Academics News

MPX 10 fish pond field trip: Humanities and STEM (and fun)

The Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) program is an innovative, interdisciplinary program featuring a project-based, community-centered curriculum as the primary focus of student work.

Posted on March 6, 2019 by Scot Allen

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A student shows off a hand-crafted fishing lure designed and made for the Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) class.


By Scot Allen

The Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) program is an innovative, interdisciplinary program featuring a project-based, community-centered curriculum as the primary focus of student work. Much like life, MPX classes are complex and multi-layered affairs, full of collaboration, cooperation, and even some fun.

Most recently, MPX tenth graders centered their projects on the Heʻeia fish ponds in Kāneʻohe, looking at invasive and predatory species, pollution, and stewardship of the environment. As the project evolved, the students even delved into state politics.

The MPX students have visited the pond four times throughout the school year. The most recent visit was for a bit of fun and for testing student-designed fishing lures. In fact, at least one small barracuda was caught (and then released) with a student-designed lure.

MPX STEM Teacher Gregg Kaneko, an avid fisherman, came up with the project.

"I like fishing myself so I thought researching, designing, building and testing a lure would be fun for the students," he said. "The lures were designed to attract predatory fish in the Heʻeia fish pond. The students have to understand the ecosystem and how it works, as well as what these fish eat."

By studying the ecosystem of the fish pond, the teachers and students were able to address the 10th grade science standards, Kaneko explained. "Using the experience and observations of the fishpond, students used it as an 'anchor' to deepen their understanding of ecology and energy transfer in a food web."

"We want to connect with students in a meaningful way," said MPX Humanities Teacher Billie Napoleon. "We pulled weeds and moved rocks the first few visits, but we always wanted to do something with civics. Senator Glenn Wakai '85 had visited our class and prompted the students to write a bill in support of their interests. Because of the fish pond trips, they immediately thought of the ocean, overfishing, nets, ropes and plastic garbage, and the fact that no one is doing anything about it. They really wanted to help."

"I enjoy crafting public policy and love interacting with students," said Senator Wakai. "I have always wanted to merge those two efforts."

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Senator Glenn Wakai '85 visited the MPX class and prompted students to write a bill in support of their interests.


Wakai met Napoleon in 2018 and the two began to outline expectations and a timeline for the start of the 2019 school year. He visited her class in September and detailed the legislative process and how the students could influence the evolution of society. In subsequent meetings, they brainstormed important issues.

"Their buy-in was important," Wakai said. "It became evident they wanted to nurture our environment. Once we identified a problem that could be addressed by the state, they decided they wanted to ban plastic beverage rings and enhance a DLNR tip app (similar to Crime Stoppers)."

The MPX tenth graders then came up with the idea for SB 1527, which is a bill designed to ban plastic beverage rings. The students also conceived of SB 1526 to fund a DLNR tip App, so people can report violations and DLNR can better document violations that are occurring and steward those areas.

"Right now, they have little information gathering ability," Napoleon said. "DLNR representatives visited our class and thanked the students for their interest, telling them that this project will really help them."

The MPX students started the process, and the bills were then written by Senator Wakai. Students conducted research to explain why the ring ban is necessary. They also researched what an effective tip App would look like, and then they presented their findings to the senator. Wakai used that input to write the bill. The MPX students were then asked to write a preamble for each bill.

Though the bills passed first reading, Napoleon said, "Wakai was realistic with us, since only about 200 out of a thousand bills actually are signed into law."


Community relationships and authentic experiences stimulate empathy and passion in Mid-Pacific students, according to Kaneko. "This was a great example of how their work at the fish pond created an emotional response in their learning."

"This experience has been gratifying for me because at the Capitol, I often see 'oh-no' moments," Wakai noted. "With the Mid-Pacific students, I got to see 'ah-ha' moments -- that moment when they see the relevance of their studies. This effort is making their learning real, and if all goes well, will ensure a better Hawaiʻi."

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It was a beautiful morning for fishing! MPX students prepare to test their lures at Heʻeia fish ponds in Kāneʻohe.