37. Miki Cacace, OUR Hawaii Milken Award Winner

Meet Rob, Colin, Abbie and Miki, collectively known as the Cacace family. Colin and Abbie are a couple of wonderful rowdy kids, Rob works at the Myron B. Thompson Public Charter School and Miki is OUR Hawaiʻi 2019/2020 Milken Family Fund Award winner from Ewa Makai Middle School. It is hard to put into words what Miki has already accomplished in her career as a teacher, guide, mentor, coach. All the boxes – student agency, experiential learning, teacher collaboration, intentional design, problem-based learning, challenge-based learning, social and emotional inclusion, product-based learning, individualized inquiry, teacher as marketing agent – have already been checked. But Miki, in so many ways, is just getting started, which is what the folks at the Milken Family Fund recognized this year. More than anything, Miki desires a strong connection with her students, which is not an easy thing in a middle school with 1400 students. But under the guidance of one of Hawaii’s truly brilliant public school leaders, Ewa Makai Principal, Kim Sanders, she is making manifest a phrase that can all too often come off as cliché: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. My middle school experience was dismal at best. One of the outcomes of preparing for this episode, and interviewing Miki, was that I longed to be back at school and in her coding classes. This is the highest compliment I can pay her! From the online announcement of Miki’s award by Milken, we get these awesome words: “In Miki Cacace’s yearlong coding class at Ewa Makai Middle School in Oahu’s Ewa Beach district of Honolulu, students learn by doing rather than watching. They create games and apps, wire their own micro: bits and troubleshoot device issues, building foundational skills they will need for 21st century careers. Cacace, a math teacher, volunteered to expand her curriculum with the coding class. Students had already chosen their electives, but Cacace promoted the new class during lunchtime, selling it as a fun and exciting alternative. Students signed up in droves, knowing that whatever Cacace was teaching, they were in good hands. She developed the curriculum with a combination of three days of summer training, resources from Project Lead the Way and Code.org and her trusted cache of instructional strategies. Cacace’s students invite friends to try out their apps, offer constructive suggestions and vote for their favorites. Cacace showcases the group’s work at Coding Night, where parents and siblings check out students’ creations. In Cacace’s class, students build confidence and practice problem-solving, decision-making and collaboration skills. During field trips to the Microsoft and Apple stores, students talk to professionals about their STEM backgrounds. Many of Cacace’s students start the year unsure of how their studies connect to their future lives and careers; Cacace bridges that gap. Building a pipeline of students who excel in computer science is a priority: Cacace is working with her peers at the district’s elementary and high schools to create a K-12 computer science program, and an advanced coding class for Ewa Makai has been established as well. She mentors new teachers and is an active member of CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association).” To learn more about Miki, click here. FYI, this episode was recorded via phone bridge to a studio in Hawaiʻi during the Covid-19 crisis. My thanks to Daniel Gilad for engineering the audio at Thunder Studios Hawaiʻi. 

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