May 31, 2019 2 min read 2 Comments

The Crater As An Outdoor Classroom

Education and Research in Diamond Head State Monument

By Emily Hauck, Interpretive Ranger, Diamond Head State Monument


The close proximity between Kapiolani Community College (KCC) and Diamond Head State Monument has allowed a continuation of collaboration between the two entities that has spanned generations. For 18 years, KCC and Diamond Head have been engaging in a program called Service Learning as a course-based and credit-bearing educational experience. Service Learning offers participants a unique chance to learn in a natural outdoor setting. Students can identify a service activity within the community and volunteer in meaningful ways while furthering their education.

As a service learning site, the crater allows students to work with park staff on plant restoration projects that incorporate lessons in ecology. This is a great opportunity for students to build upon their resume, meet other passionate people within the community, and give back to the 'aina. This past semester, students dedicated hundreds of man-hours improving the park while fulfilling their curriculum requirements. The hard work conducted by these KCC students has a benefit to the State Park, of course, but it also has significant influence over the quality of education students receive.

Studies suggest that hands-on learning is more likely to engage students and can ultimately lead to boosting their comprehension in certain subjects. According to a 2015 study by the University of Chicago (UC), students who physically experience scientific concepts understand them more deeply and score better on science tests. Dr. Sian Beilock, Director of the UC Department of Psychology's Human Performance Lab, explains their findings, "In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better. Reading about a concept in a textbook or even seeing a demonstration in class is not the same as physically experiencing what you are learning about. We need to rethink how we are teaching math and science because our actions matter for how and what we learn."

Since 2013, Michael Ross, KCC Botany Instructor and Science Faculty Member, has been doing just that with his BIO 130 course. The fieldwork conducted by Ross and his students at Diamond Head has included sampling the vegetation on the outer slopes of the crater to study how the plant communities are changing over time. The data collected by the staff is shared with State Parks staff to assist with resource management and informed decision-making. Past surveys have detected some potentially threatening new non-native plant species, as well as a surprising number of native plant species. "Pedagogically, these types of partnerships are so valuable because they allow the students to go far beyond the confines of classroom learning and apply these techniques in the real world, according to Ross.

He believes in teaching outside the classroom and emphasizes the importance of 'active learning' methods. "The students are able to simultaneously gain a deeper understanding of the types of methods currently being utilized in ecological field work," Ross states, "while providing meaningful data to DLNR about changes in the natural vegetation around Diamond Head."

Pacific Historic Parks
Pacific Historic Parks

2 Responses

Jerry Ray
Jerry Ray

June 11, 2019

I love everything about Hawaii as I went to School their for 3 yrs when my Father was stationed at Hickam? First 2 yrs at Hickam Elementary and the #rd at Pearl Harbor Intermediate. Been there 4 different times as I love the History of the Islands and the Weather too?

Jerry Ray
Jerry Ray

June 11, 2019

That is fantastic? I love everything about Hawaii from it’s history to the weather? I went to School their myself for 3 yrs. 2 at Hickam AFB and the 3rd at Pearl Harbor Intermediate as my father was stationed their at Hickam ? I have been their 4 times all together ?

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