Leveraging community-based organizations to develop and study Native Hawaiian ethos-driven ('Āina-based) environmental science activities

Wednesday, September 1, 2021 to Sunday, August 31, 2025
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Community Outreach Programs
Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Families | Museum/ISE Professionals
Ecology, forestry, and agriculture
Access and Inclusion: 
Indigenous and Tribal Communities
Pacific Islander Communities
University of Hawaii

This Innovations in Development project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. Specifically, this project connects Native Hawaiian youth ages 12-17 and their family members to STEM by channeling their cultural relationship with ʻāina, the sustaining elements of the natural world including the land, sea, and air. This project seeks to: broaden participation of Native Hawaiian youth who have been historically underrepresented in STEM; actively uphold Native Hawaiian ways of knowing and traditional knowledge; articulate the science rooted in cultural wisdom; and bring STEM into the lives of participants as they connect to the ʻāina. In partnership with six ʻāina-based community organizations across Hawaiʻi, this project will develop, implement, and study ʻāina-centered environmental education activities that explore solutions to local environmental problems. For example, in one module youth and their families will explore of a section of a nearby stream; identify and discuss the native, non-native, and invasive species; remove invasive species from a small section of the stream and make observations leading to discussions of unintended consequences and systemic impacts; ultimately, learners will meet at additional local waterways to engage in similar explorations and discussions, transferring their knowledge to understanding the impacts of construction on local streams and coral reefs. To this effort, the community-based organizations bring their expertise in preserving Hawaiian culture and sustainable island lifestyle, including rural and urban systems such as farming and irrigation traditions and the restoration of cultural sites. University of Hawai’i faculty and staff bring expertise in Environmental Science, Biology, Hawaiian Studies and Problem-Based Learning Curriculum Development. This project further supports organizational learning and sharing among the six community-based organizations. Grounded in Hawaiian ʻAʻo, where learning and teaching are the same interaction, community-based organizations will create a Community of Practice that will co-learn Problem-Based Learning pedagogy; co-learn and engage in research and evaluation methods; and share experiential and traditional knowledge to co-develop the ʻāina-based environmental education activities.

This project is uniquely situated to study the impact of community-led culturally relevant pedagogy on Hawaiian learners’ interests and connections to environmental science, and to understand ʻāina-based learning through empirical research. Research methods draw on Community-Based Participatory Research and Indigenous Research Methods to develop a collaborative research design process incorporated into the project’s key components. Community members, researchers, and evaluators will work together to examine the following research questions: 1) How does environmental Problem-Based Learning situate within ʻāina-based informal contexts?; 2) What are the environmental education learning impacts of ʻāina-based activities on youth and family participants?; and 3) How does the ʻāina-centered Problem-Based Learning approach to informal STEM education support STEM knowledge, interest and awareness? The evaluation will employ a mixed-methods participatory design to explore program efficacy, fidelity, and implementation more broadly across community-based sites, as well as program sustainability within each community-based site. Anticipated project outcomes are a 15-week organizational learning and sharing program with six ʻāina-based community organizations and 72 staff; the design and implementation of 18 activities to reach 360 youth and at least one of their family members; and the launch of an ʻāina-based STEM Community of Practice. The project’s research and development process for ʻāina-centered environmental education activities will be shared broadly and provide a useful example for other organizations locally and nationally working in informal settings with Native or Indigenous populations.

Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Lui HokoanaLui HokoanaPrincipal Investigator
Hokulani Holt-PadillaHokulani Holt-PadillaCo-Principal Investigator
Jaymee Nanasi DavisJaymee Nanasi DavisCo-Principal Investigator

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