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Learning Tech Together

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Sixth graders build solar-powered cars in class during the Tech Together program. Photos by Bianca Moragne.

Huddled outside in the hot sun, Kaunakakai Elementary sixth grade students raced solar-powered toy cars that they built in the classroom as part of the two-week Tech Together: Ka Ulu Ana Program.

Tech Together is a 10-day in-class program that delivers science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, to sixth grade students statewide through stimulation and interactive activities. Three Molokai schools, Kaunakakai, Kualapu`u and Kilohana, participated in the program this year with a curriculum focused on renewable and non-renewable energy technology, sustainability and the correlation between Hawaii culture and energy needs, said Vaito`i Tuala, Trainer Two, or lead classroom instructor, when she visited Molokai two weeks ago.

“I so love the kids of Molokai because they bring a different energy to teaching,” Tuala said. “…The kids here are excited and they love to embrace what we bring to them.”

Tech Together’s mission is to inspire Hawaiian students to pursue STEM careers and be conscience of conservation, preservation and sustainability, according to Tuala. As part of Partners in Development Foundation, a nonprofit geared towards inspiring Native Hawaiian communities for success, Tech Together teaches participating students to embrace and take care of where they live in Hawaii.

Founded in 2006, Tech Together is funded by the Native Hawaiian Education Program and the Department of Education and first serviced Oahu and Hawaii Island, according to Project Manager Tim Fulkerson. In 2012 the program extended services to Kauai, Maui and Molokai, he said. The project targets sixth grade students in schools located in communities with high populations of Native Hawaiian children and families.

“We’re so honored to have Partners in Development as a community partner and resource for our sixth grade students,” said Kaunakakai Elementary School Principal Janice Espiritu. “Already the curriculum is transforming from STEM to STEAM, which includes the Arts into the curriculum. It is our hope that the foundation will continue to fund Tech Together to enhance STEAM education for our students on Molokai.”

IMG_4179Kaunakakai Elementary sixth grader Kai`ina Afelin said she learned about Concentrated Solar Power, systems that use mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight, or solar thermal energy, to drive steam turbines that produce electricity, how it’s made and how electricity is gathered by solar panels.

“I like having [Tech Together] here because you get to learn a lot and you get to do hands-on activities,” Afelin said. “When you’re with the people in here you learn a lot of new things that you never learned.”

Marcus Dudoit, Kaunakakai sixth grader agreed and said he learned a lot doing experiments in the program.

“I’ve learned about the sun, solar energy and we made solar-powered cars and a solar oven,” Dudoit said. “I hope that next year that the fifth graders might get a chance to do this. It’s awesome.”

Tech Together is required to teach in the classroom for two hours during the 10 days. To measure student progress, the program begins with a 20-question pre-test to evaluate what students know. At the end of the program students are given another test to measure how much they’ve learned. Many students improve dramatically by scoring perfect scores by the program’s end, Tuala said. Molokai students celebrated their accomplishments, showcased their projects and engaged with parents and family members during an `Ohana Night to close the program.

“We want to encourage these kids to think there is hope for [them.] There’s hope for every kid,” Tuala said. “It’s been an absolute blessing for all of us, the whole entire team, we enjoy it. Just to see the kids smile at the end of the day is awesome.”

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