Punahou second-graders explore creativity, commerce, community

Summit + Punahou School

Oahu K-12 Schools
Place Manoa
Text Will Caron
Thread School of the Future

Located in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, Punahou is the largest coeducational, independent K–12 school on a single campus in the United States. Students at Punahou have unparalleled opportunities to cultivate their unique interests and talents under the guidance of attentive and caring teachers. Rigorous academics, robust programs in athletics and the arts, and an array of co-curricular opportunities offer an integrated, 21st-century education for the whole child.

Second-graders at Punahou are tapping into the inventive, hardy determination of Hawai‘i’s immigrant tradition to build a successful new life. Like many of their entrepreneurial forebears, the students are listening to the needs of their communities and creating products and services to meet those needs.

The curriculum that second grade teachers Caryn Matsuoka and Natalie Hayashi prepare for their students reinforces both the historical-cultural context of this proud immigrant tradition, as well as the business acumen forged in the crucible of tough transition years when first- and second-generation immigrant laborers struggled to build opportunities in a strange, new land.

“During the first half of the year, we look at how different cultures have come to Hawai‘i over the years,” says Matsuoka. “We do field trips to the Hawai‘i Plantation Village, the Japanese Cultural Center in Mō‘ili‘ili and the Mission Houses Museum. By the second half of the year, the students are familiar with the history of immigrants in Hawai‘i and we can transition toward Market Day, which we wrap up the year with.”

Originally called “Mini Society,” Punahou’s “Market Day” is designed to give young children a taste of what it’s like to function responsibly in society and to exchange goods, services and ideas through social entrepreneurship. It’s a culmination of the socioeconomic learning and experiences the teachers have provided during the rest of the school year.

Throughout the year leading up to Market Day, the Punahou teachers provide their students with an introductory look at the global economy and how it functions. The students learn economic terms and trace the flows of both capital and people through simple modeling.

“It’s all tied back into this idea of where we came from, how our ancestors survived in new lands, how their lifestyles changed and how they stayed the same, as well as how they managed resources,” adds Matsuoka. The context for their learning is rooted in the immigrant experience because that experience is crucial to understanding the way in which society—particularly in Hawai‘i—functions to this day.

After an examination of the wider world and its socioeconomic drivers, the students begin to evaluate the specific needs of their communities, their families and one another, and they start brainstorming ideas for projects. Inquiry-based research leads to an identification of these needs. For some, a need can be as simple as a game or a toy. For others, an identified need could be something more complex and global, like a means to help conserve or preserve a natural resource.

Once they have identified a need and formed an appropriate business structure, the students decide on the product or service they wish to market. “We give them production time in class, so they can shop at our market and get supplies. They can also talk to their parents, who are happy to help get supplies. But part of the project is that they actually have to then pay their parents for supplies and time—services the parents provide,” explains Matsuoka.

Then, on the actual Market Day, the students set up their business fronts and their families are invited to come experience the services and goods their kids have produced, and to spend money on them. Goods range from handmade bookmarks to kendama—a Japanese varient of the classic ball-and-cup toy made popular in Hawai‘i by Japanese immigrants—made from recycled water bottles and old tennis balls.

“That’s the beauty of Market Day,” says Hayashi: “Seeing the creativity the kids put into this mini-society. It goes back to the whole design-thinking process.”

In the real world, smart businesses test their product ideas through surveys of target clientele and potential customers. And, just like in the real world, the kids create prototypes and gather feedback before launching the real product on Market Day. The finished kendama, for example, was far more complicated and utilitarian than the prototype. It might have looked a bit unusual, but the final version was a fully-functional toy worthy of purchase, and made from upcycled material that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill.

“That relates to a major school theme,” says Hayashi. “Sustainability: the idea of making use of what you have—whatever resources, natural or man-made, that are available. Some of the products are just that: digging through grandma’s closet and looking for old fabric scraps. It’s really the mindset of being thrifty and smart about resources and looking at the economy as something that should be sustainable.”

“And being cognizant of their clientele,” adds Matsuoka: “Of who they are selling to, and who they are designing for.”

If there are ever any doubts about the power of imagination, the flexibility of thinking and the simultaneous ability to comprehend complicated concepts exhibited within children as young as 8 and 9 years old, the teachers share that each year they see students expand and bend the scope of Market Day through a seemingly endless series of inventive permutations.

“They come up with more economic variations than we know what to do with sometimes,” says Hayashi.

“We just had a class where a student asked one of the teachers to be an investor,” Matsuoka confirms. “You had second-graders negotiating partnership terms with an adult. It’s those opportunities that I think we capitalize on. The learning and the interest and the passion comes from the students, and I think that’s the joy of it here.”

“Another year, we actually ran into patent issues where a group of youngsters felt that their idea had been stolen,” Hayashi says. “It wasn’t the easiest situation, emotionally, for second-graders to process, but the fact that the idea of patent and ownership of an idea came up at all was a valuable, if challenging, lesson for them to experience. I think that’s the beauty of this curriculum. It’s ever-evolving. It keeps teachers on our toes because, although we have a set of economic and social concepts we like the students to walk away with, their take-aways seem to multiply every year that we do this.”

Punahou’s history and its founding is tied to both the transformational missionary history of Hawai‘i and the interwoven tapestry of immigration to the independent kingdom, U.S. territory and, finally, 50th unit of the United States. It’s a school that has developed into a bedrock of Hawai‘i’s new, modern economy and many of the current leaders within this island economy have come through Punahou School.

“Punahou School was founded at the site of a freshwater spring, which still exists at the heart of campus. It’s both a part of the lore of the school as well as a veritable reminder of the preciousness of our island home, its resources and the Hawaiian culture and tradition of resource stewardship,” says Matsuoka. “It’s something that we hope all our students come away with after their time spent with us here in Mānoa.”


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