Categorized | Education

Kamehameha Schools Hawaii campus teacher earns national award for Hawaiian culture-based approach


Karen Labat (Social Investment Manager at Shell Oil Company) and Mary Gronko (NSTA President) present Joel Truesdell with the 2017 Shell Science Teaching Award at the NSTA Teacher Awards Gala on Mar. 31, 2017.

Karen Labat (Social Investment Manager at Shell Oil Company) and Mary Gronko (NSTA President) present Joel Truesdell with the 2017 Shell Science Teaching Award at the NSTA Teacher Awards Gala on Mar. 31, 2017.

Kea‘au, Hawai‘i— Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi campus chemistry teacher Joel Truesdell was awarded the 2017 National Science Teachers Association(NSTA) Shell Science Teaching Award at the NSTA’s Teacher Awards Gala on Mar. 31 at the JW Marriott LA Live in Los Angeles.

The Shell Science Teaching Award recognizes one outstanding classroom science teacher (K-12) who has had a positive impact on his or her students, school and community through exemplary classroom science teaching.

During 30 years of classroom teaching, Truesdell evolved from a traditional lecturer to a culture-based teacher, including aspects of Hawaiian culture in lessons and labs. Five years ago, he converted his chemistry curriculum so students learn science through the lens of Hawaiian culture.

“If students are excited about the topic and recognize its relevance to them, they will take the topic to a greater depth,” says Truesdell. “The real secret is to build on students’ prior knowledge and to weave each topic into more complex activities.”

Kanoe Wilson, an education officer with Kamehameha Schools Kauhale Kīpaipai community education department recognizes the direct impacts Truesdell’s curriculum has had on his students.

“Our action research project data findings demonstrate that his teaching practices have shown increase in student engagement, environmental and community advocacy, and in particular, the American Chemical Society Final Exam where we saw students increase in their test scores from 70% to 83% due to his innovative practices,” shares Wilson.

Joel Truesdell

Joel Truesdell

Truesdell has learned that the best way to teach science is the way it has been taught for thousands of years: with culture and relevance first and being project-based, inquiry-based and student-driven.

“My first experience with this was with my 1st and 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Crouse who was Native American and put the culture first,” shared Truesdell.

“Recognizing my learning style has helped to shape my teaching method, which has been based on relevance, multistep logic, rigor, passion and fun.”

He also credits the work of Dr. Walter Kahumoku, and how teaching in Kahumoku’s program helped him accelerate his growth as a Hawaiian culture-based teacher.

“Anyone who participates in Dr. Kahumoku’s workshop will be far more prepared to help educate our youth. It will be life changing for both the educator and also for his or her students,” says Truesdell.

“Anyone can teach through the culture if given guidance. It just requires a shift in perspective and a little practice making lesson plans.”

Ultimately, Truesdell notes how that shift in perspective takes learning into the world of a student and helps create an enjoyable classroom.

This summer, this Hawaiian-culture and Next Generation Science Standards-based curriculum that is centered on the world of students will be presented at the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education held July 24-27 in Toronto.

The Science Teaching Award is sponsored by Shell. Three finalists receive a citation and travel expenses to attend the NSTA National Conference. In addition, the awardee receives a check for $10,000, formal citation and commemorative clock. John Gensic a science teacher at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana and Ryan Monger a biology and sustainable design teacher at Sultan High School in Sultan, Washington were the two finalists for the award.

See the full list of NSTA 2017 Teacher Awards Program recipients.

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