STEM Pre-Academy

Welcome to STEM Pre-Academy!

STEM Pre-Academy fosters inspiration and relevance in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics through collaborative interaction between middle school teachers, university researchers and subject matter experts. Multidisciplinary interaction takes place in the form of teacher workshops, technical support and tools, and is driven by teacher inquiry and need. This statewide program helps educators in Hawai‘i’s public middle schools develop research-inspired technologies and processes and implement them in student curriculum and activities.

STEM Pre-Academy provides similar collaborative educational experiences that enable University of Hawai‘i research students to interact with Hawai‘i teachers and students in the classroom, in the field, and through online participation.

Through its projects and partnerships, STEM Pre-Academy introduces teachers to STEM research, technology, and innovation—supplying their students with the inspiration to consider technology and educational workforce possibilities in their future careers.

Mad Science Takes Root at Wheeler Middle School - Growing into the NGSS

Traditional science instruction has alternated between classroom lectures on content and labs, where the concepts are explored through experiments. While this method can effectively deliver a science curriculum, it may limit opportunities to explore concepts through a real-world lens. With full implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) mandate drawing closer, educators are transitioning to a multifaceted (three-dimensional, if you will) approach rooted in student involvement and experiential learning.

With STEM Pre-Academy support, Wheeler Middle School has begun this transition. This school year, William Falzarano and his 7th grade students have been applying engineering design process to their life science content. Using elements of the engineering design process and the engineering notebook, students individually designed mini-hydroponics containers to grow heads of Anuenue lettuce. Falzarano shares that “the students benefit from learning to maintain a[n engineering] notebook, creating something they are responsible for, and taking care of a living thing.”

The 9 week germination-to-harvest process is designed to fit into an academic quarter. The simplicity of the non-circulating Kratky method creates an ideal balance between content immersion and time effectiveness; after initial setup, students monitored their plant’s progress regularly, but did not need to work excessively to maintain its growth. The largely self-sustaining system freed up the majority of the quarter to cover other content, and could also be used as a springboard for teaching other material. This kind of flexibility makes the project both scalable and adaptable to many different classroom situations.

Hydroponics in the classroom allows for a tangible learning experience integrating life science principles deeply rooted in earth science, environmental phenomena and sustainability practices. The simplicity of these student-designed systems encourages pupils to share their learning at home, and may help to bridge the gap between school and family support systems. The call for recycled containers was met with enthusiastic response from parents and school community—parents endorsed the project by supplying enough containers to support implementation for the majority of the school year.

Problem-solving project opportunities such as this help students develop critical skills and confidence that better prepare them for life beyond middle school. After two quarters of successful implementation, Leighton Nakamoto, Wheeler Middle School Vice Principal remarked that “the students really connect with the creativity and design process… it’s important to allow them to engage with the subject in a way that better prepares them to effectively pursue their interests.”

With Mad Science and the Anuenue lettuce in good hands, Wheeler Middle School looks forward to future opportunities for hands-on learning and the engineering design process in the classroom.

Want to learn more? Contact us!

Cosmic Rays

A Cosmic Addition to Our Website!

2017 was a exciting year for collaboration with Dr. Veronica Bindi, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. We kicked off the partnership with a hosted presentation by Dr. Bindi for students and teachers entitled, When is the Best Time to Send Astronauts to Mars? We kept the collaboration going with a research-inspired project to design and build a low-cost particle detector that will, when complete, be an excellent hands-on resource for teachers and students.

We're happy to announce some fantastic resources available now on our online Space Particle Group Outreach pages. You'll find edited videos of the When is the Best Time to Send Astronauts to Mars? presentation, as well as a wealth of other materials and resources related to Dr. Bindi's exciting work.

Please check it out, and stay tuned for a bunch more exciting updates!

Research and Engineering Design Skills Clinic Featured!

RED Clinic

The October, 2017 Research and Engineering Design Skills Clinic for Students and Teachers (RED) event has been featured in the University of Hawai‘i news!

Check it out!

(And also have a look at the video trailer that was produced!)

Julie Segawa

Diving Deeper - A Teacher’s Experience with C-MORE Science Kits in the Classroom with Julia Segawa

As an 8th grade Earth and Space Science teacher, Julia Segawa enjoys “watching science come alive through hands-on, content-related activities.” Julia is the Stevenson Middle School host for the STEM Pre-Academy C-MORE Science Kits, and uses the kits to supplement her curriculum throughout the year. Read more...

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality - Ready, Set, Go!

Virtual reality and augmented reality are on the rise in classrooms. Here's a primer on getting started. Read more...

The Leaves

randallshinn's picture

Thanks for allowing me to use the Sphero's in preparation for the Solar Sprint Challenge!

Here are just a few pictures and description of how I used it


Students took on the semi-truck Sphero's challenge where each group (of 2 students) had to go through the engineering design process to create their semi-truck. The purpose was to engage them in just using the Sphero's and be creative in coming up with concepts, modifying it and testing their prototypes in terms of carrying the most weight.
Time: 3 weeks (4 - 30min class) .
Next Step:
Taking on the Solar Sprint Competition now that they have a better understanding of going through the EDP (no terms was used in the Sphero challenge) .

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Photo Credit:
lifescienceswahiawa's picture

Wave Tank (Wind Powered)

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lifescienceswahiawa's picture

Wave Tank (Paddle Powered)

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lifescienceswahiawa's picture

Wave Tanks (HCPSIII 8.6.3 and NGSS PS 4-1, PS 4-2)
Thank you for letting us use the wave tanks again! The unit was split into two main activities. Part 1 was to use the wave tanks to explore different characteristics of waves (amplitude, frequency, and wavelength). They then used the speed equations (distance/time and frequency*wavelength) to calculate speed. Part 2 was to use the engineering design process to create a boat to then race across the length of the wave tank. Students could choose from either wind energy (blown air through a straw) or paddle energy (using the paddle). The constraints: small enough to fit into the tank and no electrical components.

Feb 25 2019 - 11:55am

caroline.wood's picture

Aloha @lifescienceswahiawa,

Thank you so much for sharing! These kinds of tactile learning experiences and application of the engineering design process are so powerful. We are very fortunate to be able to support teachers like you. Mahalo for all that you do!

Feb 25 2019 - 5:11pm
pyerxa's picture

Aloha Edwin - do you have some type of transmission ideas for gears? I want to have students be able to test out different gears. Mahalo

Feb 20 2019 - 8:43am

edwinjcolon's picture

Aloha Paige ( @pyerxa ),

Thanks for your question. This is an important consideration for teachers and students designing small cars for classroom use and competitions like the Solar Sprint. I find that Tamiya Gearboxes are highly adaptable for multiple projects, including designing and building Chem-E-Cars ( ). This link has a good example of their variety:

Personally, I like the Tamiya 72005 6-Speed Gearbox Kit ( ) for its multiple gear ratios. Have you had success with any other gearboxes?

Please let us know what you come up with!


Edwin ( @edwinjcolon )

Mar 1 2019 - 9:33am

See the rest of the Leaves...