“STEM Instead” takes off

By Landry Fuller.  Source: North Hawaii News

WAIMEA, HAWAII — Summer school isn’t rocket science. Well, actually it is.


As part of Waimea Middle School’s (WMS) science-focused program in June, more than 55 students tested bottle rockets and participated in hands-on classes and field trips that focused on physics, biology, and environmental science over the three-week period.

WMS, long host to a summer school program, wanted to rethink the whole concept this year, hence its new name, “STEM Instead.” Students and teachers shared what they learned at a public presentation in the school cafeteria on July 2.

STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, was the core for subjects that rotated weekly in mixed classes of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

The summer school instructional team was headed by Dr. Brooke Whitworth, along with teachers Stephanie Beyea, Franny Kinslow Brewer and Melora Purell. Field educators included Seri Niimi-Burch, Erica Owens and Deann Nishimura Thornton and local teen teaching assistants Zoe Somerville, Sydney Vermeulen and KaMele Sanchez.

“This summer program was the brainchild of the administration at Waimea Middle School,” Purell said. “(It) was jointly funded by both Waimea Middle School Public Charter Conversion School and Friends of the Future through a 21st Century Learning Center grant.”

In the environmental science group, students were led on two field trips to Kahua Ranch in Kohala by Purell, where they learned the names, characteristics and habitat of three native forest birds on Puu Pili, as well as many native plants and trees, native snails and insects.

“They also came to understand the uniqueness of the forests of Kohala Mountain, the threats from invasive plants and animals, and what the Kohala Watershed Partnership is doing to protect the forested watershed,” she added.

“The biology group’s main focus was the study of life,” Beyea said. In Ouli Park, a future County park being planned for the Keanuiomano stream area across from Kamuela View Estates on Kawaihae Road, students learned about plants and trees and studied an epiphyte – a plant that derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and grows usually on another plant.

The groups also visited the Koai`a Tree Sanctuary, a Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DLNR) forest preserve on Kohala Mountain Road above Waimea. There they explored the nature trail, observed biodiversity and helped remove invasive fountain grass.

In the physics class, which is not usually taught at the middle school level, students learned about forces, motion, friction, velocity and acceleration using skateboards, carts and shooters. Under Whitworth’s direction, motion was measured and graphed on computers with probes. Each student engineered a bottle rocket through multiple trials to both achieve maximum height and protect a raw egg through the flight.

Many more experiments will be conducted at WMS in the future. Construction on a new science and technology building is planned to begin this fall, with completion scheduled for late 2017.