Why Kaʻana Solutions
When I was teaching middle school science, one of the things that really bothered me, on a daily basis, was this growing realization that there was so much more that my students were capable of doing, that my students wanted to be doing, that I was not able to give them. They wanted to do things, make things, solve big problems. I tried my best to give them these opportunities, but often fell short. Skip forward a couple of years and I was a school district technology leader. There were students who wanted to work with my technology team, and I was able to provide an opportunity for a few of them to engage collaboratively in an internship-type role. It was a bit ad-hoc, but the creativity and ideas that the students brought was impressive. Again, though, my capacity to really meet student interest in this kind of engagement was limited due to the day-to-day demands on me and team. Both of these experiences shaped some emerging beliefs that have stayed with me and grown over the last several years.
First, it's clear that students are capable of accomplishing amazing things when given the opportunity and support. All good teachers know this. Expectations matter, and just as in the real world, students need to be given the opportunity to make some mistakes and struggle if they are going to find solutions to important problems. But if we trust them and challenge them with meaningful work and provide just enough guidance so they don’t get lost along the way, they will rise to the occasion. And this applies to all students, not just the ones who are already achieving at high levels.
Second, students want and need authentic hands-on experiences that allow them to practice the kinds of skills that are necessary in our rapidly evolving world of work, including collaborative and creative problem solving, project management, and the increasingly pervasive integration of technology into day-to-day tasks and activities. These kinds of experiences provide an important “why” context to the learning environment - they provide a reason for learning and an opportunity to “ma ka hana ka ʻike” (learn by doing). Good teachers know this too, but it can be difficult for a school to provide these kinds of opportunities without a lot of support from the larger community.
Third, teachers and administrators are already operating at maximum capacity. While there are many examples of teachers and schools creating authentic learning opportunities for students, it is too much to ask every school to build their own programs. And IT teams at schools and at district offices are largely tapped out dealing with the accelerating evolution of technology, the proliferation of devices and apps, and all the data that needs to be managed. It can be overwhelming for schools and administrators to provide all the supports necessary to ensure effective usage of technology, especially when it needs to extend to families and communities.
So after a great deal of discussion, research and advice, this spring I partnered with students and administrators from Hawaii Technology Academy, a innovative charter school with five campuses on four islands, to envision a model that could address the problems and leverage the opportunities to deliver a new value proposition. The Kaʻana Solutions business model was designed to be a partner with schools in tapping the deep potential of students to create new capacity for technical innovation, while providing a pathway for students to build the kinds of skills that are necessary now, and will be necessary in the future, to become entrepreneurs and future business leaders. A non-profit business built on human-centered values, it operates like a technology consultancy, with students providing high-value services and delivering on meaningful projects, while utilizing the same technologies and processes that for-profit businesses use in the real world. And wrapped around it is Na Hopena Aʻo, a cultural values framework developed by the Hawaiʻi Department of Education with extensive community participation and released in 2015. In addition to its usage by many schools in Hawaiʻi, our team discovered that it also presents a remarkably relevant values framework for a mission-driven business like ours, especially one developing future leaders in Hawaiʻi. This aspect of the model deserves much more than I can cover here, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface, but suffice it to say that learning about and exploring the concepts behind Na Hopena Aʻo has been an incredibly enlightening experience.
As a community partner designed to provide the resources necessary to drive positive outcomes for all stakeholders, Kaʻana Solutions is deploying the creative capacity of students, with mentoring from people experienced in the world of business and educational technology, to create a win-win-win solution that has the potential to dramatically improve the way that technology is used in learning environments, at the same time providing students with authentic career pathway opportunities. All while providing additional capacity for school technology teams to meet needs driven by the explosion in new technologies being deployed in classrooms and extended learning spaces. Some examples of the multi-dimensional stakeholder benefits include:
For Schools: Additional support for teachers, parents and school IT teams - students provide support and learning opportunities for teachers and families, while building a technical knowledge framework that the whole community can access.
For Students: Development of in-demand professional skills and expertise - the Kaʻana program develops skills from basic readiness to applied practice and ultimately to self-directed projects and externally-facing intership-type experiences.
For Parents: Greater support for engagement with schools through technology - students engage with parents and families, coming up with new ideas to help them better use schools technology platforms and applications.
Over the next several months we will be preparing for our pilot launch for the 2019-2020 school year. There is so much still to learn, but the response and support from the community here has been incredibly positive. It’s been especially inspirational to engage students in the design work we’ve done this spring - they have proven the value that students can bring to innovation work and make me hopeful for our future!
Our blog will be up in the next few weeks, but in the meantime you can follow me on Twitter @stevin and Kaʻana Solutions on Twitter and Instagram @kaanasolutions. And please reach out with questions, comments or to offer any support. Mahalo!