On Jan. 24, more than 400 Lanai High and Elementary (LHES) students embarked on a high seas whale-watching adventure courtesy of the Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF). Students climbed aboard a floating classroom and spent the day learning about whales, marine life and how to be stewards of the ocean.
Whale-watching may seem like a fun break from the regular school day, but it’s an example of a valuable type of learning known as place-based education. This teaching philosophy is on the rise on Lanai and gaining popularity across the U.S.
Taking learning outside the classroom
Learning doesn’t just take place within the four walls of a classroom anymore. Place-based education, also known as experiential education or community-based education, focuses on hands-on learning that is rooted in local communities.
This type of model works particularly well with a close-knit community like Lanai, noted LHES principal Elton Kinoshita.
“On Lanai, the whole island is our laboratory and classroom,” Kinoshita said. “We are focusing on things that happen in our community, and the stewardship of natural resources for our island.”
Place-based education introduces LHES students to learning opportunities unique to Lanai. Places like Waiaopae Fishpond or Maunalei Valley offer valuable lessons on the local ecosystem and the history of ancient Hawaiians.
“When we look to the past, how Hawaiians cared for the land and fed their people, we can learn about how to solve current problems using modern science,” Kinoshita said. “Then, instead of taking a standardized test, students can apply their knowledge through projects — creating a video, a performance, or even a tech app.”
Place-based education in action
LHES students have taken their ideas and initiative to make a real difference in the community, putting Lanai at the forefront of place-based education.
A group of students found inspiration for a place-based project in an unlikely place — Lanai Cemetery. The students decided to research and compile stories to honor the memories of Lanai residents.
As the students involved in the original project graduated, more students adopted it and became involved in uncovering the history of Lanai’s people. Future projects may involve designing a directory for the cemetery or publishing the stories they’ve helped to compile.
Other place-based projects include building a GIS app to geolocate fire hydrants and restoring the fishpond wall at Waiaopae. These hands-on projects excite and engage students while giving them a greater understanding of the world around them.
To Kinoshita, this represents the power of place-based education.
“We’re teaching kids that they can make a difference in their community,” he said. “When students come up with an idea, they run with it and we see amazing work and passion as a result — that’s real learning.”