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IfA Partners with Ka Pilina to Engage Native Hawaiian Students in STEM

by Roy Gal, Astronomer and IfA Outreach Specialist

Children look through the telescopes they constructed at a STEM Math Community Day event. Photo by Roy Gal.

Ka Pilina, which means “the connection” in Hawaiian, is a UH Mānoa program to strengthen math skills among Native Hawaiian middle and high school students. By connecting students with mentors and the STEM community, the program “connects students to math concepts that incorporate local and Hawaiian culture, daily life skills and to other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas.”

One of the facets of Ka Pilina is a series of Math Community Days held at schools with significant Native Hawaiian student populations. Starting this fall, IfA has joined Ka Pilina as a partner at these events, bringing astronomy- and physics-based activities that incorporate appropriate mathematical concepts. Community Days were held on the evenings of November 5 at Ewa Makai Middle School and on November 7 at Kamakau Public Charter School in Kaneohe.

At each event, students were given a passport with the opportunity to get stamps by successfully completing activities at eight different stations. With four stamps, the students could enter a raffle for a Surface RT tablet. The IfA brought three activities to each event:

  • A spectroscopy exhibit, showcasing how we learn what objects in space are made of. Students had to observe a set of glowing gases with a simple spectrograph, draw the colors of light (spectrum) they saw from each, and then match them to a key to identify each gas.
  • A telescopes station, where students measured the properties of lenses and constructed a simple refracting telescope with an extending cardboard tube and two plastic lenses.
  • A scale-model solar system, where students had to figure out the relative sizes of planets and the Sun, and then take a walk through our solar system to see how vast it really is.

About 150 students attended the Ewa Makai event and 50 students were at the smaller Kamakau School. IfA graduate students Kirsten Larson, Matthew Hosek, Conor McPartland, Maxwell Service, and Andrew Repp, instructor Geoff Matthews, and I assisted at one or both events.

Our partnership with Ka Pilina will continue. Right after Christmas, they are hosting a two-day math camp at UH Mānoa. IfA astronomer Paul Coleman will use our portable StarLab planetarium to take the attendees on a tour of the heavens as seen by the Polynesian voyagers.

For more on Ka Pilina, visit their website..