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Kaulele (To Take Flight) - Creating a Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Indigenous-led Design Framework for STEM Exhibits

September 1, 2023 - August 31, 2028 | Exhibitions

Over the past few decades, the science museum field has been working toward better understanding of and approaches to designing exhibits that reflect more diverse ways of learning and knowing, and support broader participation in STEM and informal STEM learning. This project, led by the local Hawaiian community organization Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE), will develop and study a Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (NHPI) Indigenous-led exhibit design framework. The project team recognizes that developing Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander trust in the scientific enterprise requires building connections that bridge the values and concepts of 'ike kupuna (traditional knowledge) with scientific knowledge systems and contemporary technology. This project stems from pilot and feasibility studies that resulted in three pop-up science exhibitions and laid the groundwork for an initial framework. In collaboration with Kamehameha Schools, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), Discovery Children's Museum-Las Vegas, Honolulu City and County Parks and Recreation, and others, the team will follow the initial framework to develop two exhibitions that are grounded in Indigenous Hawaiian epistemologies and cultural connections to STEM. Responsive to local needs and interests, the exhibits will be designed and delivered as pop-up experiences reaching multiple rural Hawaiian communities and may cover Indigenous systems of star navigation for ocean voyaging, systems of netting for food and water containers, or systems of home design with local and natural materials. Throughout the iterative development of the exhibitions, the project will employ Indigenous Hawaiian and Western research and evaluation methods to study and refine the NHPI Indigenous-led design framework.

The culture-first approach of the NHPI Indigenous-led design framework has strong potential to transform the ways that the science museum field is thinking about and doing exhibit design. This project will focus on two research questions: 1) What are the critical elements of an NHPI Indigenous-led design process for culture-based STEM exhibits that are necessary to retain the Indigenous foundation and characteristics of the culture?; and 2) Can an NHPI Indigenous-led exhibition design framework and process result in consistent replication of results in engagement, increased interest, and relational relevance in STEM topics for Native Hawaiians? To answer the first question, the team will prioritize Indigenous epistemologies, participatory approaches, and the integration of Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultural research and evaluation practices. Data collection and analyses will honor the cultural concepts of mo'oku'auhau (genealogy) and ho'oilina (inheritance), and include traditional assessment models such as ho'ike and 'uniki, which assess learners' acquisition and understanding of knowledge and skills and their ability to demonstrate and communicate such knowledge and skills. Qualitative methods such as interviews, observations, and document analysis will be employed to capture the holistic experiences, contextual understandings, and interconnections within. Practices such as wala'au (talk story) create spaces for open dialogue, where the voices and perspectives of the community, educators, and learners ensure inclusivity, agency, and alignment with Indigenous perspectives. Nune Maila (reflection) exercises will foster self-awareness and critical examination of cultural biases within the research and evaluation teams. These reflection processes align with ancestral methods used to make meaning of acquired knowledge and skills. To answer the second question, the team will use results from summative visitor experience data (n = 40-50 per pop-up exhibition) to understand whether the framework can be consistently applied across multiple exhibits, STEM content areas, and various cultural topics to effectively engage Indigenous Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations through informal STEM exhibits. Results from this work will be disseminated locally though annual presentations to community interest groups, newsletters and media spotlights, and publications such as Hulili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being. Results will also be shared broadly at national and regional conferences and through practitioner-focused publications, such as ASTC Dimensions Magazine.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2314144
Funding Amount: $2,000,000.00


  • Maile Keliipio-Acoba
    Principal Investigator
    Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE)
  • Resource Type: Projects | Project Descriptions
    Discipline: General STEM
    Audience: General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals
    Environment Type: Museum and Science Center Exhibits
    Access and Inclusion: Ethnic/Racial | Indigenous and Tribal Communities | Pacific Islander Communities

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