In February, Honolulu Museum of Art School instructors took students from Prince Kuhio Elementary and Ala Wai Elementary to Mānoa stream to conduct a scientific and artistic investigation of the waterway, observing how it varies as it makes its way from mountain to ocean. The project—known as Mānoa Stream: Mauka to Makai—was designed to raise students’ awareness of their environmental surroundings, develop their observational skills, and learn how to effectively communicate scientific data. Besides Museum Art School staff, the collaborative effort included teachers from Prince Kuhio Elementary and Ala Wai Elementary, the City and County of Honolulu Environmental Services Department (ENV), and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

“Literacy and math receive the heaviest emphasis at schools and sometimes it can be challenging for teachers to find time for other subjects like art and science,” explains the museum’s associate director of outreach programs Justin Davies. “By integrating two or more subjects, it helps teachers to address a variety of standards and learning goals through a single project. The real world is, in fact, integrated, so it also allows students to learn in a more authentic context.”

Students stopped at several locations along the stream from the Mānoa Falls trailhead to Ala Moana Beach Park—where the stream finally meets the ocean. At each stop students measured temperature, oxygen levels, ph balance, turbidity, and salinity of the stream using scientific instruments like YSI water quality monitoring meters and colorimetric water testing kits provided by ENV and DLNR. They also made observational drawings of the stream and its surroundings using pencils and watercolors. They then took their findings back to the classroom and created scientific models, posters, and a 30-foot mural of the stream.

Among their findings was that human activity has had an impact on the stream and its wildlife. An example of this was found in areas where man-made channels were present. Intended to prevent flooding, these channels also raise the temperature of the water around them. The rising temperature in the water impacts the migration paths of the stream’s native gobies (‘o‘opu), which, much like salmon, swim upstream to reproduce.

Student diorama showing the migration of the ‘o‘opu

Student diorama showing the migration of the ‘o‘opu

In addition to documenting their observations, students built models that illustrate engineering solutions that address man-made problems such as diversion channels and the introduction of invasive plant species.

So what role does art play in all of this? As Davies says, “If you’re going to have a discussion about the stream, you first have to visualize it.” The mural—which was integrated into the curriculum by the Art School staff—allows people to “see” the impact of the stream, rather than just hearing about it or reading charts and graphs.

Students begin sketching the outlines of the stream for the mural.Students begin sketching the outlines of the stream for the mural.

The mural debuted at the National Association of Environmental Professionals 2015 Conference at the Waikiki Beach Marriott on April 15, where it was used as a visual aid to help students present their findings on the stream. The mural then went on view April 18 at Waikiki Aquarium’s 8th Annual Mauka to Makai Environmental Expo.

Mauka to Makai is part of an outreach program by the Art School called ‘Art Seed,’ which aims to bring art back to schools by integrating it into science and other learning programs. Learn more about the Art School’s outreach programs.