Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 15, 1998

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
It was 93.8 in Waianae on a recent day, but the thermometer
read 82.4 in Peter Elson's classroom at Waianae High. Why?
Students figured out how to cool the school cheaply and efficiently.

In Waianae’s
oven, kids find the
‘real world’

In figuring out how to
cool hot classrooms, students
also learned something
about life

By Burl Burlingame


On the floor of Patrice Nutley's classroom, Portable P-3 at Waianae High School, is a chest filled with ice water. She needs it, because, as temperatures inside the classroom rise daily into the 90s -- and occasionally top 100 -- students are battered by the heat, and become sleepy and sullen and angry. And dehydrated. Ice water brings them around.

It's not an ideal learning environment.

Project Portable Nutley admits "intense jealousy" of the portable classrooms on either side of P-3. Both are test models of cooling methods, while hers is the "control" unit, with nothing done to alleviate oven-like temperatures inside. Nutley's classroom is typical of most "portable" classroom buildings in Hawaii, but that may change.

The Waianae experiment, begun more than two years ago, has won engineering awards and attracted help from sources like NASA and Hawaiian Electric. Waianae High School this week officially dedicated the test models, plus a solar-power project donated by Hawaiian Electric, a $20,000 system that pumps kilowatts back into the electrical grid.

The three portables are testing two methods of cooling the buildings. P-2 has solar-powered fans mounted into the roof to draw off hot air, a test of the technology by the Department of Accounting and General Services, the state agency responsible for the structures.

P-4 is the test bed for the "Waianae Solution," a student-directed project that applied basic physics to real-world problems.

"It's enough of a challenge to get kids interested in learning -- but at 98 degrees it's nearly impossible," said Rick Gresia, Waianae science teacher. "Wait until school starts here year-round in late July this summer."

The "Waianae Solution" was initiated by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin a couple of years ago after searing temperatures were recorded in classrooms. The newspaper proposed that students investigate the physical properties of the classrooms, develop and test "solutions," then install a test unit. The newspaper underwrote and publicized the experiments.

The primary goals were to alleviate unbearable conditions (classrooms do not have to meet the same standards as OSHA-approved workplaces), and to do it in a way that was inexpensive, easy to install, and did not substantially alter the original structure.

The process was a new way of learning, which made the kids uneasy, said Naidah Gamurot, Waianae science teacher. "All their time in school, they're taught that there's one right answer to every question, and here they learned there were some good answers, and some not-so-good answers, but no 'right' answer, and certain compromises have to be made to succeed. It's more like the real world.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Peter Elson's classroom is kept cool with ceiling insulation,
a turbine which evacuates hot air from the ceiling space
and several regular fans.

"Also, instead of succeeding or failing individually, they had to succeed or fail as a group. For example, one girl failed to take data readings on her portion of an experiment, which messed up everyone's data. The other kids really let her have it! They didn't realize how important individuals are to a team effort.

"I had to talk to her about it, and told her it wasn't personal, but if she performed like this in the real world, she'd be out of a job. Schools teach you how to turn in a nice paper, but not much about work ethics."

That girl, said Gamurot, is now doing well in college. Many of the original students, who started the project and then graduated, came back to Waianae to help install their brainchild.

"This project wasn't left in the classroom," said Gamurot. "Two years later, it's become part of their lives."

Others were impressed as well. The project won first place in a state engineering contest sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and third place nationwide.A documentary film about the experiment by Waianae's film class won first place in a University of Hawaii film contest.

"The hardest part was the time lag while we struggled with the permits and permissions from the bureaucracy to complete the experiment," said Waianae principal Hazel Sumile.

Sumile said kids had "a chance to turn their own ideas and dreams into reality, and to discover there is no one right answer, and that no one would give it to them.

"They were on their own."

Project Portable

Do It Electric!

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