Kristin Tarnas, fifth grade teacher

Kristin Tarnas, often known for her bee-centric capstone course and her classroom observation hive, is an earnest and dedicated educator. She earned her B.A. at Bennington College in Vermont, an M.S.Ed. from Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan, and she is working on her MLIS from UH Manoa. After college she returned home to Hawai`i and began teaching in Waimea, and in 2004, she made her way to HPA, where she currently shepherds our fifth graders over the threshold to middle school.


Where did you grow up, and what fostered a love of learning for you?
I am from two islands, was born on Long Island, New York and moved to Hawai‘i Island when I was two. My formal education began at Head Start preschool in Pahoa, where I remember being intrigued by left-handed scissors (I am right-handed). Later on, I was home-schooled. Luckily I enjoyed reading, but I desperately wanted to be in “school” with my peers and slept with algebra textbooks from Honoka’a library under my pillow…which may have worked. One summer my grandparents, concerned about my lack of any intentional education, had me visit a boarding high school in New Hope, Pennsylvania. I was relieved to be awarded need-based scholarships to attend. As a financial aid student I built strong relationships with the cooks while washing breakfast dishes in the cafeteria, which gave me fabulous omelet-making privileges! With my non-schooling experience I had a uniquely enthusiastic perspective in classes and a particular appreciation for academia. I was thrilled to be in a school learning environment, guided by teachers whose sole objective was to design and facilitate student learning.

Do you feel like science is especially important right now? Why does it matter for all students to be scientifically literate?
Whew! I think it is always important to be scientifically literate; however, I think we are wise to shift from “training” scientists to educating people in science. I believe that we need to empower students to ask questions and take initiative to find truths while acknowledging the complexity and critical need for diversity in our biological systems. If we can find ways in education to apply the mediation motto of “shift judgment to curiosity” when observing and interacting with the sciences, we may be more effective in our sustainability efforts.

What role would you choose in a hive? Queen? Worker? Drone? 🙂
Ah, interesting question! I have thought a lot about this. A queen can live for years but she is constantly surrounded by attendant bees who basically keep her fed and moving so she can keep laying up to a couple thousand eggs a day. If she lets off, she gets replaced. Sounds like working in Silicon Valley. So not a queen! The drones either die in mating or get kicked out of the hive to die when resources are low. So not a drone. I guess a worker bee, if I had to decide. They do not live long and they work incredibly hard, but their jobs change with age so there is diversity, and they are essential to every part of the hive’s functioning so they have a strong sense of purpose. Yet, it is a superorganism, so choosing a role would be counter-culture for a hive.

What’s on your nightstand reading list?
My school break fiction indulgences included classic English mysteries with strong female protagonists set earlier than WWII and some forays into lively works of authors like Michael Chabon Recently, I have read Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism and am re-dipping in some of my favorites to inspire capstone facilitation, like Ron Berger’s Ethic of Excellence, Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible, Beer and Probst’s book on reading called Disrupting Thinking, and John Dewey’s Experience and Education which continues to seem hot off the press. Although articles, blogs, and podcasts often make up a larger part of my professional learning plate.