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Lokelani’s Science Guy

Creativity is the catalyst in a cool Kīhei classroom.

January 21, 2010
Trisha Smith

Originally from Pennsylvania, Yeany went to the University of Pittsburgh for engineering and one day came to a realization about his choice of study. “I didn’t like where that was headed,” he said. “So, I got up in the middle of a lecture and walked out. I changed my major and went into teaching shortly after.”

While living and working in Texas, Yeany saw an advertisement seeking teachers in Hawai‘i and took a chance.

What was supposed to be a one- to two-year “vacation” teaching in paradise has now evolved into a six-year stint at the South Maui middle school.

Article Photos

Mr. Mike Yeany captivates his sixth-graders with interactive education.

Mr. Yeany teaches sixth grade physical science and has discovered resourceful ways to deal with budget deficits, fewer school days and keiki attention span.

Books alone can’t explain science—one must experience it. The witty 28-year-old Yeany takes a hands-on approach to teaching, with a lesson plan that incorporates homemade experiments and educational tools not found in the “normal” classroom.

“The subjects of physics and chemistry on a sixth-grade level are very abstract, and it’s hard for young kids to comprehend abstract,” he said. “You have to engage and excite students to make them understand.”

Mr. Yeany brings in an array of gadgets and gizmos he’s created from “trash” and unwanted goods. “I definitely relate to the saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’”

This “sanitary dumpster diver” uses such items as a Fresnel lens he found in an old TV. The gigantic magnifying glass demonstrates power of the sun’s radiation by melting objects such as pennies.

Keiki make circuits out of old Christmas lights, and study Newton’s laws with a bottle launcher made out of old vacuum cleaner parts.

With a limited budget, and subject matter that is conceptual, it’s difficult to just buy items out of a catalog. “I stopped buying stuff because what I was making was better,” said Yeany.

An interactive whiteboard, or SMART Board, can cost nearly $3,000. After attending a TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) Conference, the innovative teacher made his own for $50 from a Wii remote.

Another piece of classroom technology is the ELMO document camera, a mounted camera attached to a digital projector that casts documents and more onto the board. They can cost anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars. Mr. Yeany used his crafty ways to make one by rewiring an old camera.

During a recent visit to Lokelani, I observed the free period known as HOKU—or Helping Our Keiki Understand. Yeany likes to use it to educate groups with activities like the “circuit circle”—a shockingly good time.

From motors and gears from old printers and VCRs to random items teachers and parents donate to his creative cause, Mr. Yeany’s classroom is chock-full of interesting thingamabobs.

His father, Bruce, is also a science teacher and “kind of a big deal back home” with the contraptions he’s created for class. His father actually has equipment featured in the Science Kit supplies catalog.

Young Yeany affirms he only uses a few items inspired by his father, and enjoys coming up with his own.

“Science is everywhere, all around us,” he said. “Kids are interested more when there’s action while learning.”

And the classroom is definitely full of action. During experiments, keiki scurry about the room, find their favorite station and start right away “playing” with science.

“I come to school for this class,” said sixth-grader Andrei.

Kids are so enthralled with Mr. Yeany that you can always find inquiring minds in his classroom—even during recess.

With a rotating schedule of days at Lokelani, Mr. Yeany only gets to see keiki a few times a week, so he makes sure he makes an impact. Sometimes it’s five days before students come back to class. “The Furlough Fridays do cut back on what we can do,” he said. “I try to make class more engaging so they remember—make the most out of the class.”

While some may go by the book, Yeany continues to see outside the box, and believes keiki can learn more by integrating schoolbooks with interactive learning.

“One thing I always pride myself in is that many of the students tell me after taking my class they were more interested in science, they wanted to learn more and science became their favorite subject,” said Mr. Yeany. “Some even say they want to be science teachers.”

He almost left a few years ago, looking at other job offers, but realized how lucky he was, where he was. “Lokelani’s a great school—the kids are great and I love the camaraderie between the teachers,” he said.

So, is Mr. Yeany glad he walked out of his engineering lecture nearly a decade ago?



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