Teacher Of The Year Makes Science Fun

Holwegner prepares an experiment for students

By turning his classroom into a ‘crime scene,’ Paul Holwegner makes science principles practical for students

Paul Holwegner makes science fun. Top secret national security files stolen by culprits who trashed the science lab leaving fingerprints and evidence behind is one example of Holwegner’s ingenuity.

“It was a total mess,” says the sixth-grade science instructor about the room.

In fact, the scene was so realistic, with a security guard to boot, Holwegner received calls from concerned parents whose children were not in the class and didn’t realize it was fiction.

Nevertheless, his students had a blast analyzing the evidence and identifying suspects using different scientific methods with substances like liquids and powders that had been scattered about.

“We used everything that we could tie into what they were learning already to show them that this really does happen in real life; this is how they use the science they’re learning to describe or solve something.”

This is one of many innovative teaching styles that landed Holwegner the sole Kaua’i District nomination for Teacher of the Year.

Although he didn’t win the statewide award – that went to an Oahu teacher – Holwegner says it was an honor to be picked as the Garden Isle’s nominee. It also was an honor to attend the awards ceremony on Oahu, where Holwegner’s parents, Barbara and Thomas, accompanied him.

“That was really nice to honor them as well and show them all the hard work and dedication is paying off,” he says.

Kaua’i District complex area superintendent Bill Arakaki also attended.

“Mr. Holwegner is one of the many shining stars among the teachers we have in our schools on Kaua’i,” says Arakaki. “Teachers motivate and inspire students for college and career readiness from grades K-12. They make learning come to life and relevant to the students’ college and career goals.”

Paul Holwegner brings the TV show ‘MythBusters’ into his classroom. Coco Zickos photos

Arakaki agrees that it was largely Holwegner’s (or Mr. H, as his students refer to him) ability to connect scientific concepts to real-life situations that led to his nomination.

“Students are engaged and become responsible for their learning,” says Arakaki.

Currently, Holwegner is teaching a science course based on experiments from the popular TV show MythBusters. Students conduct labs in which combinations of Diet Coke and Mentos explode and soda bottle rockets are launched.

His students continue to look forward to the hands-on activities.

“That’s what the kids really love,” says Holwegner, who is focusing on the periodic table and atoms, as well as densities, solids, liquids and gases.

While Holwegner’s creativity caught the eye of DOE faculty who nominated him, so too did his altruistic nature.

The Texas native, who moved to the island in 1996 – the same year he began teaching at the middle school – also is responsible for Chiefess Kamakahelei’s After School Achievement Program, where keiki receive tutoring and mentoring. He is known for going above and beyond traditional teaching requirements, such as organizing presentations last year to explain to parents how to implement a new after-school program he piloted in order to help children with math at home.

“A lot of students struggle in math, and parents don’t know how to help them,” he explains.

Additionally, Holwegner rarely misses an opportunity to volunteer for fundraisers and various other school functions.

“I’m here to support in any way I can because I know it’s going to help the kids – and help me out also, because it will help those kids get what they need,” he says.

Holwegner always has enjoyed teaching.

“School was one of those places that I always liked being and helping out,” he says.

The most rewarding part about what he does is watching the kids learn and understand why certain things happen, and relating it to their everyday lives.

“A lot of the kids you can see that aha! moment,” says Holwegner, who graduated from the University of Delaware.

Holwegner also appreciates how well he relates to his students.

“They’re surprised I listen to the same music and I watch some of the same TV,” he says. “So I can joke with them and I can see where they are getting some of their ideas, and bring in information that they know from their outside life.”

Most importantly, Holwegner understands that his students are the future.

“They are the ones who will be leading the way,” he says, “so we have to do our best with whatever we have to help them in any way we can.”