at Sharks of Hawaii. Instruct your student "lifeguards" to prepare speeches to recite to first-time swimmers or lists of rules to help beach visitors avoid sharks. When they have finished, allow them to compare their words of caution to the Ten Tips to Avoid Shark Attack.

  • Shark attack! For more fun with shark information, have your students complete Teaching Master 1. In this activity, students attempt to crack the cases of reported sightings of sharks on the beaches and in the oceans of Hawaii. Hint: To make this activity a little less complicated for younger students, inform them that each type of shark will be used only once. (Answers: 1. scalloped hammerhead, 2. reef whitetip, 3. tiger, 4. Galapagos, 5. reef blacktip, 6. gray reef, 7. sandbar, 8. blacktip.)

  • Postcard paragraphs. Have your students write messages to accompany e-mail postcards from Aloha from Hawaii and send them to one another. A simple explanation of hula could accompany a picture of girls in leis dressed for the dance.

  • Extra! Extra! If you like to infuse your daily writing assignments with purpose, have your students test the waters of journalism with this activity. Students can use information they gather through Hawaii to create "newspapers" of Hawaiian events. This would be an ideal opportunity to have the students collaborate in small groups and play roles such as editor, publisher, photographer, and reporter.

  • Gifts of the island. What vacation would be complete without souvenirs? Your students could pretend to spend a specific amount of money that you set for purchasing gifts from the Coconut Isles Trading Company, or you could have them answer specific problems created with cost amounts from the site.

  • Interpreting a graph. Have your students examine the graph at What Have We Lost? and discuss the various types of ecosystems that Hawaii offers. Which type of system has suffered the greatest loss of indigenous species?

  • Sea turtles. The sea turtles of Hawaii are in trouble, and Turtle Trax has come to the rescue. This site will teach your students about the environmental impacts on sea turtles in Hawaii. Find out what your class can do to help the turtles, and put the plan into action.

  • Hurricane watch. Is a hurricane currently threatening Hawaii? You can find out about these storms at Hurricanes in Hawaii, and you may research Hurricane Iniki, a hurricane that struck the islands in 1992. Keep an eye on Hawaii's weather while you learn about the state, and have your students report any news of severe weather that they read about or view on television.

  • Aliens among us. Did you know that there are aliens here on Earth? Several "alien" species are causing big problems, particularly in Hawaii. Your students can investigate the alien species and test their knowledge with Backyard Aliens!, a Shockwave presentation from the Bishop Museum.

  • "Weather" or not. We think of Hawaii as one state, but it is actually made up of several small islands. Have your students compare the weather reports of the different islands and graph the results over a few days. Their data can be gathered from Hawaii Weather and Surf. When they have finished, work as a group to identify any trends and come to a consensus about the similarities of weather conditions on the islands.

  • "ZooBooks." Have your students create individual books to record the things they see on a virtual tour of the Honolulu Zoo Web site.

  • Dinos in paradise? Who would expect to see dinosaurs in a peaceful island paradise like Hawaii? The Honolulu Community College Dinosaur Exhibit is a unique on-line presentation of a permanent exhibit of replicas of dinosaur bones that belong to the American Museum of Natural History. Complement this excursion with a make-your-own fossil activity. Your students can create fossils with small plastic dinosaurs or bones and clay!

  • Volcanic action. People always associate Hawaii with volcanoes, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the place to see and explore Hawaii's volcanoes via the Internet. Have the students read about threats to the Hawaiian park from unassuming creatures such as the rabbit. What can be done to save the native vegetation?

  • Map reading. If you were a tourist, how would you get from one site in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to another? With the map of Points of Geologic Interest! Have your students practice their skills with telling direction and reading maps at this site.

  • Picture perfect. Hawaii is so photogenic that even pictures do not appear to do it justice. Short of visiting Hawaii themselves, your students can probably best experience the state through Photos of Hawaii. What would your state look like in pictures? Create a bulletin board with the class's favorite photos of it, and see if your area stands up to the challenge of beautiful Hawaii! You might use pictures of your city or town instead of the state.

  • Hawaii's volcanoes. At Volcano Watch, your students can read up-to-date reports of volcanic activity in Hawaii and even check into earthquakes in the area. This would be a wonderful resource for high-school students to use to monitor the developments of the volcanoes and investigate records of their eruptions.

  • Hawaiian nation. Can you imagine the United States without Hawaii? Some people believe that Hawaii should regain its independence. Check out Hawaii: Independent and Sovereign to see the arguments for sovereignty. Debate the subject in the classroom. After they research the topic, ask your students what they think.


As an expert in her field and a resident of Hawaii, Lena Kanemori offers advice to wired teachers: "If you want children to get excited about the Internet, have them become the designers and the publishers of a Web site. The results are fantastic!"

Kanemori ought to know. A coach for a group of students participating in the ThinkQuest competition, Kanemori led her team to a gold medal with the entry Mars Madness. She is aware of several other sites produced by students in Hawaii that also took awards. Many focus on aspects of Hawaii, its landforms, and its native species.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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