Kamehameha School Teacher Wins National Award

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Joel Truesdell, chemistry teaching at Kamehameha Schools Hawaii Campus. Photo courtesy of Kamehameha Schools.

Chemistry teacher Joel Truesdell of Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi campus was awarded the 2017 Shell Science Teaching Award for his culture-based approach and impact on students. 

Truesdell was honored with the award at the National Science Teachers Association’s Teacher Awards Gala on March 31 at the J.W. Marriott L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California.

The Shell award is given each year to recognize one outstanding science teacher who has had a positive impact on his or her students, school and community through exceptional teaching practices.


Truesdell has 30 years of classroom teaching experience and has evolved his style from traditional lecturing to a culture-based approach, incorporating aspects of Hawaiian culture in lessons and lab work. Five years ago, he refocused his chemistry curriculum to teach student through the lens of Hawaiian culture.

“If students are excited about the topic and recognize its relevance to them, they will take the topic to a greater depth,” said Truesdell. “The real secret is to build on students’ prior knowledge and to weave each topic into more complex activities.”

Truesdell’s strategy has had a measurable impact on students, according to Kanoe Wilson, an education officer with Kamehameha Schools.


“Our action research project data findings demonstrate that his teaching practices have shown increase in student engagement, environmental and community advocacy,” Wilson commented, “and in particular, the American Chemical Society Final Exam where we saw students increase in their test scores from 70% to 83% due to his innovative practices.”

Truesdell said recognizing his own learning style helped him shape his teaching method, based on “relevance, multistep logic, rigor, passion and fun.” He was also influenced by his own grade school teacher.

“My first experience with this was with my first and fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Crouse who was Native American and put the culture first,” shared Truesdell.


He also credited the work and mentorship of Dr. Walter Kahumoku with helping him excel as a Hawaiian culture-based teacher.

Ultimately, Truesdell says that shifting perspectives helps him take learning into the world of the student, and creates a more enjoyable classroom.

This summer, this Hawaiian-culture and Next Generation Science Standards-based curriculum that focuses on the world of students will be presented at the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education, held in July in Toronto.

The Science Teaching Award is sponsored by Shell and awards a $10,000 check to the winner, as well as a formal citation and commemorative clock. Three finalists in total were selected for the award and attended the gala event this year. John Gensic of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana, and Ryan Monger of Sultan High School in Sultan, Washington, were the other finalists.

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