Classroom Connections | C2C: Mr. Sugiyama’s Classroom

Last month, teachers from around O`ahu met at Wai`anae Intermediate School for a Canoe 2 Classroom Workshop that featured lessons developed by Gary Sugiyama, Special Education and Resource teacher at Waipahu High School.  Gary currently teaches higher level math courses like Geometry, Trigonometry, and Algebra 2.  Many of his students only take these upper level classes to satisfy a course requirement for graduation.  They often have a long history of struggle in mathematics and rarely see themselves as capable when they enter Mr. Sugiyama’s class.  And yet, Gary has found that making connections between the mathematical concepts he is trying to teach his students and the canoe helps the students to be more engaged with the subject, and as a result, find more success in learning.  Complex mathematical information and jargon is broken down and can be viewed through a lens of local knowledge and vocabulary.


In Geometry class, Gary teaches foundational concepts and core vocabulary through the Hawaiian Star Compass, developed by Nainoa Thompson and used by navigators to steer Hōkūle`a around the world.  In constructing their own Star Compass students learn about lines, segments, angles, bisectors, and circles.   In addition to theoretical and technical knowledge, students gain drawing and construction skills through hands on activities that utilize traditional classroom tools like rulers, compasses and protractors.


For his Trigonometry class, Mr. Sugiyama uses the sails, mast and rigging of a voyaging canoe to help students gain a foundation in SOH CAH TOA.  Otherwise known to the Math teacher or  engineer as the basic trigonometric ratios.  The right triangles created by the mast, stays, shrouds, and sails provide a perfect playground for exploring the ins and outs of the sine, cosine, and tangent functions.


Students gain insightful knowledge about ratios and congruence, while acquiring useful skills of measurement and construction.  They can see, touch and feel the importance of Math in their lives and in the world around them.


Mr. Sugiyama, with the guidance and support of Linda Furato and graduates of her Ethnomathematics course at the University of Hawai`i, has also developed a lo`i design project.  Inspired by the notion of the use of aquaponics systems to address issues of sustainability and food production, Gary challenges his students to design a lo`i or loko (fishpond).  Initially, students work in pairs to research the different types of lo`i and loko used by the indigenous Hawaiians.  Once the students have decided on the type of system they want to design and where they would like to build it, they must then base their ideas on the general tide, wave and current patterns that exists in their chosen location.  The students must also consider the mauka and makai conditions that may affect the lo`i or loko environment, as well as the surrounding coastal environment.  Through this student driven STEAM project, students are able to integrate a variety of subjects and skills including from art, design, reading, writing, critical thinking, and public speaking to name a few!

Do you want to connect with Mr. Sugiyama and try one of his lessons? Do you have great ideas on how to connect your classroom to the canoe and mālama honua through activities, lessons and units?  Come on down and jam on lesson plan ideas with us!  Contact for more information on upcoming C2C workshops and other educator opportunities!

We also hope to see you at Homecoming on June 17th and the Mālama Honua Summit to follow!

(Photo Credits: Gary Sugiyama)

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