Kim Honda began her tenure at HPA in 2014 and has found her calling as a middle school social studies teacher, focusing on sixth grade world cultures and geography and seventh grade U.S. history. In her capstone course, called Take Action, students select a focus from the UN’s 17 global sustainable development goals and develop a related project. The goals, which the UN calls on the world to achieve by 2030, are incredibly diverse, giving Honda’s students the opportunity to explore a range of topics including poverty, gender equality, energy, economies, and clean water. Kim received a B.A. from Arizona State University.
World cultures is a broad topic. How do you help your students navigate?
We start sixth grade by exploring the five themes of geography: location, place, movement, region, and human-environment interaction. Everything filters through those themes. We begin with physical geography, and then we talk about the human systems that are superimposed: religion, politics, culture… We explore how those things are connected to where people live, and then we move into more in-depth regional studies. Ultimately, students each pick a region to explore on their own, and they share their findings with the class. It’s really a joy to experience because they’re so eager in sixth grade! We try to do as many projects and group work as possible so that they can learn as a community, sharing ideas and knowledge.
How does your teaching shift in seventh grade for U.S. history?
In sixth grade, they’re learning to think like geographers, and in seventh grade, they’re learning to think like historians. We look at primary source documents to find evidence to answer our questions. We ask: How valid is this source? What is the context? What was happening? Who was the audience? They are used to looking for the “right answer.” We often think history is something that is “done” and we know what happened, but I try to get my students to see that we’re putting a story together based on the evidence we have. I feel like my job—more than teaching specific content—is to teach them how to think and how to go through a meaningful process to make decisions.
What do you love most about teaching middle school?
I love this age! I love how open they are to new ideas. They’re just independent enough and just clear enough in their thinking and logic, but young enough at heart to still be open. They really want the world to be just and fair, and they want the world to be right.
What is your favorite place on the island?
I grew up on the Navajo reservation near the border of Arizona and New Mexico. Before my family moved to the Big Island, we were living in the Phoenix area. My husband is Hawaiian and grew up in Waimea and after many years in the desert he had had enough. He missed his ocean! The Navajo reservation is really wide open with space stretching between horizons. Waimea has that same open feel to me. I love Waimea because I know where I am; I can see where I am and feel very grounded here. And honestly I can’t imagine a better place on the planet to teach geography. Students can see the rain shadow effect, wet-side and dry-side, elevation, how the foliage changes from one side to the other… Our students have personally experienced so much of what we talk about in geography. This is a special place and I feel privileged to live here.