Islands in the Sky

Islands in the Sky

Oahu, Maui, Hawaii

US Hawaii_Outline (1).png

Trip Themes

Political History, National Identity, Future of Nation States, Religion, Interviewing, Field Research

Cities Visited

Honolulu, Hilo, Kahului

What is the relationship between science and culture?

What do the stars mean to you? For most of us, the night sky provides a sense of beauty and tranquility. For early Polynesians, it was a connection to the gods and a critical tool for navigation. And for scientists and astronomers, it is a land of opportunity and discovery.

Hawaii’s landscape of volcanic peaks, and its isolated position in the Pacific Ocean, make it an ideal location for stargazing. That’s why astronomers have set up the world’s largest observatory in the middle of the Big Island. But native Hawaiians have been watching the stars for centuries as an integral part of their livelihoods. A visit to these islands offers an extraordinary chance to witness two very different relationships between people and the sky - one cultural and one scientific. How do the two compare? And what can we learn from each?

This program was originally conceived of by two science teachers at Avenues in New York. Atlas Workshops collaborated with the teachers to flesh out the program content, balance the curriculum, develop the local content, and manage all of the logistics in the field.


Honolulu, Oahu

In Honolulu, we’ll get an introduction to the history of the islands at the Bishop museum, and learn traditional Polynesian navigating techniques using the stars as our compass. We’ll take a hike as we hear the Hawaiian legends that explain the features of the land. We’ll explore the capital city of Hawaii, Honolulu, taste some incredible fusion food, and stroll along Waikiki beach at sunset.

Hilo, Big Island Hawaii

Nest we fly to Hilo for an immersion into the contrasts of Hawaii’s history and scientific importance. We’ll expand our perspective with a visit  to surrounding astronomy centers to learn what it takes to operate some of the most powerful telescopes on the planet. As we explore island life and meet with different groups in Hilo, we’ll hear conflicting opinions on recent plans for new telescopes and expanded research facilities. We’ll also have the chance for an excursion to some beautiful nearby waterfalls.

Finally, we’ll head up the volcanoes for clear views of the sky and stargazing on the slopes of Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea. Here, we’ll get a deeper understanding of why this island in particular is so significant to Hawaiians and scientists around the globe.


Finally, we’ll drive to the top of Haleakala to research one of the most unique environments on earth. As we explore the geological and biological zone at the top of this volcano, we will also have one last look at the stunning constellations above.

As the trip comes to an end, we’ll take a moment to reflect and enjoy a closing dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean. How will our experience in Hawaii change the way we think about science, culture, and the way we look at the stars?


Atlas Workshops has a passion for working with schools to build trips that meet their goals and align with their curriculum. Hawaii’s complex history, unique geography, and beautiful island setting offer a great number of educational opportunities.

We can adapt the trip to have a strong focus on historical themes like imperialism or World War II, or prominent current issues like climate change, indigenous rights, or global cooperation. From a targeted look at environmental science, to cultural memory and tourism, this trip template is flexible.

By balancing exploration of different themes and contexts, a trip to Hawaii can combine disparate interests and appeal to a large group of students. By asking questions about interculturalism and historical narratives, this trip can also fit into a wider discussion about global citizenship and diversity at a school.

For a program focused on the intersection between science, history, and culture, we also have a variety of trips in other countries. For example, we can link this focus to a study of sustainability in Greece, renewable energy in Iceland, or native rights and water issues in California.