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Computer Science Innovation at Kaunakakai School

By Jack Kiyonaga, Community Reporter 

Photo courtesy of Kawika Gonzales.

The students in Kawika Gonzales’ fifth grade class at Kaunakakai School are excited about learning two subjects that aren’t often studied together: computer science and Hawaiian culture.  Thanks to a three-year grant from the University of Hawaii, Gonzales is teaching a program he believes has led to substantial progress in computer science education. 

The grant focuses on the role of culturally relevant computing by combining aspects of computer science with Hawaiian history and traditions. 

Dan Hoffman, one of the University of Hawaii faculty members directing the grant, explained that “the grant is designed around the idea that ‘curriculum is not enough’”. 

Instead, Hoffman explained, the grant allows for “structured professional development modeling culturally relevant computing.” 

This structure provides teachers with training and resources so they can be better equipped to combine aspects of computer science while “simultaneously promoting valued cultured-based outcomes,” according to Hoffman. 

Kaunakakai School was selected for the grant because of the recently established state Act 158, which requires offerings of computer science classes at the elementary school level in Hawaii. 

And while Kaunakakai School is the only recipient of the grant on Molokai, Gonzales explained that the goal is to grow the professional development opportunities for teachers and expand culturally relevant computing into “all of our schools.” 

“Our students are advancing in computer science,” Gonzales explained, adding that “I love that our students are so excited.” 

By combining computer science skills with storytelling, students are able to incorporate other fields like language arts into their computer science classes.  

The result of this multidisciplined approach is that “the students are engaged in their learning,” said Gonzales, which allows for higher student engagement and productivity. 

In a recent interview with KITV4, Kaunakakai School students showed off their projects, which told stories by programming Hawaiian Petroglyphs.  

The class “really gives me the time to think about what I could do,” fifth grader Travis Rapanot said in the interview. 

One goal of the grant is to expand the program by offering professional development workshops for teachers. 

Six of these workshops are coming up in June on multiple islands. This three-day professional development class is intended to equip more than 100 educators from third to sixth grade with lessons and skills to teach culturally relevant computing.  This work is supported by the National Science Foundation through the Division of Research on Learning. 


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