Classroom Connections | Model Waʻa

Over the last 4 years, educators across the state have been working hard to develop lessons, activities and other curriculum that classroom teachers can use to connect students to theme of Mālama Honua and the Worldwide Voyage (WWV). Some of these lessons have been a significant part of the community outreach engagements in ports of call, helping to engage students all over the world in the Voyage. One of the most popular activities used in outreach invites children of all ages to build 3-D model waʻa (canoes) and then use them to explore the star compass and other concepts of celestial navigation.model waa2

The model waʻa used in the activity, including those that are traveling with Hōkūleʻa , were actually handcrafted by inmates at Kauaʻi Community Correctional Center (KCCC) with wood donated from various local businesses. The miniature crab claw sails that accompany each waʻa are made from either donated burlap or brown paper. Since 2013, students all over the world have assembled more than 3,000 miniature voyaging waʻa. Some have also been given away as makana (gifts) to show our appreciation in various ports of call.

model waa3The Model Waʻa activity was originally developed by Capt. Steve Soltysik, Kauaʻi resident and educator, who has also served as a crewmember on the WWV. Captain Steve has been sharing his love for the ocean with Kauaʻi fourth-graders for many years now, through maritime classes where students work in teams to build larger model-versions of voyaging canoes. Once the waʻa are built, students actually put the canoes in small kiddie pools and learn the basics of steering, paddling, weight distribution and water safety.

model waa4

model waaIn preparation for the WWV, Captain Steve expanded his waʻa lesson to include a basic introduction to the Hawaiian Star Compass used for navigation onboard Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia. Once the model canoes are built, students then use them to explore the Star Compass, and hopefully begin to develop a sense of place and direction. Once they have a basic understanding of how to use the Star Compass, students then use the model waʻa to to demonstrate their understanding, pointing them towards the ‘house’, or direction, that Hōkūleʻa’s navigators use to find Tahiti. More recently, Captain Steve further developed his Star Compass activity to introduce students to some of the foreign languages crewmembers would encounter along the WWV.model waa5

Any teachers interested in using any of these lessons with students can email Steve directly at You can find additional resources developed by educators for the WWV on the Learning Center website.

Ready to try out any of these lessons or resources? Email us at to share with us what you do with this content – we would love to see pictures and student reflections that we can share on social media and our website!

Doing another kind of project to mālama your community? Share Your Mālama Honua Story with us!

Are your students still in the beginning stages of identifying a problem they would like to try and solve? Don’t forget to check out the Mālama Honua Challenge and share your ideas about work that can be done in the future!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email