Navigating the Stars in VR

Related: Inside the Classroom: Hawaiian Voyaging at Punahou
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Students are studying traditional ocean navigation all from the comfort of their own classroom as part of Voyaging at Punahou, a Design Technology and Engineering program that spans subjects and grade levels.

Thanks to a VR application called Kilo Hōkū, or “Navigating the Stars,” students can set sail on a virtual canoe modeled after the Hōkūleʻa and explore the stars and constellations at sea. The tool teaches complex navigation skills using traditional star navigation methods.

“The VR program puts students out at sea,” Taryn Loveman, director of Design Technology and Engineering, explained. “You can control the time of year and latitude, navigate to different places, and advance time to see the stars change.” Currently the program is being tested by students in a Voyaging elective class, ninth grade social studies students and seniors in a capstone class.

The VR program was initially created by a computer science graduate from the University of Hawai‘i, who mapped NASA star images onto a VR sphere model. It has been further improved with the help of Punahou faculty, who have guided software programers from UH to make updates based on what will be most beneficial for students in the classroom. Most importantly, the program is publicly accessible for anyone with a VR headset.

The collaboration between Punahou teachers and local experts serves as a model for future initiatives which can benefit the community. Loveman envisions more of these types of endeavors taking shape within the future Emergent Technology Center, located within the new Academy Learning Commons.

“Our intention with this project is to bridge traditional knowledge with new technology while maintaining the important teacher-student relationship and also expanding access to this valuable experience and knowledge,” Loveman said.

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Left: A view from inside the VR program. Right: Alumni try out the VR experience during Alumni Week.

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