76. Meeting Students Where They Are At, With Wes Adkins

Speaking of a thousand points of light, my guest today is Wes Adkins, a math teacher at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, the largest school in all of Hawai‘i. He proudly works in an inclusion classroom, promotes self-paced learning environments, and implements project based learning assessments. Nipsey Hustle and Vector90 inspired him to work in STEM education and teach students the skills for locally minded entrepreneurship. A first generation college graduate and a film buff all his life, Wes recently won a $25,000 Education Innovation Teacher Challenge grant for his proposal to have his students create the Ewa Beach Drive-In. The award was given by Farmer’s Insurance Hawaii and the Public Schools of Hawai’i Foundation. Wes sees launching a drive-in cinema as a great way to harness his students’ varied interests and help them develop diverse skills, from engineering the movie screen to curating and creating films, and developing business plans, computer apps, even recipes for the snack bar. “The possibilities are limitless,” Wes notes. “I’m a firm believer that if you can just find something that you love, you can learn about the rest of the world through that thing that you love.” Wes is also deeply interested in culturally responsive pedagogy, ethnomathematics and the “gamification” of learning, especially math. A Teach for America corps member, Wes is in only his third year as a math teacher. “You wouldn’t know that he is a math teacher because he integrates so many things,” James Campbell High School Principal, Jon Henry Lee once said. “And that’s what’s going to make the learning that much more powerful for the student. It comes from these integrated projects where you connect the dots. He captures their imagination first. A lot of students, the second you talk about geometry or math and things like that, sometimes it turns them off, right? But if you talk about a project that incorporates all the things they care about, whether its the marketing, pulling together the engineering, creating stories … that’s what clicks with students,” notes Principal Lee. Wes hails from California and his wife is from Japan, so Hawai’i is a perfect midway point for their growing family. His first year at James Campbell High School was disrupted by the pandemic, but his students are now fully back on campus. Wes has an undergraduate degree in film and digital media production from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a masters in culturally responsive education from Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa.  My editor and creative consultant is Evan Kurohara. Theme music is provided by my friend of 40 years, Michael Sloan. You can find his music, 12 albums and over 100 songs in Spotify, Apple Music and all the other major music platforms. Please stay safe and healthy, listeners, and please get vaccinated. A hui hou, and take care. 

Links:

  1. Drive-in Theater Article
  2. Drive-in Theater Site
  3. Spark and Inspire Film
  4. Hawaiʻi Public Radio Interview
  5. MANGA High
  6. Ethnomath 
  7. YayMath!
  8. Pixar in a Box
  9. Durable Skills
  10. The TFA Learning Lab
Episode Theme Music by Michael Sloan
Editor and Creative Consultant, Evan Kurohara