Creatively Adapting to Distance

By Rachel Breitweser ’03 and Diane Seo ’85

Over the summer, faculty and administrators dug deep to prepare for the upcoming school year, brainstorming ways to thoughtfully adapt Punahou’s curriculum during times of distance learning. “We had three months to become much more prepared for what high-quality online teaching and learning looks like,” said Sally Mingarelli, Academy assistant principal for curriculum and faculty.

Faculty across the grade levels took part in summer workshops and professional development, including through the Global Online Academy. This resulted in the rollout of innovative online tools to foster learning, along with other lessons to connect with students in meaningful ways.

“One of the things we’re working on, even pre-pandemic, is figuring out how to personalize the Punahou experience for students,” Mingarelli said. “Part of that personalization is honoring the fact that kids progress through their learning at different speeds, and online learning really gives us a chance to build skills in that.”

Despite not being in their classrooms, Mingarelli said faculty figured out how students could use their own home environments to learn lessons. For example, in her Academy chemistry class, where density was being taught, instead of being quizzed, students showed what they learned from their homes. This ranged from figuring out the thickness of a piece of aluminum foil, to determining if a penny was made before or after 1982, and even showing how a whale sinks or floats depending on density and the temperature.

Siblings Aviv Tabori ’28 and Dahlia Tabori ’24 sit side-by-side for virtual sessions on the opening day of school. Top photo: Eames Williams ’31, a second grader, connects with classmates from home.

Meanwhile, English teacher and Academy Department chair Holly Greenwell ’86 created a virtual experience, where students in her science fiction class applied tools such as Padlet to interact with each other and create an online community. Another program, Hypothesis, allowed them to collaborate online to annotate content and collectively generate ideas for projects and stories.

Such creative online applications extended to the Junior School, where literacy coaches, Melanie Coffelt and Joe Mazzullo, worked with teachers to utilize online resources that the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop recently released. Faculty also tapped tools to assess students’ reading levels virtually.

In math, second grade teachers Lanelle Nishikawa, Natalie Hayashi and Alan Lum ’80 participated in a summer workshop with nationally recognized math educator and online game developer Greg Tang, to provide engaging opportunities for students. Art, music, PE, Hawaiian Studies and Outdoor Education also have all been creatively adapted for distance learning.

K – 1 music teacher Amanda Lippert said children have been using fun tools and materials to sing and move from home, exploring their speaking, whispering, singing and shouting voices. “They practice high and low sounds while echoing my slide whistle, making siren sounds, ‘yeehaws’ and ‘mmmms,’” she said. “We sing movement songs like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,’ ‘My Hands’ and ‘Tony Chestnut.’”

First graders have learned about such composers as Johann Sebastian Bach, listening, moving and singing to the music. “The children will also see short videos of outstanding music played by diverse and talented musicians,” she said. “Overall, there will be even more listening and music appreciation activities throughout both grade levels this year.”

At Case Middle School, during the first two days of orientation, teachers applied what they learned from their summer professional development through the Global Online Academy to build rich experiences that focused on relationship building and wayfinding, said Chase Mitsuda ’98, grades
6 – 8 assistant principal and dean of faculty and curriculum. “Our teachers designed really engaging days that connected students with the School, teachers and their peers.”

To keep her students engaged and informed, eighth grade English teacher Christina Torres moved toward more project-based learning and video work – making videos to explaining things that students can watch on their own time, at their own pace. “This lets students feel a bit more empowered and allows them to be able to move away from the screen when needed,” she said.

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