Integrating ‘Stem’ in the Classroom

Camila Chaudron '08

October 21, 2014

When Academy Science Department Head Anna Liem ’93 received a message from President Jim Scott ’70 informing her that a generous donor was offering the School a gift of $1 million to further integrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles into the curriculum, “I started dreaming,” she said. The gift comes from Ken Richardson ’48, an aerospace pioneer and the former President and COO of Hughes Aircraft Company, who strongly believes in the importance of STEM education and in the power of the Punahou experience.

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Justin Lai explained a class assignment to an Academy Engineering student in the Gates Learning Center in September 2014.

Liem asked three previous Academy Science Department Heads to dream with her and consider ways that this gift might support the future growth of the science department at Punahou. Together with the administrative leadership, they identified several areas where a gift of this magnitude could be transformative. These include: additional professional development opportunities targeted to current science teachers and an engineering and design workshop space for Academy students.

Richardson’s gift also allowed Punahou to hire a full-time faculty member to support an increased integration of technology, engineering and math into the science curriculum. Justin Lai, who joined the Academy science department this fall to fulfill that role, has a B.S. and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He previously ran a grants initiative at MIT that helped students develop invention ideas into working prototypes.

In order to benefit Punahou’s broad curricular offerings, Lai is working on several fronts at once. He is helping science teachers create innovative inquiry-based projects tailored to each class. In Hanno Adams’ physics class, students are engaged in a project that applies physics principles to real-life phenomenon – such as measuring the velocity, arc and force of a basketball hurtling toward a net. With the robotics, chemistry and anatomy teachers, Lai helps design engineering questions that challenge students to think about science in an inter-disciplinary context.

Lai is also heavily involved in the design thinking process for the Academy Learning Commons, part of an initiative to reimagine the libraries of the 21st century. “I’m looking at ways to further connect the community to engineering problems by examining the space, layout, tools and unique culture of Punahou,” he explained.

While Liem notes that they are still mapping out the gift’s potential, she noted that it has already “brought us valuable technical support and an array of inspiring possibilities to the Science Department.”

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