Monthly Archives: January 2018

Preparing for College & Life

GUEST POST BY: Robert Kuhl, Principal, APIS Hawaii

I often get questions about college preparation at APIS.  Some families wonder how students can prepare for college without taking AP classes.  The high school I attended, the Illinois Math and Science Academy, did not offer AP classes, yet almost every alumnus attended college and many became well-known for creating or co-creating such companies as Paypal, YouTube, Yelp, Sparknotes, and OkCupid.  Others became federal judges, scientists, doctors, famous movie directors, teachers, surgeons, business leaders, diplomats, and exceptional parents.  The last school I worked at, High Tech High, also did not offer AP classes, yet nearly all of the alumni attended college.  Here is the story of one of those alumni

If not AP, then what?

Preparing for college at APIS begins the moment a student steps into their first class.  Students collaborate, problem solve, create, analyze, communicate and develop grit and self-efficacy by working with other students on real problems and real questions, much like adults would do.

More acutely at APIS in high school, college prep has three major prongs.

  1. Authentic projects.  When students collaborate to create work for authentic audiences, students step up.  Students might study local watersheds and make policy recommendations to government officials, or plant and maintain a sustainable garden, or bring the community together to celebrate stories of immigration, or plan a future colony on Mars.  In doing so, students must research deeply, unpack complex texts, and write clearly and compellingly.  Ultimately seniors complete a deep capstone project in an area of their own passion and interest.
  2. Academic Internships.  If college prepares students to work in the adult-world, why not have students work in the adult world as high school students?  This does not mean that internship is solely about career exploration, though this can be a secondary benefit. The real benefit of internship is that a student has college educated adults as peers and begins to behave more and more like these college educated adults.  Students who complete internships are equipped to work among college educated adults. At APIS, eleventh grade students spend a month working alongside a college-educated mentor and completing a project of meaning to both the student and the host organization.
  3. College Classes – What more authentic college experience could we offer than actual college classes?  At APIS we have an agreement with Windward Community College through which eleventh and twelfth grade students take two college courses each semester.  This gives students an opportunity to earn credit that transfers almost anywhere, to learn to navigate challenging curriculum in a supportive setting, and to explore possible pathways.  Building on a solid and broad project-based background in grades nine and ten, in grade eleven and twelve students may choose to explore many possible college classes, or develop a more focused pathway in Creative Media, Psycho-Social DevelopmentSustainable Agriculture, or Agripharmatech.

Through this approach all APIS students will graduate not only ready for college, but with college success already under their belts, and ready to take on the world.

Robert-KuhlRobert Kuhl is currently the K-12 principal at Asia Pacific International School, Hawaii.  After graduating with a B.S. from the University of Illinois he first taught via a Fulbright Fellowship in a comprehensive grade 5-12 school in Vienna, Austria, then in a large comprehensive high school in Austin, Texas, and then in an international school in Caracas, Venezuela. He most recently has served as director of one of the High Tech High schools in San Diego. Along this journey he earned an MA from the College of New Jersey and an MEd from the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. 


Education is Not a Spectator Sport

I believe education is not a spectator sport, and students learn best when what they are learning has purpose outside the classroom.  Project-based learning takes students beyond the classroom and provides them the opportunity to experience and interact with the world around them in a meaningful way.  Through project-based learning at APIS our students are gaining an understanding of how the academic content and skills they are expected to master during their school day actually connect with life outside of school.  As a result, we are experiencing students who are genuinely engaged in their learning, and growing in their understanding of how they can make a difference, rather than simply filling a seat or consuming information.  

Here are three short overviews of projects APIS students participated in this past November as part of our New Pacific Century Academy.  Each project below was an intensive, three-week project designed by teachers on our faculty and conducted in collaboration with students from our Seoul Korea campus who came to join us for the month.  (Project descriptions written by APIS faculty)

From Seed to Citizen

Essential Question:  How can we rely on ourselves and one another to live when systems fail us & resources are limited? How do our daily decisions about the food that we eat impact the world?

Project Description: Students developed and shared their insights on what makes a more sustainable community by a variety of hands-on cooking and farming activities as well as several expeditions around the island to local farmers, markets, and an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. The students learning culminated in cooking a sustainable meal for over 100 members of our community and exhibiting projects that address everyday obstacles to living more sustainably. Students’ families and peers all sat down to enjoy a homemade four-course meal. Guests explored all the ingredients used in the meal using interactive menus students created. Over the course of the entire project students developed an appreciation for the land through farming, camping, and hiking.


Culture and Identity

Essential Questions:

​How does where you live affect how you live?

How do we learn about cultures in a deep way?

What does it mean to be Hawaiian?

Project Description:  ​6th graders sought to share their cultures with each other as they explored Hawaiian culture together. Over the course of this project, students sought to look beyond the surface of their own culture and in their experience of Hawaii. Student work included collaborative mural pieces, Hawaiian music (traditional and student-composed), written artist statements, and legend narratives. Students also presented their art, music, and written pieces formally at a community exhibition event. Our students found an authentic audience for their murals and artist statements by contacting Oahu community organizations asking to display their work. We have installed two of our murals at the Hau’ula Civic Center on public display. Students were also encouraged to apply their cross-cultural learning to real-world situations in social and business situations. We found a further connection to the community by doing in-depth interviews with Native Hawaiians and engaging in cultural activities outside of school such as taro (kalo) farming and outrigger canoe paddling.


Outriggers to Internet

Essential Question:  How do innovations in communication and transportation transform a society from isolation to globalization?

Project Description:  During this three-week program, students explore a variety of innovations in communication and transportation to better understand how these advancements impact society, contribute to pace of change, and, in turn, globalize our world. Students create seven immersive experiences to allow for the community to build an understanding of their essential questions and enduring understandings. These immersive experiences include posters, presentations, and interactive activities.  These stations have included: Airplane innovating, Boat creation and racing, Virtual Reality, Postcard Making, Drone flying, Reading Choose Your Own Adventures made by the students, and listening to Student Podcasts.  


Throughout the rest of the Fall semester students engaged in a variety of projects that integrated academic standards from Science, Social Studies, and English Language Arts.  From simulated colonization of mars, to watershed and reef studies, to connecting aesthetics and environmental science in the creation of an elementary garden, students got their hands dirty and ignited their minds around real, meaningful work.  I can’t wait to see what our kids accomplish next.

For more examples of awesome Project-based Learning Units see our Project Site:


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