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An overarching goal of science education is for students develop the thought processes needed to be scientifically literate participants in the modern world (AAAS, 1990). Teaching science the way the discipline is practiced is the hallmark of the inquiry approach. Project-based learning, as exemplified by this monitoring study, is one very effective way to conduct scientific inquiry. Students must identify and resolve an actual scientific problem, and in doing so become fully engaged in the scientific process. They must determine how to solve problems, gather and organize information, and develop and test hypotheses themselves. These practices promote ownership of knowledge and translate into critical thinking skills. Students gain as much, if not more, content knowledge from a project-based unit than from a lecture approach, and develop the skills they need to find additional information on their own and evaluate the validity of that information.

OPIHI monitoring projects are grounded in ongoing scientific research and call for students to carry out the investigations, providing richness through direct experience. Students engaged in these experiences will have the opportunity to develop questioning and critical thinking skills as they practice the same habits of mind used by professional scientists. Authentic projects increase student engagement along with positive attitudes about science, as the reason for conducting the work is clearly part of a scientific research agenda. Students are empowered by the realization that they are capable of doing science themselves, and the reason for the work is made clear by the nature of the project.

Project-based learning can fill a critical need by making learning relevant to the real world. It provides an opportunity for students to interact directly with their environment, and prepare them to make better-informed decisions about environmental practices. Students need to understand how living things are dependent upon one another and their physical environment so that they may develop a respect for nature and make informed decisions about sustainable resource use. In pilot studies of OPIHI at the Educational Laboratory School, when students who had participated in the project were asked the question, "What do you know now that you didnít know before?" 31 percent commented on the interconnectedness of ecological systems like the intertidal, demonstrating that participation in a biodiversity monitoring project linked to instruction in ecology can help bridge the growing gap between humans and the environment.
OPIHI: Our Project in Hawaii's Interdental - Contact: philippo@hawaii.edu