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Kapa in the sky


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POSTED: Sunday, June 21, 2009

Scraping tree bark and flying her own handmade kite were among the highlights 9-year-old Keahi Manoi-Hyde enjoyed while participating in “;The Science and Culture of Art,”; a Bishop Museum outreach program that aims to preserve some ancient Hawaiian traditions that might otherwise be lost to a younger generation.

Sixty-four students from Waianae Elementary School and Ka Waihona O Ka Na'auao Public Charter School worked on the kapa project. Their finished work is now on display indefinitely in the Bishop Museum's Science Adventure Center.

“;We learned about different kinds of kapa from around the world,”; Manoi-Hyde said. “;I really enjoyed flying the kites we made. They didn't fly very good because it wasn't windy, but it was fun.”;

The project introduced every element of the art form, starting with how early Hawaiians chose plants for kapa making. Lessons incorporated the legend of “;Maui the Kite Maker”; and combined concepts and processes of art, science and social studies.

Native Hawaiian artist Dalani Tanahy explained that the project entailed more than just learning about art, culture and aesthetics.

Through the program that seeks to reach fourth-graders in Title I schools on Oahu, students were exposed to different learning styles.

THE PROGRAM incorporates social studies, science and visual arts benchmarks into one lesson plan that promotes creative thinking through hands-on activities, she explained.

Amber Inwood, a science educator at Bishop Museum, hoped that the children gained a sense of what style of learning worked best for them.

“;People have different learning styles, whether it be through creativity, visuals, experiments, or simply reading. My aim was that the students would gain a sense that you don't have to be a scientist to enjoy science,”; Inwood said.

“;It's important when teaching science and cultural concepts through art to treat science and culture holistically and not as separate entities,”; she added. “;Many cultural practices reflect and complement science concepts and vice versa, offering an excellent opportunity to integrate the two.”;

“;Students conducted a three-week experiment by which they tested and observed their own kapa sample and how it changed over the fermentation process, under different conditions. This included writing a hypothesis, observations, pH tests and a conclusion as to what they thought helped make the best kapa.”;

Students also looked at the kapa-making process under the microscope, looking at pre- and post-fermented kapa to review the differences.

“;THIS KIND OF project teaches them the love of learning,”; said Tanahy. “;The hands-on experience allowed them to learn from doing. It was a lot of work, but good fun.”;

It also gave the students an experience that required long-term, multistep focus and commitment, she added. “;The controlled pounding needs to be done a certain way. It really helped to calm the kids down.”;

The students beat the kapa with a wooden beater until it was flattened, experienced the fermentation process and beat the kapa a second time until the paper tree fibers were bound together, creating a strong fabric. They also learned about stamping and printing using natural dyes from ukui and olena plants.

The primary object of the program was to increase students' enthusiasm for Hawaiian culture and science through the creativeness of art and to teach select standard-based concepts and processes of art, science and social studies disciplines, explained Inwood. It seemed to have paid off as students expressed their enthusiasm for the process.

“;I really liked dyeing the kapa. We got to make different kinds of patterns using a paintbrush and paint,”; said Tiana Paikuli, 9.

Ten-year-old Taaliyah La'a claimed that the hardest part was pounding the kapa with authentic tools.

“;The harder you hit, the wider it got,”; she said. “;I was thrilled to see the tools like the shark tooth knife and pounders. We learned a lot about things Hawaiians used.”;

“;My main goal,”; Inwood said, “;was that the students were not only instilled with a sense of pride for their heritage, whatever that may be, but that if they put their mind to it, they can dream big and do what ever they want to do with their lives.”;

“;We wanted to impress upon them that they can do something meaningful in their lives ... that they can do anything,”; Tanahy said. “;We hope it created a spark.”;

For more information on kapa, visit www.kapahawaii.com. For information on Bishop Museum programs, visit www.bishopmuseum.org.