Alaka'i O Kaua'i Charter School

Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Charter School Culture: Real-World Experiences

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School emphasizes 21st-century skills and preparing learners for the work world, and tangible experiences help elevate the learning process.

Examples include our third graders’ podcast; our DreamUp to Space challenges, where teams of learners come up with scientific research projects that launch to the International Space Station for testing; or our living history programs, where learners re-create scenes from history.

Real-world experience is at the heart of what can make project-based learning (PBL) truly exciting, challenging, and rewarding for learners. When PBL is infused with real-world experiences, learners develop crucial skills while they’re still in school. Additionally, these experiences can provide learners with deeper insights into career areas they may want to pursue. Furthermore, kids find that their success isn’t defined merely by a grade but by the experience they gain through the process.

Finally, learning that incorporates real-world experience helps learners become familiar with professional environments. Besides learning the subject content, learners develop skills crucial in the work world, including clear and timely communication, thinking critically, problem-solving, and time management.

As part of a well-rounded PBL curriculum, real-world experiences are essential to Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School’s mission.

Project Based Learning Alakai O Kauai

5 Ways PBL Facilitates Lifelong Learning

We are hearing more and more each day about the changing world of work and what type of skills will define the success of today’s students and future professionals. Outside of education, it’s often called upskilling. In education, we often refer to lifelong learning. Either way, experts agree that an individual’s ability to learn, continuously and adaptively, may define one’s success more than any other employability skills in this ever-changing, tech-infused and globalized economy.

Educators have always professed the priority of creating lifelong learners. But what does this really look like and how can we create learning environments that truly foster this? Project-based learning is poised well to inherently teach learners to become persistent and growth-oriented lifelong learners, among many other advantages.

How does PBL do this? Well, it’s at the core of how PBL functions. Here are a few of those ways:

Real-World Learning

First and foremost, PBL focuses on learners addressing real-world challenges, issues or problems. This immediately creates both relevance and authenticity. The relevancy of working on work that matters demonstrates to students that their school work is related to what others in the real world do and how it applies to their futures, skill development and agency. We talk about problem solving as a foundational skill and it is. However, the problems need to be real. We don’t have to solve them, but students have to continually try to tackle them. This is what all of us do in our professional lives and how new opportunities, jobs, innovations and more advance each day. PBL’s focus on authenticity (or being real world), as a core design principle, creates this real-world learning environment. A project can be authentic in several ways and often in combination. It can have an authentic context, it can involve the use of real-world processes and tools, it can have a real impact on others, and a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to learners’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities and issues in their lives.

Sustained Inquiry

This is a core design principle in high quality PBL. To inquire is to seek information or to investigate; it’s a more active, in-depth process than just looking something up in a book or online. The inquiry process takes time, which means a gold standard project lasts more than a few days. In PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with a challenging problem or question, students ask questions, find resources to help answer them, then ask deeper questions, and the process repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer is developed. Projects can incorporate different information sources, mixing the traditional idea of research, reading a book or searching a website, with more real world, field-based interviews with experts, service providers and users. Learners also might inquire into the needs of the users of a product they’re creating in a project, or the audience for a piece of writing or multimedia.

Public Opportunities

In this pursuit of creating lifelong learners, we need to allow learners to experience the true power of learning and the real impact of their work. This is where producing public work, seen by multiple audiences or even users, comes into play.

When people see or even use our work, it creates significance in us. It means one’s work matters. It means learning matters. It means we matter. When audiences see, appreciate, experience, engage in and even possibly benefit from our work we naturally are more engaged, more likely to see the true power of learning. Ultimately, sharing our work publicly provides the opportunity for one to develop their personal brand. It’s the process of sharing one’s high-quality work and getting feedback. This is what we’ll do professionally for the rest of our lives. Lifelong work produces lifelong learning. We buy-in, we have conversations, we consider others’ opinions and ideas; all this while gaining confidence, portfolio, skills, a resume and valuable networking opportunities.

Student Voice & Choice

We hear words like agency, ownership, advocacy, leadership, git and mindset. These are great. And these are really traits of a lifelong learner. But how do we create the environment and means to make these a reality? Having a say in a project creates a sense of ownership in learners; they care more about the project and work harder. If learners are not able to use their judgment when solving a problem and answering a driving question, the project just feels like doing an exercise or following a set of directions. Learners can have input and (some) control over many aspects of a project, from the questions they generate to the resources they will use to find answers to their questions, to the tasks and roles they will take on as team members, to the products they will create. More advanced learners may go even further and select the topic and nature of the project itself; they can write their own driving question and decide how they want to investigate it, demonstrate what they have learned, and how they will share their work. High-quality projects also allow students to assume real roles and responsibilities in the production of their work. Think of things like project coordinator, media coordinator, tech coordinator or dozens of other roles. We don’t create roles for roles’ sake, but rather to move work forward efficiently and allow those involved to specialize a bit (become experts).

The Power of Learning (To Love What You Do)

We’ve all heard the saying that if you “love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This may be the most powerful aspect of deeper learning like PBL. Facilitators have always wanted their learners to love learning for learning’s sake. But our traditional system has focused learners more on grades, points or even punitive approaches vs. training them to love learning. PBL, done well, creates the opportunity for learners to focus on the work, the challenge and even the final product. All of these, as well as the opportunity to engage with their peers, their community and the larger world, focus them on the true power of learning. The impact and significance of our work is what drives all of us professionally throughout our lives. When learners produce high-quality and professional projects that are experienced or used by others, addressing real-world issues and products like that of their professional counterparts, they too have that awakening, the internal and external factors that drive us to work, succeed, improve, grow, reach and stretch. We have allowed them to view work and learning differently.

There’s Always More

The beauty of high-quality PBL is that it truly does all the things simultaneously that we think are important in learning. Whether it’s collaboration, metacognition, skill acquisition, social-emotional learning, technology integration, personalized learning or more, PBL can deliver. But with all that being said, nothing may be more important to our learners’ future and sustained success than that of being lifelong learners.

Project Based Learning Alakai O Kauai

5 Ways PBL Facilitates Lifelong Learning

We are hearing more and more each day about the changing world of work and what type of skills will define the success of today’s students and future professionals. Outside of education, it’s often called upskilling. In education, we often refer to lifelong learning. Either way, experts agree that an individual’s ability to learn, continuously and adaptively, may define one’s success more than any other employability skills in this ever-changing, tech-infused and globalized economy.

Educators have always professed the priority of creating lifelong learners. But what does this really look like and how can we create learning environments that truly foster this? Project-based learning is poised well to inherently teach learners to become persistent and growth-oriented lifelong learners, among many other advantages.

How does PBL do this? Well, it’s at the core of how PBL functions. Here are a few of those ways:

Real-World Learning

First and foremost, PBL focuses on learners addressing real-world challenges, issues or problems. This immediately creates both relevance and authenticity. The relevancy of working on work that matters demonstrates to students that their school work is related to what others in the real world do and how it applies to their futures, skill development and agency. We talk about problem solving as a foundational skill and it is. However, the problems need to be real. We don’t have to solve them, but students have to continually try to tackle them. This is what all of us do in our professional lives and how new opportunities, jobs, innovations and more advance each day. PBL’s focus on authenticity (or being real world), as a core design principle, creates this real-world learning environment. A project can be authentic in several ways and often in combination. It can have an authentic context, it can involve the use of real-world processes and tools, it can have a real impact on others, and a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to learners’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities and issues in their lives.

Sustained Inquiry

This is a core design principle in high quality PBL. To inquire is to seek information or to investigate; it’s a more active, in-depth process than just looking something up in a book or online. The inquiry process takes time, which means a gold standard project lasts more than a few days. In PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with a challenging problem or question, students ask questions, find resources to help answer them, then ask deeper questions, and the process repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer is developed. Projects can incorporate different information sources, mixing the traditional idea of research, reading a book or searching a website, with more real world, field-based interviews with experts, service providers and users. Learners also might inquire into the needs of the users of a product they’re creating in a project, or the audience for a piece of writing or multimedia.

Public Opportunities

In this pursuit of creating lifelong learners, we need to allow learners to experience the true power of learning and the real impact of their work. This is where producing public work, seen by multiple audiences or even users, comes into play.

When people see or even use our work, it creates significance in us. It means one’s work matters. It means learning matters. It means we matter. When audiences see, appreciate, experience, engage in and even possibly benefit from our work we naturally are more engaged, more likely to see the true power of learning. Ultimately, sharing our work publicly provides the opportunity for one to develop their personal brand. It’s the process of sharing one’s high-quality work and getting feedback. This is what we’ll do professionally for the rest of our lives. Lifelong work produces lifelong learning. We buy-in, we have conversations, we consider others’ opinions and ideas; all this while gaining confidence, portfolio, skills, a resume and valuable networking opportunities.

Student Voice & Choice

We hear words like agency, ownership, advocacy, leadership, git and mindset. These are great. And these are really traits of a lifelong learner. But how do we create the environment and means to make these a reality? Having a say in a project creates a sense of ownership in learners; they care more about the project and work harder. If learners are not able to use their judgment when solving a problem and answering a driving question, the project just feels like doing an exercise or following a set of directions. Learners can have input and (some) control over many aspects of a project, from the questions they generate to the resources they will use to find answers to their questions, to the tasks and roles they will take on as team members, to the products they will create. More advanced learners may go even further and select the topic and nature of the project itself; they can write their own driving question and decide how they want to investigate it, demonstrate what they have learned, and how they will share their work. High-quality projects also allow students to assume real roles and responsibilities in the production of their work. Think of things like project coordinator, media coordinator, tech coordinator or dozens of other roles. We don’t create roles for roles’ sake, but rather to move work forward efficiently and allow those involved to specialize a bit (become experts).

The Power of Learning (To Love What You Do)

We’ve all heard the saying that if you “love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This may be the most powerful aspect of deeper learning like PBL. Facilitators have always wanted their learners to love learning for learning’s sake. But our traditional system has focused learners more on grades, points or even punitive approaches vs. training them to love learning. PBL, done well, creates the opportunity for learners to focus on the work, the challenge and even the final product. All of these, as well as the opportunity to engage with their peers, their community and the larger world, focus them on the true power of learning. The impact and significance of our work is what drives all of us professionally throughout our lives. When learners produce high-quality and professional projects that are experienced or used by others, addressing real-world issues and products like that of their professional counterparts, they too have that awakening, the internal and external factors that drive us to work, succeed, improve, grow, reach and stretch. We have allowed them to view work and learning differently.

There’s Always More

The beauty of high-quality PBL is that it truly does all the things simultaneously that we think are important in learning. Whether it’s collaboration, metacognition, skill acquisition, social-emotional learning, technology integration, personalized learning or more, PBL can deliver. But with all that being said, nothing may be more important to our learners’ future and sustained success than that of being lifelong learners.

Project Based Learing

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Culture: Project-Based Learning

Spend even just a few moments inquiring about the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi approach to education, and one of the first things you’ll hear about is project-based learning, or PBL. It’s at the core of our approach to school and a proven asset to education.

So what is project-based learning? In PBL, learners actively explore real-world challenges to acquire deeper knowledge of the subject at hand. Research shows that learners increasingly retain and enjoy what they’re learning when PBL is done well.

This educational model helps students learn the valuable collaboration, academic, and problem-solving skills our global economy will demand from them. Through the PBL method, learners tackle engaging projects about real-world issues that require critical thought, inquiry, and synthesis, and culminate in regular Presentations of Learning (or POLs) to their peers, facilitators, community members, and parents.

The PBL model requires learners to research, collaborate, and carefully weigh information and evidence in a nuanced problem-solving environment. It teaches learners to accept feedback, create solutions, and present their findings in a high-performance context — preparing them for the rigors of the 21st-century economy and the challenges of a global world.

PBL provides the following benefits:

  • PBL makes school more engaging: In PBL, students are active, not passive. Projects engage their hearts and minds and provide real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning: At the completion of a project, learners understand content more deeply, remember what they learn, and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply to new situations what they know and can do.
  • PBL builds skills for college, career, and life: Learners are preparing for life in a world where success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards: Common Core and other current education standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of success skills like critical thinking/problem-solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL helps learners effectively meet these goals.
  • PBL embraces technology: Kids enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit for PBL. With technology, facilitators and learners not only find resources and information they need; they also collaborate more effectively and connect with experts, partners, and audiences.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding: Projects allow facilitators to work closely with active, engaged learners doing high-quality, meaningful work. In many cases, facilitators rediscover the joy of learning alongside kids.
  • PBL connects kids and schools with communities and the real world: Through PBL, learners have opportunities to solve real problems and address actual issues, and as such they learn more about interacting with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces, and can identify and develop career interests.

In short, project-based learning is at the core of the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi model because we believe it is at the heart of how kids learn best. Time and again, we’ve seen how PBL helps learners develop academic skills, build leadership skills and character, and lay the foundation for promising careers.

Project Based Learing

Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Culture: Project-Based Learning

Spend even just a few moments inquiring about the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi approach to education, and one of the first things you’ll hear about is project-based learning, or PBL. It’s at the core of our approach to school and a proven asset to education.

So what is project-based learning? In PBL, learners actively explore real-world challenges to acquire deeper knowledge of the subject at hand. Research shows that learners increasingly retain and enjoy what they’re learning when PBL is done well.

This educational model helps students learn the valuable collaboration, academic, and problem-solving skills our global economy will demand from them. Through the PBL method, learners tackle engaging projects about real-world issues that require critical thought, inquiry, and synthesis, and culminate in regular Presentations of Learning (or POLs) to their peers, facilitators, community members, and parents.

The PBL model requires learners to research, collaborate, and carefully weigh information and evidence in a nuanced problem-solving environment. It teaches learners to accept feedback, create solutions, and present their findings in a high-performance context — preparing them for the rigors of the 21st-century economy and the challenges of a global world.

PBL provides the following benefits:

  • PBL makes school more engaging: In PBL, students are active, not passive. Projects engage their hearts and minds and provide real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning: At the completion of a project, learners understand content more deeply, remember what they learn, and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply to new situations what they know and can do.
  • PBL builds skills for college, career, and life: Learners are preparing for life in a world where success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards: Common Core and other current education standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of success skills like critical thinking/problem-solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL helps learners effectively meet these goals.
  • PBL embraces technology: Kids enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit for PBL. With technology, facilitators and learners not only find resources and information they need; they also collaborate more effectively and connect with experts, partners, and audiences.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding: Projects allow facilitators to work closely with active, engaged learners doing high-quality, meaningful work. In many cases, facilitators rediscover the joy of learning alongside kids.
  • PBL connects kids and schools with communities and the real world: Through PBL, learners have opportunities to solve real problems and address actual issues, and as such they learn more about interacting with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces, and can identify and develop career interests.

In short, project-based learning is at the core of the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi model because we believe it is at the heart of how kids learn best. Time and again, we’ve seen how PBL helps learners develop academic skills, build leadership skills and character, and lay the foundation for promising careers.

Alaka'i O Kaua'i learners mosaic art ocean turtle

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School Culture: Whole-Child Development

Last week we introduced the importance of social-emotional learning at Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School. Social-emotional learning is integral to our whole-child educational approach.

A whole-child mind-set means that we are focused on far more than teaching to tests or holding up state standards as the be-all, end-all of education. We believe in focusing on the whole child and promoting social-emotional learning, because education is about more than test scores.

Whole-child development empowers kids to be creative, engaged citizens. With that in mind, we believe it’s our responsibility to nurture learners’ creative abilities to express themselves, understand others, and navigate complex information so they can confidently solve the problems of an ever-changing world.

So when we say we focus on “whole child” development, what do we mean? We’re talking about an approach to project-based learning that emphasizes the following deeper-learning approaches:

Mastery of Core Academic Content: Learners lay their academic foundation in subjects such as reading, writing, arts, math, and science, understanding essential principles and procedures, recalling facts, and drawing on their knowledge to complete tasks.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Our learners understand how to construct effective arguments using their critical, analytical, and creative skills. They develop the know-how to come up with solutions to complex problems.

Collaboration: Learners embrace teamwork and consider multiple viewpoints to cooperate and achieve shared goals.

Effective Communication: Learners communicate effectively in writing and oral presentations. They structure information in meaningful ways, listen to and give feedback, and construct messages for particular audiences.

Self-Directed Learning: Learners develop the ability to set goals, monitor their own progress, and reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. They learn to see setbacks as opportunities to grow and be more adaptive.

Growth Mind-set: Learners with a growth mind-set believe in themselves. They trust their abilities and believe their hard work will pay off; they persist to overcome obstacles. In the process, they also learn from and support each other and see the relevance of their schoolwork to the real world and their own future success.

Coupled with vibrant project-based education and social-emotional learning, all these elements work together to empower kids to overcome any challenge that comes their way academically; but more than that, they build the character to succeed in the 21st century.

Project Based Learing

Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Culture: Project-Based Learning

Spend even just a few moments inquiring about the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi approach to education, and one of the first things you’ll hear about is project-based learning, or PBL. It’s at the core of our approach to school and a proven asset to education.

So what is project-based learning? In PBL, learners actively explore real-world challenges to acquire deeper knowledge of the subject at hand. Research shows that learners increasingly retain and enjoy what they’re learning when PBL is done well.

This educational model helps students learn the valuable collaboration, academic, and problem-solving skills our global economy will demand from them. Through the PBL method, learners tackle engaging projects about real-world issues that require critical thought, inquiry, and synthesis, and culminate in regular Presentations of Learning (or POLs) to their peers, facilitators, community members, and parents.

The PBL model requires learners to research, collaborate, and carefully weigh information and evidence in a nuanced problem-solving environment. It teaches learners to accept feedback, create solutions, and present their findings in a high-performance context — preparing them for the rigors of the 21st-century economy and the challenges of a global world.

PBL provides the following benefits:

  • PBL makes school more engaging: In PBL, students are active, not passive. Projects engage their hearts and minds and provide real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning: At the completion of a project, learners understand content more deeply, remember what they learn, and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply to new situations what they know and can do.
  • PBL builds skills for college, career, and life: Learners are preparing for life in a world where success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards: Common Core and other current education standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of success skills like critical thinking/problem-solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL helps learners effectively meet these goals.
  • PBL embraces technology: Kids enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit for PBL. With technology, facilitators and learners not only find resources and information they need; they also collaborate more effectively and connect with experts, partners, and audiences.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding: Projects allow facilitators to work closely with active, engaged learners doing high-quality, meaningful work. In many cases, facilitators rediscover the joy of learning alongside kids.
  • PBL connects kids and schools with communities and the real world: Through PBL, learners have opportunities to solve real problems and address actual issues, and as such they learn more about interacting with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces, and can identify and develop career interests.

In short, project-based learning is at the core of the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi model because we believe it is at the heart of how kids learn best. Time and again, we’ve seen how PBL helps learners develop academic skills, build leadership skills and character, and lay the foundation for promising careers.

Alakai O Kauai learners in boat on land

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School Culture: Social Intelligence

In the Alaka’i O Kaua’i approach to project-based learning, which produces well-rounded kids, social intelligence is a key component of whole-child development.

What do we mean by social intelligence? It’s a person’s ability to interact well with others. It’s often simply called people skills, or tact. It isn’t necessarily a natural-born characteristic, but it can be learned. It involves situational awareness, understanding of social dynamics, and self-awareness.

In a nutshell, it’s the ability to recognize our emotions, exert control over them, show empathy for others, handle conflict well, and make good choices. By helping kids develop social intelligence, we empower them to build stronger relationships and lay the groundwork for bright futures.

Social intelligence isn’t static; it continually develops throughout one’s life. It’s never too late to sharpen it, and children are especially ready to learn. Educating children on healthy communication helps them to be a friend who is empathetic, generous, kind, and a good listener. There are four main characteristics of social intelligence:

Empathy: Empathy determines how well one relates to other people’s thoughts and emotions. Empathetic people consider and understand diverse perspectives, even if they don’t share the same ideas. They can pick up on a person’s mood and adjust their reactions accordingly.

Respect: Mutual understanding calls for a degree of respect. Respecting others can mean adapting communication styles to fit their needs, or finding a healthy compromise.

Behavior: This component concerns how people carry themselves in social situations. Are their actions appropriate for the setting? Do they make others feel relaxed or uncomfortable? A person must be able to adapt when necessary while maintaining their core values.

Self-efficacy: This characteristic refers to how a person judges themselves on their capacity to perform particular tasks. If someone has a stable sense of self-efficacy concerning social intelligence, they’re confident in their social abilities.

These skills are reinforced in school, but the foundations are set at home, which is one reason why Alaka’i O Kaua’i believes in strong parent/guardian involvement in the educational process.

We can do the following to develop our social intelligence:

  • Pay close attention to what and who are around us
  • Work on increasing our emotional intelligence
  • Respect cultural differences
  • Practice active listening
  • Appreciate the important people in our lives

Much like the other components of the Alaka’i O Kaua’i approach to education, the development of social intelligence builds strengths in kids, as well as sharpening all the other pillars of social-emotional and project-based learning — resulting in well-rounded kids who are ready for whatever challenges life may bring.

Alaka'i O Kaua'i learners mosaic art ocean turtle

Alaka’i O Kaua’i 3rd Graders Protect Oceans through Project-Based Learning

By Michael Niehoff
Education Content Coordinator, iLEAD Schools

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, our oceans cover 70 percent of our planet. Oceans affect our weather, air, food and all life on the planet. Due to carbon emissions, plastics, oil and other human waste, our oceans’ health is degrading at an alarming rate. In an effort to combat this phenomenon, Alaka’i O Kaua’i facilitator Ashley Giunta and her 3rd graders accepted a challenge.

Their driving question, according to Giunta, was “How can we protect endangered species in our area?” Giunta and her learners wanted to bring awareness to the estimated eight million tons of plastic dumped into the world’s oceans every year and how this directly affects their local endangered sea turtle population.

In partnership with the Kauai Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Giunta and her learners spent weeks collecting 270 pounds of plastic from their local beaches and ultimately transformed the reclaimed plastic into an art exhibit.

Giunta said the impetus for the project came from a learner interest survey. “Many of our 3rd graders attended a local summer camp, Reef Guardians, and wanted to extend their learning,” Giunta said. Once the topic was chosen, Giunta customized project design elements from a similar project at PBLWorks and launched the project for her learners.

Giunta said the learners did initial research about the threats facing their local endangered sea turtle population. They recorded their scientific findings and compared them with data from other ecosystems around the world. Learners collaborated to discover why their local sea turtle population was no longer thriving and how they might take action to protect the species.

Giunta said the learners were also challenged to inspire their community to take action. “This is where the plastic art installation idea was born,” Giunta said.

In addition to the initial research, the beach cleanup work and the plans for the plastic art installation, learners also wrote letters to Congress advocating for wildlife protection and produced individual reports on other local endangered species, including the green sea turtle, hoary bat, monk seal, nene goose, and shearwater bird, among others. The learners wrote informational and persuasive writing pieces, did a virtual field trip to a bird sanctuary in Kilauea and planted an ohia tree on campus.

Giunta said she was proud of all the work the learners completed and how committed they were to the entire endeavor.

“They learned how to use their voices and to advocate,” Giunta said. “They also learned how things like art can serve as a symbol for change and awareness.”

Giunta said one powerful element of the project was their partnership with Surfrider, which helped the learners fully realize the impact of plastics on the oceans and the planet. The learners even had the opportunity to add their findings to the Surfrider Foundation worldwide database.

“From Surfrider, we learned about ocean-friendly gardens, restaurants, household products, and how we can reduce our carbon footprint by just changing a few routines in our own lives,” Giunta said. “The students were even challenged to pack a no-waste lunch and were rewarded for their efforts.”

Giunta said the feedback from the entire school and community has been overwhelming. The community has embraced the learners’ public work by displaying the art at the Warehouse in Koloa, along with purchasing over 400 greeting cards featuring the artwork. All funds are being donated to help local organizations who work to save endangered species.

In addition to the tremendous impact on the community, Giunta said the most powerful aspect has been that the learners want to continue this work long after the project is over. Many learners are extending their learning and commitment by registering for Reef Guardians Camp this summer, by taking weekly beach hikes to collect plastics and other litter, by challenging one another to bring no-waste lunches and snacks to school and by continuing to upcycle plastics and other found items.

“Our learners have been inspired by this work and are making permanent changes,” Giunta said. “And our entire community has taken notice. I think our school was so inspired that they might make this a tradition.”

Alaka'i O Kaua'i learners mosaic art ocean turtle

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School Culture: Whole-Child Development

Last week we introduced the importance of social-emotional learning at Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School. Social-emotional learning is integral to our whole-child educational approach.

A whole-child mind-set means that we are focused on far more than teaching to tests or holding up state standards as the be-all, end-all of education. We believe in focusing on the whole child and promoting social-emotional learning, because education is about more than test scores.

Whole-child development empowers kids to be creative, engaged citizens. With that in mind, we believe it’s our responsibility to nurture learners’ creative abilities to express themselves, understand others, and navigate complex information so they can confidently solve the problems of an ever-changing world.

So when we say we focus on “whole child” development, what do we mean? We’re talking about an approach to project-based learning that emphasizes the following deeper-learning approaches:

Mastery of Core Academic Content: Learners lay their academic foundation in subjects such as reading, writing, arts, math, and science, understanding essential principles and procedures, recalling facts, and drawing on their knowledge to complete tasks.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Our learners understand how to construct effective arguments using their critical, analytical, and creative skills. They develop the know-how to come up with solutions to complex problems.

Collaboration: Learners embrace teamwork and consider multiple viewpoints to cooperate and achieve shared goals.

Effective Communication: Learners communicate effectively in writing and oral presentations. They structure information in meaningful ways, listen to and give feedback, and construct messages for particular audiences.

Self-Directed Learning: Learners develop the ability to set goals, monitor their own progress, and reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. They learn to see setbacks as opportunities to grow and be more adaptive.

Growth Mind-set: Learners with a growth mind-set believe in themselves. They trust their abilities and believe their hard work will pay off; they persist to overcome obstacles. In the process, they also learn from and support each other and see the relevance of their schoolwork to the real world and their own future success.

Coupled with vibrant project-based education and social-emotional learning, all these elements work together to empower kids to overcome any challenge that comes their way academically; but more than that, they build the character to succeed in the 21st century.

Project Based Learing

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Culture: Project-Based Learning

Spend even just a few moments inquiring about the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi approach to education, and one of the first things you’ll hear about is project-based learning, or PBL. It’s at the core of our approach to school and a proven asset to education.

So what is project-based learning? In PBL, learners actively explore real-world challenges to acquire deeper knowledge of the subject at hand. Research shows that learners increasingly retain and enjoy what they’re learning when PBL is done well.

This educational model helps students learn the valuable collaboration, academic, and problem-solving skills our global economy will demand from them. Through the PBL method, learners tackle engaging projects about real-world issues that require critical thought, inquiry, and synthesis, and culminate in regular Presentations of Learning (or POLs) to their peers, facilitators, community members, and parents.

The PBL model requires learners to research, collaborate, and carefully weigh information and evidence in a nuanced problem-solving environment. It teaches learners to accept feedback, create solutions, and present their findings in a high-performance context — preparing them for the rigors of the 21st-century economy and the challenges of a global world.

PBL provides the following benefits:

  • PBL makes school more engaging: In PBL, students are active, not passive. Projects engage their hearts and minds and provide real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning: At the completion of a project, learners understand content more deeply, remember what they learn, and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply to new situations what they know and can do.
  • PBL builds skills for college, career, and life: Learners are preparing for life in a world where success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards: Common Core and other current education standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of success skills like critical thinking/problem-solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL helps learners effectively meet these goals.
  • PBL embraces technology: Kids enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit for PBL. With technology, facilitators and learners not only find resources and information they need; they also collaborate more effectively and connect with experts, partners, and audiences.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding: Projects allow facilitators to work closely with active, engaged learners doing high-quality, meaningful work. In many cases, facilitators rediscover the joy of learning alongside kids.
  • PBL connects kids and schools with communities and the real world: Through PBL, learners have opportunities to solve real problems and address actual issues, and as such they learn more about interacting with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces, and can identify and develop career interests.

In short, project-based learning is at the core of the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi model because we believe it is at the heart of how kids learn best. Time and again, we’ve seen how PBL helps learners develop academic skills, build leadership skills and character, and lay the foundation for promising careers.

Alakai O Kauai Presentation of Learning

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Kindergarten Presentations of Learning: Making Musical Instruments

Project-based learning is thriving in Miss Casey Zoppa’s kindergarten class. Their driving question was “How can we as sound engineers build instruments?” We asked Ms. Z for some highlights of this exciting project. Read her insights below, and then be sure to check out the video of the kindergarteners making some beautiful noise in their Presentations of Learning (POLs).

What inspired this project?

That’s easy! This year I have a class of sixteen boys and six girls. The only thing that most of them have in common is the fact that they all are very loud and love music. We very quickly decided making noise was one of the things that brought us together.

What was a surprising result of this project?

The surprising result was how much the kids loved learning about the science of noise. They weren’t just interested in making the instruments themselves. They loved learning about sound waves and how our brains receive them and code them into messages that we understand.

Also, it was amazing watching them collect recycled materials and turn them into a variety of beautiful instruments.

What were some of the most interesting observations learners made?

While studying and making instruments, the learners realized that the different ways instruments are made created their different noises. They also realized even though we can re-create the instruments, we couldn’t actually make them yet. They learned that professionals who make instruments take time and slowly work with tools to create the instruments.

Check out this video to see the kindergarteners making music in their Presentation of Learning:

Alakai O Kauai Social Emotional Learning

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Culture: Components of Social-Emotional Learning — Purpose

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Living with purpose.” The phrase evokes a range of thoughts and emotions, doesn’t it? When we choose to live with purpose, we choose to live proactively and decisively, rather than reactively.

As part of the Alaka’i O Kaua’i approach to project-based learning with a social-emotional focus, one vital component is purpose. Within the social-emotional learning (SEL) framework, we recognize purpose as follows: You are oriented toward a future goal, and you can explain the reason for your goal.

To understand the importance of purpose, it’s helpful to examine another key element of Alaka’i O Kaua’i’s approach to education: the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Successfully living with purpose encapsulates several of the 7 Habits: Being Proactive, Beginning With the End in Mind, and Putting First Things First. Understanding and incorporating those steps into your life connects directly to having a clear sense of purpose.

Let’s dive a little deeper into those Habits.

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive — With this habit, a learner can say, “I am a responsible person. I take initiative, and I choose my actions and attitudes.” Through developing this habit, kids are able to learn responsibility, initiative, self-control and self-management.
  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind — With this, a learner can say, “I plan ahead and set goals. I do things that have meaning and make a difference. I look for ways to be a good citizen.” In turn, they are learning to have purpose and vision, and developing skills of planning, self-management and reflection.
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First — By practicing this habit, a learner is saying, “I spend my time on things that are most important. I set priorities, make a schedule, and follow a plan.” This habit develops skills of prioritization, planning and time management, and follow-through.

These habits influence a child’s sense of purpose and attitude. When learners embrace the value of thinking and doing with purpose, they can develop stronger self-esteem, improve social skills and empathy, and are empowered to enrich the world around them.

When learners understand the importance of approaching things — from school projects to life goals — with proactivity and the end in mind, they begin to grasp the value of living with purpose.

Watch: On Purpose

Alakai O Kauai Social Emotional Learning

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School Culture: Social Intelligence

In the Alaka’i O Kaua’i approach to project-based learning, which produces well-rounded kids, social intelligence is a key component of whole-child development.

What do we mean by social intelligence? It’s a person’s ability to interact well with others. It’s often simply called people skills, or tact. It isn’t necessarily a natural-born characteristic, but it can be learned. It involves situational awareness, understanding of social dynamics, and self-awareness.

In a nutshell, it’s the ability to recognize our emotions, exert control over them, show empathy for others, handle conflict well, and make good choices. By helping kids develop social intelligence, we empower them to build stronger relationships and lay the groundwork for bright futures.

Social intelligence isn’t static; it continually develops throughout one’s life. It’s never too late to sharpen it, and children are especially ready to learn. Educating children on healthy communication helps them to be a friend who is empathetic, generous, kind, and a good listener. There are four main characteristics of social intelligence:

Empathy: Empathy determines how well one relates to other people’s thoughts and emotions. Empathetic people consider and understand diverse perspectives, even if they don’t share the same ideas. They can pick up on a person’s mood and adjust their reactions accordingly.

Respect: Mutual understanding calls for a degree of respect. Respecting others can mean adapting communication styles to fit their needs, or finding a healthy compromise.

Behavior: This component concerns how people carry themselves in social situations. Are their actions appropriate for the setting? Do they make others feel relaxed or uncomfortable? A person must be able to adapt when necessary while maintaining their core values.

Self-efficacy: This characteristic refers to how a person judges themselves on their capacity to perform particular tasks. If someone has a stable sense of self-efficacy concerning social intelligence, they’re confident in their social abilities.

These skills are reinforced in school, but the foundations are set at home, which is one reason why Alaka’i O Kaua’i believes in strong parent/guardian involvement in the educational process.

We can do the following to develop our social intelligence:

  • Pay close attention to what and who are around us
  • Work on increasing our emotional intelligence
  • Respect cultural differences
  • Practice active listening
  • Appreciate the important people in our lives

Much like the other components of the Alaka’i O Kaua’i approach to education, the development of social intelligence builds strengths in kids, as well as sharpening all the other pillars of social-emotional and project-based learning — resulting in well-rounded kids who are ready for whatever challenges life may bring.

21st Century Skills Alakai O Kauai

Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School Culture: Whole-Child Development

Last week we introduced the importance of social-emotional learning at Alaka’i O Kaua’i Charter School. Social-emotional learning is integral to our whole-child educational approach.

A whole-child mind-set means that we are focused on far more than teaching to tests or holding up state standards as the be-all, end-all of education. We believe in focusing on the whole child and promoting social-emotional learning, because education is about more than test scores.

Whole-child development empowers kids to be creative, engaged citizens. With that in mind, we believe it’s our responsibility to nurture learners’ creative abilities to express themselves, understand others, and navigate complex information so they can confidently solve the problems of an ever-changing world.

So when we say we focus on “whole child” development, what do we mean? We’re talking about an approach to project-based learning that emphasizes the following deeper-learning approaches:

Mastery of Core Academic Content: Learners lay their academic foundation in subjects such as reading, writing, arts, math, and science, understanding essential principles and procedures, recalling facts, and drawing on their knowledge to complete tasks.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Our learners understand how to construct effective arguments using their critical, analytical, and creative skills. They develop the know-how to come up with solutions to complex problems.

Collaboration: Learners embrace teamwork and consider multiple viewpoints to cooperate and achieve shared goals.

Effective Communication: Learners communicate effectively in writing and oral presentations. They structure information in meaningful ways, listen to and give feedback, and construct messages for particular audiences.

Self-Directed Learning: Learners develop the ability to set goals, monitor their own progress, and reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. They learn to see setbacks as opportunities to grow and be more adaptive.

Growth Mind-set: Learners with a growth mind-set believe in themselves. They trust their abilities and believe their hard work will pay off; they persist to overcome obstacles. In the process, they also learn from and support each other and see the relevance of their schoolwork to the real world and their own future success.

Coupled with vibrant project-based education and social-emotional learning, all these elements work together to empower kids to overcome any challenge that comes their way academically; but more than that, they build the character to succeed in the 21st century.

Project Based Learing

Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Culture: Project-Based Learning

Spend even just a few moments inquiring about the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi approach to education, and one of the first things you’ll hear about is project-based learning, or PBL. It’s at the core of our approach to school and a proven asset to education.

So what is project-based learning? In PBL, learners actively explore real-world challenges to acquire deeper knowledge of the subject at hand. Research shows that learners increasingly retain and enjoy what they’re learning when PBL is done well.

This educational model helps students learn the valuable collaboration, academic, and problem-solving skills our global economy will demand from them. Through the PBL method, learners tackle engaging projects about real-world issues that require critical thought, inquiry, and synthesis, and culminate in regular Presentations of Learning (or POLs) to their peers, facilitators, community members, and parents.

The PBL model requires learners to research, collaborate, and carefully weigh information and evidence in a nuanced problem-solving environment. It teaches learners to accept feedback, create solutions, and present their findings in a high-performance context — preparing them for the rigors of the 21st-century economy and the challenges of a global world.

PBL provides the following benefits:

  • PBL makes school more engaging: In PBL, students are active, not passive. Projects engage their hearts and minds and provide real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning: At the completion of a project, learners understand content more deeply, remember what they learn, and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply to new situations what they know and can do.
  • PBL builds skills for college, career, and life: Learners are preparing for life in a world where success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards: Common Core and other current education standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, as well as the development of success skills like critical thinking/problem-solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL helps learners effectively meet these goals.
  • PBL embraces technology: Kids enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit for PBL. With technology, facilitators and learners not only find resources and information they need; they also collaborate more effectively and connect with experts, partners, and audiences.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding: Projects allow facilitators to work closely with active, engaged learners doing high-quality, meaningful work. In many cases, facilitators rediscover the joy of learning alongside kids.
  • PBL connects kids and schools with communities and the real world: Through PBL, learners have opportunities to solve real problems and address actual issues, and as such they learn more about interacting with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces, and can identify and develop career interests.

In short, project-based learning is at the core of the Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi model because we believe it is at the heart of how kids learn best. Time and again, we’ve seen how PBL helps learners develop academic skills, build leadership skills and character, and lay the foundation for promising careers.

Project Based Learning at Alakai O Kauai

Alaka`i O Kaua`i Learners Present Their Project-Based Learning

We ended the month of February with our 5th and 6th graders displaying what they learned about Native Americans and how to make pop-up books through the use of mathematical concepts.

5th grade, Ms. Collette Oguin

Ms. Collette Oguin’s 5th graders studied the lives of indigenous Americans in the 1400s-1600s and how the geography of North America shaped the development of their societies. Through their Presentation of Learning, our 5th graders displayed the deep learning they’ve been doing in class. We are proud of our inquisitive, hardworking keiki!

6th grade, Ms. Donna Daum

Our 6th graders had a strong interest in creating flip-books, and we discovered how creative the learners could be! Research brought about engineering designs that they could use to build pop-up books. How fun! They followed step-by-step directions tirelessly, finding out what worked and what didn’t. They would design and redesign over and over again to get just the right angles and proportions for the pages to pop out correctly. They learned so much while having so much fun! They came up with the idea that these books should be marketed to a younger audience. Then they realized that because we also do so much math together, maybe we could share some of the math concepts with the other learners within the fun pop-up book! What an amazing project!

Kindness Club

Alaka`i O Kaua`i Charter School Introduces Kindness Club!

Alaka`i O Kaua`i Charter School is special because of our curriculum focus. The two main pillars of our curriculum are Project-Based Learning and Social-Emotional Learning. Last week, a new school club was formed to support the social-emotional needs of our learners. Our 4th grade facilitator, Ms. Kate, and a 4th grade parent, Mrs. Sally Nichols, have helped our learners start a new club called Kindness Club.

The Kindness Club is described as “an opportunity for all learners who are interested to meet during lunch to talk about what kindness is and how they can bring it into our school community daily, as well as create projects to serve those around us.”

Ms. G and Mrs. Nichols gave a presentation to invite learners to become involved in the Kindness Club.

Good results from this new Kindness Club have already manifested throughout our school as our learners left notes for their facilitators and peers expressing their appreciation for them.

Alakai O Kauai Gardening

Kindergarten Project-Based Learning in the Garden!

Our kindergarteners are in the midst of a project-based learning unit on gardening. They’re learning what’s needed to create a successful garden and what plants need to thrive.

Our driving question is “How can we make our garden into a beautiful reality?”

Through many hands-on activities, learners are mapping and constructing a bird’s-eye-view picture of our orchard. They have learned to identify plants in the garden and worked together to make garden signs. We introduced learners to the insects and other creatures they will find in the garden and their characteristics.

Through a reflection and presentation process, learners will work together to make group decisions in planning a classroom garden tour for our Presentation of Learning.

Learners will review characteristics of mature produce and discover how to harvest different types of fruits. They have learned about the parts of plants and their functions and will use the garden to teach a hands-on plant-based activity at our upcoming POL.

Bubble Bonanza

Bubble Bonanza PBL

Mrs. Ashley’s class just finished up their latest installment of Project-Based Learning, “Engineering Bubble Wands”. They presented their designs to the 1st and 2nd grade classes and then took them through the engineering design process, where they were given the opportunity to construct their very own wands.

They also experimented with different designs and created bubble formulas to help discover all the things bubbles can and cannot do. They wrapped up their presentation with their BUBBLE BONANZA showcase, where they took their classmates out to the field and blew them away with some of the biggest bubbles the learners have ever seen. Their Bubble Bonanza showcase was a great success for all!

Project Based Learning

Project-based Learning in First & Second Grade

Miss Kim and Miss Megan have begun their second unit in Project-Based Learning. First and second graders are learning about the world through their explorations with “Flat Stanley,” our literacy guide, a character from a series about a boy who was flattened and travels the world. Each child has the opportunity to send their own Flat Stanley to someone they know in another state or country, with a letter of their own composition. Learners get to choose where they send their Flat Stanley and which countries they want to learn about. Flat Stanley will then be sent back to the learner with a letter about the place he visited.

This project is a fun way for our learners to explore the world and discover different places through inquiry and interaction. We encourage first and second grade families talk to their kids at home about the country of their choosing and explore with them the locations that they are learning about.

Our learners will also be doing independent, hands-on projects that help them reflect on the places they are studying. Miss Kim and Miss Megan’s classes are looking for materials for the learners to build with as they explore their different locations. They will have the chance to build pyramids, buildings, monuments, and other structures with the following materials. If you have any of these items to donate, please bring to the school:

  • Shoe boxes
  • Pringle cans or paper towel/toilet paper rolls
  • Cardboard
  • Foil
  • Bottle caps
  • Juice Cartons

MAHALO!

Project Based Learning

Learning More About Project-Based Learning

Alakai’i O Kaua’i and iLEAD Schools are pleased to have Dr. Thom Markham, founder of PBL Global, visit our school this week to work with our staff on developing rigorous project-based learning (PBL) in every grade level.

Also, there are two opportunities to hear Dr. Markham’s presentation on Project-Based Learning this Tuesday, February 5th (see times below).

He will hold a “PBL Parent University” for families interested to learn more about project-based learning at our school in the morning, and provide an evening-time option for families and community at Chiefess Middle School.

We hope you can join us during one of these opportunities to learn about the “why” behind Project-Based Learning from one of the key leaders responsible for growing effectiveness of PBL as the pathway to deeper authentic learning. For more information, please contact Linda Krystek at linda.krystek@ileadschools.org.

Topics to be discussed will include:

  • Preparing young people to be ready for the world of 2020 and beyond
  • Developing skills as collaborators, problem solvers, design thinkers, and self-starters
  • Fostering curiosity, empathy, and resilience as core attitudes helping young people to flourish in learning and life

Presentations on PBL Tuesday, Feb. 5th:

  • 8:30-10 a.m. at the Alaka’i O Kaua’i Library
  • 5:30-7 p.m. at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School multi-purpose room