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Returning to nature invigorates the teaching of biological science

Kauaʻi Community College
Camilla Matsumoto, (808) 245-8280
Comm Relations & Spec Projects, Chancellor's Office
Posted: Aug 29, 2017

The Science Teachers Enrichment Program (STEP), a successful fifteen-year partnership between Kauaʻi CC and the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), offered K-12 teachers and community college faculty a unique opportunity to become students again, engaging in hands-on learning using native and introduced plants in Hawaiʻi. Funded by the Kenan Foundation through the Kenan Fellowship, classes were held at NTBG in Kalaheo's McBryde Gardens, the North Shore's Limahuli Garden, Salt Pond, and Kokeʻe State Park. The course is a UH three-credit, ITE 583H 441, Institute for Teacher Education course, and a three-credit course with the Department of Education Teacher Develop Program.

 "A teacher who has a passion for biological science knows that life is organic and messy," said Brian Yamamoto, senior natural science faculty member at Kauaʻi Community College.  "That teacher wants students to get dirty, feel the wind as a force affecting growth, and touch the textures of life, to understand that biology is more than memorization of information. Moving from inspiration to action, the program improves science awareness and instruction."

According to Harvard Professor and Kenan Fellow, Dr. Barry Tomilson having a "good eye" is the framework of teaching introductory biology, where students learn, through interaction, the value of observation and how the natural world connects with all academic disciplines.

STEP gets teachers reconnected with their good eye, invigorates them to develop learning modules through engaging discussions on teaching pedagogy, and solidifies contacts with teachers in the program. This year, the program welcomed 6 teachers from Cupertino Califonia, Hawaiʻi Community College, Waipahu High School on Oʻahu, Hanalei School on Kauaʻi, Alakai Foundation in Maui, and Kaimuki Middle School on Oʻahu.  

Michelle Phillips, participant, from Hawaiʻi CC plans to take her students on field trips to explore how plants adapt to the local environment. In her Pollen Anatomy Lab she will identify the family level using pollen species, where her students will be able to make observations and comparisons.

NTBG is currently developing a teaching garden where materials can be routinely harvested for the course.  Kauaʻi CC is assembling plants from its nursery to grow at the schools.

"This is another example of a wonderful partnership between NTBG and Kauaʻi CC," said Helen Cox, Kauaʻi CC Chancellor.  "Our very knowledgeable faculty member, Brian Yamamoto, is one of the instructors in this program, and several of our faculty have taken the course. NTBG and the island of Kauaʻi provide wonderful resources for a truly valuable educational experience."