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Exploration of Seventh Grade Swimming to Develop ʻŌiwi Students

Updated: Jan 25

By Kumu Cary Masuko

As a veteran teacher, Kumu Cary describes how he thinks about swimming as more than a Physical Education class.

Purpose of my Inquiry

The purpose of my inquiry was threefold: 1) Understand the current state of Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi (KSH) K-12 swimming program; 2) Examine haumāna perspectives about swimming; and 3) Provide our kula with useful information to facilitate a cohesive and purposeful K-12 swim curriculum aligned with kula initiatives. This write up presents select findings and insights from the overall inquiry.

Inquiry Questions

The inquiry questions served as an exploration into the K-12 swimming program at KSH where I looked for answers to the following: What is the K-12 swimming program at KSH? In general, how do seventh grade students feel about swimming? How might swimming contribute to developing an ‘Ōiwi student?


KSH is fortunate to have many wonderful facilities. One of them is Naeʻole pool. The opportunity to consider swimming beyond a Physical Education class sparked my interest. I considered how moʻolelo about the ocean, or kai, could serve a purpose in swimming classes. I wondered about the role swimming played in Hawaiian culture—what relationship did Hawaiians have to water? In what ways does swimming engage a cultural identity and if so, how can I apply this toward my students? I thought about hōʻike as a swimming unit using the American Red Cross (ARC) swimming levels of proficiency as a tool to assess competencies. These are implicit ideas that I hope to explore in the future through this inquiry. These wonderings offer a lens to implement our campus ‘Ōiwi Edge Learning & Teaching Expectations (ʻŌEL&T Expectations) that may be applied to swimming or Physical Education in general. 

A Noticeable Need

I began my inquiry with a question, when was the last time Physical Education (PE) Kumu convened a K-12 content articulation? How much agency do we have when identifying activities or are these pre-determined? Swimming as a PE activity/lesson was something all divisional PE Kumu taught at Naʻeole pool, which seemed the most logical place to start. Given Kula Waena was moving toward agency and empowerment through a focused pilot in Papa ʻEono, I took the opportunity to collaborate across grade levels. Guided by our Kauhale commitment, I saw this as a strategy to empower the KSH Physical Education Department through ownership of curricular development. 


As a PE Kumu, I am curious about how well I teach the curriculum to gauge student learning. I continue to ask questions of myself such as, am I doing the right thing (especially in teaching swimming)? Am I sufficiently preparing haumāna for the next level? What should be the next level? How does peer evaluation fit in with swimming and feedback? Do students only demonstrate their learning in a pool? Where does swimming in the ocean fit in? For haumāna, the importance of swimming is magnified by our location as island dwellers. Having the resource of Naeʻole pool, it is our kuleana to identify and support students who need kōkua with swimming skills. 

Inquiry Methods

I set out to inventory the K-12 swimming component for PE through my own artifact review and sent an initial informal email inquiry to high school and elementary PE Kumu asking them several questions related to their classes in general, and swimming specifically. For example, I asked about gender composition (all male or all female classes); average number of students; alignment with national swimming standards; expectations for a KSH swimmer; and how the ‘ŌEL&T Expectations related to their swim classes. Responses to these questions helped me determine draft benchmarks for seventh grade swimming and provide a model to incorporate the ʻŌEL&T Expectations into my lessons. I also sent a survey to my seventh grade students, asking them to self-assess their proficiency in different swimming methods. The survey also included questions about comfort levels in the pool and ocean and confidence as a swimmer overall.

Select Findings

The initial artifact review and information obtained from other PE Kumu confirmed my suspicions about the current state of our KSH swim program. That is, general standards and expectations around comfort in the pool were used, as well as teaching and assessing student ability to swim a certain distance, and abilities using diverse swim strokes. Also informing Kumu assessments were the ARC levels mentioned previously. As for the student survey, I found this information quite insightful, and it provided much opportunity to reflect on the possibilities for our swim program. Haumāna self-assessed their own swim stroke development skills using the ARC Level 3 as a guide.

Expectations at this stage build on the skills of ARC Level 2 with guided practice in deeper waters. I categorized students’ self-reported ratings into three levels and calculated the percentage of self-reported responses. Ninety-nine students self-assessed their Level 3 skills as shown in Table 1.

Table 1

Student Self-Assessment of Swimming Proficiency



Not Able/Low


Somewhat Able/Middle




The student attitude responses helped to shed some light on the self-assessment data where 70% felt confident as a swimmer overall. Interestingly, a majority of students felt comfortable swimming in the pool and ocean with 90% and 83% respectively.


Seeing 11% of my students self-reporting in the Not Able/Low range of Level 3 alarmed me. This was not what I expected. It’s one thing to see your students swim (and think they’re okay), but this data inspired me to deeply reevaluate my practice and develop strategies to address these numbers. For example, I am considering using the Able/High end students as swim leaders for the Low- and Middle-level students. I am also thinking about asking Low- and Middle-level students to identify the specific skills they feel need extra instruction. I would then create lessons to specifically address students’ skill or needs. 

By better utilizing a standardized skill swimming program such as the ARC as a self-assessment checklist, I can then provide specific feedback to haumāna. The checklist allows students to have some ownership of their learning, and when they are ready to be assessed, they let Kumu know. It gives students an opportunity to voice their readiness to master the skills on the list and it helps me identify the various skills they would all need to work on. The checklist would also inform students about what they will be tested on or asked to do, so they can better prepare. I plan on developing a hōʻike as a demonstration of student “mastery” of Level 3 swim proficiency. In preparation for this demonstration of skill development, I will prepare lessons for students to support their individual and collective swimming needs. When students feel they can perform the skills, they can test or demonstrate, or hōʻike, their learning. These are all opportunities for me to personalize instruction toward mastery as well as provide some haumāna agency in this class. 

Insights and Considerations

My original motivation for pursuing this inquiry began with a recognition that as a kula, we do not have an aligned Kindergarten through 12th grade swimming curriculum. As a middle school PE Kumu with access to a pool and seeing an opportunity to be more intentional about my instruction, I also wanted to know how well my teaching was impacting students. Based on my experiences and observations, it seemed that perhaps skills learned in a swimming pool or even cognitive or emotional issues are different when in the ocean. I questioned if the purpose of swimming or being at the ocean was perceived by some keiki as more of a recreational activity, and others may not ever feel the need to enter the water. For some keiki, being at the beach is related to barbecuing or playing football. Therefore, knowing how to swim depends on which agenda, context, or purpose we convey to our students. While at school, considered an academic setting, perhaps the pool is interpreted as a different experience for whatever reason, and this is something I’d like to further explore.

I also think that as PE Kumu, we need to be aware of the physical development of boys and girls during middle school, especially in relation to the social-emotional aspects of appearances. For example, perhaps the comfort level of being in a swimsuit impacts students’ overall attitude about swimming. These considerations combined with developing division or grade level standards and drowning prevention might include instruction in transferring skills from the pool to the ocean. While Kula Waena continues with our focused redesign, it is exciting to see how PE fits in overall as we make natural connections with each other and understand how our curricula can intersect. For example, we could work on a waʻa unit or voyaging unit together. I am able to see how swimming offers support and alignment with different subject areas from Language Arts to History. This process involves more than swimming, but to consider PE as a way to teach lifelong health, well-being, and culture for ʻŌiwi student development.


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