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STEM Day for Molokai Students

Photo Courtesy of STEMworks.

Beneath a starlit sky, Molokai students observed the rising constellations, set to navigate the Hokule’a canoe through the night. That is, until they took off the virtual reality goggles and realized they were still at Kaunakakai Elementary School’s STEM Day.

More than 120 Molokai students from third to sixth grade participated in the inaugural STEM Day. Run by the Maui Economic Development Board STEMworks program, STEM Day focused on creative and critical thinking in fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Throughout the daylong workshop, which took place on May 22, students were walked through sessions involving artificial intelligence, virtual reality, video game design and more. In one session, students used a 3D pen to visualize the anatomy of the brain to better understand the causes of strokes. In another, Anna Sikkink, the STEMworks computer science specialist, led a session using virtual reality headsets to teach students about astronomy and Hawaiian history.

“This immersive experience puts students on board the sailing canoe Hokuleʻa under a clear night sky, where they can highlight constellations and the Hawaiian stars, and observe how the stars rise and set relative to the Hawaiian star compass,” said Sikkink.

Students also employed their own creativity, coming up with different video games and programs.

Joseph Abraham, a Maui-based game developer and artist, introduced the students to the basics of game design. Students were able to design video games of their own using a website called RPG Maker. Computer programming was also covered by Daniel Valente, an IT specialist and computer programmer with UHMC, who taught students the basics of coding.

“Basically, computer science is all about problem solving,” explained Kawika Gonzales, a teacher at Kaunakakai Elementary School who has been deeply involved with the proliferation of STEM education on Molokai. “The lessons that we create for the students allow them to be creative at their own level.”

Gonzales explained that linking Hawaiian culture with STEM is a key component for Molokai students.

“That culture piece makes it relevant to students,” said Gonzales.

“[STEM Day] went really well, having a whole day during the school day worked really well,” said Hannah Trees, a program specialist for STEMworks. “The students loved it.”

Trees explained that STEMworks is focused on encouraging “students who don’t feel like they are a good fit in STEM.”

Through a combination of technology exposure and interactive programing, the hope is to try and engage students as early as possible, she explained.

STEMworks also offers free afterschool programming to Molokai Middle School students. For more information about STEMworks visit instagram.com/stemworks/.


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