Friday, May 22, 2015

Assessing Learning in Ethnobotany

SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany proposes to serve four program learning outcomes through three course level outcomes. The course serves learning outcomes in general education, the Micronesian studies program, and the Agriculture and Natural Resources program.

GE 3.4 Define and explain scientific concepts, principles, and theories of a field of science. 1. Identify local plants, their reproductive strategies, and morphology.
GE 4.2 Demonstrate knowledge of the cultural issues of a person’s own culture and other cultures.

MSP 2 Demonstrate proficiency in the geographical, historical, and cultural literacy of the Micronesian region.
2. Communicate and describe the cultural use of local plants for healing, as food, as raw materials, and in traditional social contexts.
ANR 2 Demonstrate basic competencies in the management of land resources and food production. 3. Demonstrate basic field work competencies related to management of culturally useful plant resources and foods.


Identify local plants, their reproductive strategies, and morphology.

The twenty-four students in the course engaged in a number of activities in support of this learning outcome. Vegetative morphology for angiosperms was supported by a field hike, for ferns and gymnosperms by student presentations. Reproductive strategies were also communicated via student presentations. Identification of local plants permeated every outing, field trip, and hike.

Students surrounded by Ischaemum polystachyum, with Senna alata in the background, Saccharum spontaneum in the background on the left.

The final examination involved a walk on campus and required the twenty-four students to identify sixteen randomly chosen local plants both by local and Latin names. The students correctly identified 375 plants by their local name of 384 possible (97%). This task is more difficult than one might expect. Despite the students being fluent in their first language, they often do not know their local plant names.

For the Latin names the students had a list of 56 Latin names from which to work. The students collectively made 323 correct Latin name matches out of 384 possible (84%).


Communicate and describe the cultural use of local plants for healing, as food, as raw materials, and in traditional social contexts.

Students engaged in presentations on healing plants, plants as food, and wrote two essays during the course of the term on the cultural use of plants. Essays were marked using rubrics.

Lilina Etson explains the healing use of a local plant

Daryll Keller presented Pingalapese wis idihd - boiled ground banana.
The final examination asked students to provide uses for fifteen of the sixteen plants on the final examination. Students collectively provided 336 uses out of 360 possible (93%). This outcome was well met.


Demonstrate basic field work competencies related to management of culturally useful plant resources and foods.

Students tended to a banana tree collection and engaged in maintaining ethnobotanical plant collections on campus.

Lilina, Bryan, and Miki move a banana sucker to a new location
The students worked with bananas from production on the land to the kitchen to the table. The collection also provided a living banana herbarium and assisted in teaching students the diversity of bananas. Twenty-three of the twenty-four (96%) students fully met this outcome. 

Students also tended to ethnobotanically useful plant collections and learned to identify threats to production such as invasive species.

Daryll holds a native medicinal plant, Melastoma malabathricum var. marianum (pisetikimei), in his right hand, a n invasive, Clidemia hirta, in his left. 

Maintenance of an ethnobotanical garden on Pohnpei often happens in the rain. Lerina and Petery devise a way to clean while remaining dry. Only in ethnobotany class.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Assessing learning in physical science

SC 130 Physical Science proposes to serve two institutional learning outcomes (ILO) through four general education program learning outcomes (GE PLO) addressed by four course level student learning outcomes (CLO). Not listed are proposed specific student learning outcomes that in turn serve the course level learning outcomes.  This report assesses learning under the proposed course level learning outcomes which in turn supports program and institutional learning outcomes.

ILO 8. Quantitative Reasoning: ability to reason and solve quantitative problems from a wide array of authentic contexts and everyday life situations; comprehends and can create sophisticated arguments supported by quantitative evidence and can clearly communicate those arguments in a variety of formats.

3.5 Perform experiments that use scientific methods as part of the inquiry process. 1. Explore physical science systems through experimentally based laboratories using scientific methodologies
3.4 Define and explain scientific concepts, principles, and theories of a field of science. 2. Define and explain concepts, theories, and laws in physical science.
3.2 Present and interpret numeric information in graphic forms. 3. Generate mathematical models for physical science systems and use appropriate mathematical techniques and concepts to obtain quantitative solutions to problems in physical science.

ILO 2. Effective written communication: development and expression of ideas in writing through work in many genres and styles, utilizing different writing technologies, and mixing texts, data, and images through iterative experiences across the curriculum.

1.1 Write a clear, well-organized paper using documentation and quantitative tools when appropriate. 4. Demonstrate basic communication skills by working in groups on laboratory experiments and by writing up the result of experiments, including thoughtful discussion and interpretation of data, in a formal format using spreadsheet and word processing software.


Explore physical science systems through experimentally based laboratories using scientific methodologies

Laboratory fourteen in the penultimate week of the term provided a vehicle for assessing this course level outcome. The students were given a system to explore and two questions to answer. The students were provided with flying disks and rings along with a sports radar gun to measure velocity and GPS units to measure distance. The first question the students tackled was determining the nature of the mathematical model that governed the velocity versus distance behavior. The second question asked whether a flying disk thrown horizontally outperforms a non-flying object thrown horizontally. The students were provided with minimal guidance beyond the questions and technical support in the use of the equipment,

Students throwing disks

The laboratory reports were assessed to determine whether students properly recorded data in a labeled table, generated an xy scatter graph, made a determination as to the nature of the relationship, ran a best fit regression for that relationship, opted to report the slope if appropriate, and then discussed their analysis and results in a meaningful manner. Many of the students gathered data that can be fit by a linear trend line.

Student performance was assessed using a simple binary rubric based on the metrics noted above. Eighteen students completed this term end laboratory.

All eighteen students have mastered the core mechanics of the laboratory report style used in SC 130 Physical Science. The students gathered data and reported results in a properly formatted and labeled table. The students used spreadsheet software to generate xy scatter graphs also properly formatted and labeled. All of the students added a trend line to the graph, but only eight specifically discussed their choice of mathematical relationship. Although one student opted for a quadratic regression, the remaining students chose a linear regression. Of these, nine students reported their slope in their analysis. Only seven students engaged in a meaningful discussion of their results. Some students tend to lapse into discussions of what they did, of their procedure. A few write only that the laboratory was fun.

Of concern is the number of laboratory fourteens submitted. The laboratory submission rate tends to fall off as each term progresses.

The course began with 30 students registered. One student never showed up for the class, a second withdrew at midterm, and a third stopped attending class at midterm. Thus there were 27 active students by term end. The fall off in laboratory submissions as the term progresses was seen last fall and occurred again this spring. In class the odd laboratories, which are longer form laboratory reports, are emphasized as being more important. Hence laboratory eleven and thirteen this term saw upticks in submission above ten and eleven. Note that laboratory eight has no formal report. Laboratory fourteen has no late turn-in, which brings up the submission count for earlier laboratories. Laboratory seven, although an odd laboratory, is due during midterms week. Correlation is not cause, but the midterm may be a reason for the low submission rate of laboratory seven.


2. Define and explain concepts, theories, and laws in physical science.

Forty-two items on the 83 item final examination asked students to define and explain concepts, theories, and laws in physical science. The average for twenty-seven students on these 42 items was 61%. Although low, fall 2014 the average was 54% on 32 items.


3. Generate mathematical models for physical science systems and use appropriate mathematical techniques and concepts to obtain quantitative solutions to problems in physical science.

While the laboratory fourteen assessment above provides some data on this course learning outcome, this outcome supports the general education program learning outcome "3.2 Present and interpret numeric information in graphic forms." With this focus in mind, a pretest and post-test was included in the course. The post-test was embedded in the final examination.

Student performance on the pretest can only be characterized as abysmal.

Although all but one student arrived in SC 130 Physical Science having completed MS 100 College Algebra or a higher course, only seven of twenty-five students could calculate the slope and intercept for a line with an intercept of zero - a direct relationship. Of note is that 24 of the 25 could correctly plot data points on an xy scatter graph. Beyond that, skills were limited at best. Less than half could correctly identify the slope and intercept when given an equation in the form y=b+mx instead of the traditional y=mx+b format. Mathematics taught outside of a content framework does not yield understanding nor longer term retention of knowledge.

SC 130 Physical Science includes a focus on the mathematical models that underlie physical science systems. Laboratories one, two, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, and twelve have linear relationships. A number of assignments in the course also have linear relationships. The students also encounter a quadratic relationship in laboratory three. A plot of height versus velocity generates a power relationship, specifically a square root relationship. An exercise in statics yields a rational function relationship. By the end of the course students have repeatedly worked with linear relations.One relationship at a time, not "problems one to thirty even problems only." Every equation is built from data that the students have gathered. From the concrete to the abstract, repeated throughout the term, providing cognitive hooks on which to "hang" their mathematical learning.

By term end, the 25 students who were present on the day of the pretest had all improved significantly as measured by the post-test.

In the chart above, the left end of the line marks the number of students answering an item correctly on the pretest, the right end the number answering correctly on the post-test. Note that items such as the slope and y-intercept assessment improved on the first two items even though the problems were made more difficult by a non-zero y-intercept on the post-test.

With eleven items on the pre-test and post-test, scores for students could range from zero to eleven. The median score on the pre-test was three, on the post-test items was eight. The small sample size precludes significance in this difference of medians. The rise in the mean score from 4.2 to 7.9 was significant. The 25 score distributions as box plots provide some insight into the lift in scores from the pretest to the post-test.

The post-test does not answer whether there will be long term student retention of the ability to present and interpret numeric information in graphic forms.


4. Demonstrate basic communication skills by working in groups on laboratory experiments and by writing up the result of experiments, including thoughtful discussion and interpretation of data, in a formal format using spreadsheet and word processing software.

Course level learning outcome four focuses on communication, specifically writing. In the late 1990s assessment data suggested some students were graduating with limited writing communication skills. As noted by the languages and literature division at that time, two college level writing courses in the general education core cannot by themselves produce collegiate level writers. Writing must occur across the curriculum, across disciplines. In 2007 SC 130 Physical Science at the national campus was redesigned to put an emphasis on writing. A "fill-in the blank" cook book style laboratory manual was replaced by laboratories which led to laboratory reports constructed using spreadsheet and word processing software.

By the end of the term all students could produce a laboratory report with tables and charts integrated from a spreadsheet package. The students could produce reports that included the use of quantitative tools.

As reported above, student ability to include thoughtful discussion and interpretation of data supported by their quantitative evidence was not accomplished by all students as measured by laboratory fourteen. Producing sophisticated scientific arguments was a bridge too far for a number of students. The analysis of laboratory fourteen suggested that seven of eighteen students could engage in a meaningful discussion of their data.

Inherent in supporting institutional learning outcome two, which course learning outcome four serves, is proper mechanics. Physcial Science laboratory report marking rubrics at the national campus include evaluation of four broad metrics: syntax (grammar), vocabulary and spelling, organization, cohesion and coherence. Each of these four metrics is measured on a five point scale yielding a total possible of twenty points. In general, students enter the course with writing skills. Errors of tense and agreement tend to mirror areas in students' first language that do not have similar tense or agreement structures. All students in the class are working in English as a second language.

In general there is no significant change in mechanics measurable from laboratory one to laboratory fourteen. The sample size is small and the change in individual scores is also small. Measured across all four metrics, the median score on the first laboratory was 16.5 points, the median at term end was 20 (n = 18). This represents an uptick from scores of four to five on each metric.

The mean score at term start was 16.9 out of 20, at term end the mean score was 18.4. The course may be more beneficial to the weakest writers.

Considering the four course level outcomes, there are a couple areas where improvement can be sought. The lowest hanging fruit would be to improve laboratory submission rates after midterm. A more challenging area for improving performance would be in the students ability to engage in more sophisticated discussions of their experimental results. The students do not have a rich and varied background in science, and the course is serving principally non-science majors.

The course also has the intent to communicate affective domain messages to the students. One is the idea that doing science is fun, the other is that the students can do science. Science is not a subject in which the students have all experienced success. As one student said the first day, "I am not good in math and science, I am going to fail." That student would later prove to be one of the more insightful students, at one point coming up with a theory as to how an optical system would behave. The student had become a scientist. This term these impacts were not measured, these are subtle and difficult to quantify.

Over the years, however, students will at times comment on an image posted by a student from the class. The comments are always positive, of the nature that the course was interesting and fun. Learning happens only where there is motivation to learn, and when an activity is enjoyable, a learner will engage more fully with that activity. Physics, mathematics, and fun are three words that do not often co-exist in a single sentence, a single class, or in the mind of a student. Yet they should. The mathematical nature of the world is fascinating and fun.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Assessing learning in introductory statistics

MS 150 Introduction to Statistics has utilized an outline based in part on the 2007 Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) and on the ongoing effort at the college to incorporate authentic assessment in courses. The three course level student learning outcomes currently guiding MS 150 Introduction to Statistics are:

  1. Perform basic statistical calculations for a single variable up to and including graphical analysis, confidence intervals, hypothesis testing against an expected value, and testing two samples for a difference of means.
  2. Perform basic statistical calculations for paired correlated variables.
  3. Engage in data exploration and analysis using appropriate statistical techniques including numeric calculations, graphical approaches, and tests.

The first two outcomes involve basic calculation capabilities of the students and are assessed via an item analysis of the final examination. 67 students in three sections took the final examination.

The first course learning outcome focuses on basic statistics. Twenty-one questions on the final examination required the students to perform basic single variable statistical calculations on a small sample. Based on the item analysis, 82.5% of the items were answered correctly by the students. In the fall term 80.2% of the items were answered correctly. In general basic single variable statistical calculations are an area of strength for the students and performance tends to be stable term-on-term.

This term, spring 2015, the final examination was delivered using an on line test in Schoology. This is the first term that electronic testing has been utilized. Schoology permitted the use of fill in the blank with multiple correct answers possible. This allowed the test design to accommodate different results due to student rounding choices. Schoology also permitted an essay answer for the final section of the examination.

Fall 2014 the final examination was administered on paper. In both terms students were free to use Gnumeric, LibreOffice, or Excel to make calculations, and the final examination is open book. Students have a two hour time limit, the open book structure permits them to look up a forgotten formula much as a practicing statistician is permitted to do. That basic statistical performance was stable term-on-term suggests that the use of on line testing had a neutral impact on performance. An earlier affective domain assessment found that students had a positive reaction to taking tests on line.

Performance on the second course learning outcome was measured by nine questions on the final examination. Student performance on this section was lower at 69.6%. Fall 2014 the average was 68.2%. This section of the final examination has historically been weaker than the basic single variable statistics section, and that weakness was seen again spring 2015. The term-on-term performance, however, is stable and the use of an on line examination again shows no significant impact on performance.

Performance on the third course learning outcome, open data exploration and analysis, as measured by points awarded is not comparable term-on-term. The scoring system for the open data exploration section of the final examination varies term-on-term. Performance is always weaker on this open data exploration and analysis section than on the first two learning outcomes. Students perform strongly when asked to calculate a specific statistic, students struggle when raw data and open ended questions are posed about the data. The students responded to this section with a single essay question set up using Schoology. This one question was then marked by the instructor. This term, due more to the vagaries of the scoring rubric, performance was improved term-on-term on a percentage basis.

In the above chart the centers of the yellow topmost circles are located at the average success rate for the students on questions under the first course learning outcome - basic single variable statistics. The chart reports results from 2012 to present. The radii are the standard deviations. The middle blue circles track performance under the second course level learning outcome, paired dependent data. The orange bottom-most circles track performance on the open data exploration and analysis. This open data exploration and analysis section was introduced in 2012.

The third student learning outcome, open data analysis, was separately assessed using a simple rubric that looked at whether a student made an appropriate statistical analysis with a correct conclusion. Optimally the students would find that the means are different and then run a test for a difference of means either using confidence intervals or a t-test for a difference of independent sample means.

Optimal statistical analysis, correct conclusion: 0.22
Optimal statistical analysis, incorrect conclusion: 0.06
Minimal statistical analysis, correct conclusion: 0.12
Minimal statistical analysis, incorrect conclusion: 0.26
Inappropriate statistical analysis: 0.09
No statistical analysis: 0.14
Blank: 0.11

Twenty-eight percent of the students performed an optimal analysis, yet even after having performed an appropriate and complete analysis, only twenty-two percent reached the correct conclusion that the difference was not statistically significant. In general, the students tend to see any difference in means as indicative of a change. Students tend to obtain higher success rates on questions for which two means are significantly different. The students still have difficulties looking at two unequal means and understanding that despite the difference, the two means are not significantly different.

A minimally supported answer was typically one in which the difference in the means was noted. Some students buttressed their conclusion by noting the difference was small relative to the standard deviations, a reasonable observation. Twelve percent considered the difference in means to not be sufficient to be significant, but ran no statistical test to confirm this conclusion. Twenty-six percent looked only at the difference in the means and pronounced that there was a significant difference in the means. 

A few students argued from irrelevant statistics such as a calculation of the slope (the samples were independent samples). Other students drew a conclusion but cited no statistics, no numeric support for their statements. I had cautioned the students a number of times in regard to the need for numeric statistical support: statements without numeric support, numeric values, statistical reasoning, would be marked as a zero. This tends to artificially deflate the average on the open data exploration section - there were twenty scores of zero due to either a numerically unsupported analysis or a blank answer. Eleven percent of the students left the open data exploration essay question on the final blank.

In summary performance against the three student learning outcomes might be characterized as:

82.5% of the students are able to perform basic statistical calculations for a single variable up to and including graphical analysis, confidence intervals, hypothesis testing against an expected value, and testing two samples for a difference of means.
69.6% of the students are able to perform basic statistical calculations for paired correlated variables.
28% of the students are able to engage in data exploration and analysis using appropriate statistical techniques including numeric calculations, graphical approaches, and tests; 22% reach a correct conclusion based on that analysis.

Overall success rate on the final examinations has been generally stable over the past ten years. The long term average success rate is 72.3%, the current term saw a 75.9% success rate on basic and linear regression statistics. Prior to 2012 open data exploration was not included in the final examination, that section is excluded from this longer term analysis.

While the term-on-term final examination success rate average is down slightly, the effect of regression to the long term mean cannot be discounted. The phrase "continuously improving" is often heard in the hallways of education, a phrase that seems almost blithely ignorant of the tendency of systems to return towards a long term mean. A look at the running cumulative mean success rate on the final examination since 2005 suggests that the longer term mean to which terms return might be improving, but even this statistic is subject to a tendency to return to an even longer term mean.

In general students who complete the course are able to successfully make basic statistical calculations on 72% to 74% of the questions posed.

The course average over time includes performance on homework, quizzes, and tests. Course level performance underlies course completion rates. Data on course level performance is available from 2007 forward.

The course wide average has varied from 72% to 83% with a long term average of 77.8%. Spring 2015 the course average was 74.5%, down an insignificant 1.6% term-on-term. The radii of the circle is proportional to the standard deviation of the student averages in all three sections of the course. The standard deviation is fairly constant over time at about 15%.

That performance as measured across homework, quizzes, tests, midterm, and final was stable term-on-term was a surprise. In prior terms the total possible points on quizzes and tests was set post-hoc based on the highest score obtained. The highest score was often but not always the total possible. The result was that even if there were no perfect papers, someone would score 100%.

This spring term the use of Schoology meant that the total possible points was preset prior to deploying the quiz or test. The result was a more challenging course from a student performance point of view. Only perfectly correct quizzes and tests earned 100% of the possible points. Thus rigor was increased without a decrease in performance.

The quiz and test settings were set so that students could see which questions they obtained right and wrong immediately after submitting their quiz or test. From the reaction of the students, this was a liked feature and a potentially motivating feature. Due to the layout of the computer laboratory, there was a risk that neighbor students would use the revealed wrong answers to potentially correct their answers. Observation in the classroom did not indicate that students were doing this. The showing of which were right and wrong (without showing the correct answers to those that were wrong) appears to have been a motivating factor and may have contributed to the term-on-term stability of the overall course average. While some instructors would likely be reluctant to run quizzes and tests this way, the motivating impact of immediate feedback is worth the risk.

Each term the curriculum is adjusted and modified. Sometimes the adjustments are planned in advance, such as the introduction of open data exploration in 2012. At other times the modification is made on the fly. This spring term the open data exploration section of the course was wrapped up with having the students present an analysis of a data set to the class.

This assignment mimicked the sort of assignment one might receive in an institutional or corporate setting. One is given data to analyze and has 48 to prepare a presentation for a group of colleagues on that data. For students who are still struggling to understand the basic concepts, this was a very challenging and authentic assessment.

The students had a hard and fast deadline for submission of their data presentation, this was made possible by the use of a preset locking time in Schoology. The assignments were left unmarked until after the presentations. In the image above two students are presenting their analysis posted in Schoology. No comments on the correctness of an analysis were shared in class. Each presentation was permitted to stand on its own without critique. Questions from the other students were encouraged but generally not asked.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Site swap notation

Laboratory fifteen in physical science seeks to expand the students thinking about mathematical models beyond algebraic models.
Marlynn Fredrick already knew how to juggle as the sequence of photos demonstrates

I open the class with a question and answer on what mathematics is introduced in schools and when. I start from counting in kindergarten and ask the class to tell me when addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, variables, and so forth are introduced.

I asked the class, "As some point did you ever wonder, ever ask, what was usefulness of the mathematics? Did a teacher ever tell you, 'You need to learn this so you can do algebra?' Or whatever the next topic in the math stack might be?"

I then share the worst kept secret in mathematics education. The secret that one never has to solve a quadratic equation in life, with the exceptions of some engineers and scientists. The average human life on the planet never has to solve a quadratic equation. At least not until your child comes home with algebra homework and says, "Dad, how do I solve this?"

One of the core themes in the course is that mathematics underlies all physical systems. Linear relationships, quadratic, even rational functions. Students obtain these relationships from data gathered in the laboratory. The relationships are based in concretely observed and measured phenomena.

Natasha Edwin getting site swap 3 started

Not only does the data generate a model, but the model predicts what the system will do. Mathematics as a source of ideas, as per a quote from Freeman Dyson, "For a physicist mathematics is not just a tool by means of which phenomena can be calculated, it is the main source of concepts and principles by means of which new theories can be created... ...equations are quite miraculous in a certain way. I mean, the fact that nature talks mathematics, I find it miraculous. I mean, I spent my early days calculating very, very precisely how electrons ought to behave. Well, then somebody went into the laboratory and the electron knew the answer. The electron somehow knew it had to resonate at that frequency which I calculated. So that, to me, is something at the basic level we don't understand. Why is nature mathematical? But there's no doubt it's true. And, of course, that was the basis of Einstein's faith. I mean, Einstein talked that mathematical language and found out that nature obeyed his equations, too. "

Natasha, ball one headed left

Even though the vast majority my students are not going on to become scientists, they can at least gain a glimpse of mathematics in use, the mathematical philosophical underpinnings of science.

Jerissa Salvador, first toss high

In this final laboratory I introduce a form of mathematical notation that is very different from anything the students have encountered before. Site swap notation. And I use the site swap from a 333 to a 342 to show that the mathematical model can make a prediction. Juggling a 33342333 sequences is the experimental proof that the mathematical prediction is valid.


This leads naturally to another theme in the course, the nature of proof in science. Science is a field of inquiry which produces testable predictions. Of course this is an issue with string theory at present - there do not seem to be obviously testable predictions thus far.

Isako Sohar demonstrates juggling while sitting

I wrap up the site swap laboratory by giving the students the opportunity to juggle, or to learn to juggle. This ends the class on a positive note. Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow noted that the remembering mind rates experiences using a peak-end rule. This laboratory provides a positive experience to cap off the term, an end memory of having had fun in the class.


Viola John

Beverly Billy, J-Dina Dinney

Viola John, well controlled cascade


Gisele Roland

Midson Tom


Lesleena Iriarte

Viola, three ball cascade outside

Viola had a very controlled three ball cascade. She was asked to pose for these with the campus as a backdrop.


J-Dina, high throws leading to having to chase down the inbound ball


Nena Nena

Lynnsey Sigrah

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cultural ceremony centered on Piper methysticum

The SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany class wrapped up spring term 2015 with a visit to a village chief, Soumas en kousapw Dien, Oaulik en Dien, to engage in participatory learning about the Pohnpeian sakau ceremony and the origins of the nohpwei in sakauen enilapw.

Welianter Samuel, village chief Dien, hosted the class this term in his nahs.

The ceremony was planned and designed by Sabodan. Sabodan asked about the class composition and then implemented his vision for the ceremony. Nahnmwarki would be a Yapese man, Nahnken a Chuukese man, Nahnalek a Kosraean woman, and Nahnkeniei a Chuukese woman. All oarir would be Pohnpeians.

Esmirelda was first off of the bus at about 3:47 P.M.

Once Piper methysticum, sakau (Polynesian kava, Hawaiian 'awa), enters the nahs, a hush is to fall over the gathering. As Sabodan noted, sakauen enilapw was the ceremony in which nohpwei was originated. This ritual was a pre-contact ritual and honored the great spirit. The ceremony was religious in nature and just as one shows respect by quietly entering a church, so too does the presence of sakau invoke the sacred, sanctifying the nahs.

The plant enters with, ideally, and even number of branches.

The branches are cut.

In the nahs the women sit up on the sides, the high titles sit at the front, the menindei holds the center post, relaying the commands of the Nahnmwarki to the gathering. He must hold the post for the force of the words of the Nahnmwarki could dislodge from the altar. Indeed, the platform upon which he stands, the area beyond the internal corner posts, is sacred, the high altar.

Note that the men are seated in the central pit of the nahs. Were the class larger, there would also be women on the platform behind the men. This is unique and unusual in Micronesia. Elsewhere in Micronesia a sister or female cousin cannot seat higher than a brother or male cousin. A husband cannot sit such that his head is below his wife's waist. Yet this is exactly what can and does happen in the nahs. Women sit up on the side platform, and the highest titled women present sit on the front platform, the altar of the nahs. There is a symbolism in this arrangement, a subtle suggestion of social power for women, a reverence for the women who carry the clan lines in their blood.

Note too that men and women are in a common house. In Yap men and women each have separate houses, and the opposite sex cannot enter the other sex's house in the normal course of events. I gather that there may be exceptions in certain special circumstances, but the general rule holds that the houses are separate.

Key to consider is that Pohnpeian women are present in the community space in which decisions are voiced, made, and agreed too.

At one point Bryan sat up on the nahs with his legs dangling over the edge. I had to explain to him that his legs can be cut off if he sits that way with sakau present in the nahs. In the nahs, it is all about respect.

The sakau was cleaned in the traditional Pohnpeian manner using only coconut husks. Water is not used, not traditionally, to clean the sakau. Dien was putting the full, traditional, ancient art on display for the students.

Outside of the nahs one can relax, have a laugh, enjoy oneself.

Family is always present around the nahs, and there is a happiness in being together.

He noted that the word "Nahnmwarki" is not a Pohnpeian word. He explained that the word is a corruption of the word "monarchy" which was then fused with the honorific prefix Nahn- as in "Nahn-monarchy" but pronounced and spelled in an adapted way by Pohnpeians. He noted that the actual titles of the five highest chiefs, the "Nahnmwarkis" are Madolehnihmw: Isipahu, Kitti: Soaukisoa, U: Sahngoro, Sokehs: Soumakahn Pikehn Iap, Nett: Pwoud Lepen Nett, None are actually called Nahnmwarki, that is a generic reference.

The men have removed their shirts to show respect. On Pohnpei respect is shown by returning to an older manner of attire, a return to the time before there were shirts on the island and men wore only the hibiscus koahl.

Elizabeth Augustine and Lina Lawrence sit with their legs folded to the side. This is required of oarir. Elizabeth is oaurir to Nahnkeniei Miki Fritz, Lina is oaurir to Nahnalek Lerina Nena. The oarir serve to protect those they serve. The oarir are often chosen to be from a different clan that the one they serve, especially in the male serving line. Oarir must be experienced in judging whether the sakau is free from spells and curses. Were they to judge the cup to be poisoned, the oarir will drink of the cup and risk sacrificing themselves to protect those they serve. Neither Miki nor Lerina are aware of this, but Elizabeth and Lina may have some knowledge of the role and duties of an oarir.

In Kitti the Nahnwarki has two oarir who face each other. Note that the men are not sitting correctly. Whether the men knew they were seated wrong was unclear to me, but from what I could ascertain from Sabodan they did not know how to sit. I also suspect they may not be able to sit properly as they have no experience in sitting side legged. John Yilbuw is Nahnmwarki, Bryan Wichep is Nahnken.

There was a term when a student was in the clan line of the Nahnken. The host knew this and had the student sit in as Nahnken. I recollect that the presence of the blood line in their traditional location brought an intensity to the ceremony. The students are on one level role playing. Yet this is role playing in a very real and living culture. This is serious. Something akin to going into a Catholic church and role playing being the priest consecrating the communion - something that one could not do. Indeed, there is a real cultural flexibility in permitting the students to sit in the locations of honor. In the normal course of family parties in the nahs, no one sits in these locations, not even the village chief. He has an assigned spot against the interior corner post on the Nahnwarkis side of the nahs, The back wall is always kept free of anyone sitting there at all times. These are sacred locations.

The presence of sakau, the ritual of the nohpwei, and having students in the locations of honor, invokes an ancient faith. This is not play, no more than one can play in a cathedral with the holy host service. I teach the students that one does not have to believe as others believe, but you must respect their belief. You do not have to agree with those from other faiths, but it is proper and right to respect those from other faiths. True, the sakau ceremony has evolved. Those who engage in the ritual are steadfast and upright church going Christians, often church leaders. I am unaware of anyone who actively propounds that the ritual calls forth the great spirit. That said, one has to respect the faith of those who have gone before. The stones that are pounded can be many hundreds of years old. The stones are a link to an ancient world and to those who held pre-Christian beliefs. 

From left to right sit the Nahnkeniei, Nahnalek, Nahnmwarki, and Nahnken. This is the order at the front of every nahs for events at which the two highest titles and their wives are present.

On the right Nahnken Bryan Wichep is served by oarir Gordon Loyola. This is a learning experience for all of the students.

Those who work to serve the Nahnmwarki, the monarch, are shirtless to show respect. They are referred to as "wie koanoat" when Nahnmwarki is present.

Note the four leaves around the base of the stone slab (peitehl). These leaves are from the plant called tehn wehd (toahn wed in Kitti) and are from the  Alocasia macrorrhiza plant. Tehn wehd are placed around the stone to catch pieces of sakau that fall. These are called pwei koar or pwoaikoar. Pounders should place their feet under the pwoaikoar if possible. There is an order to the placement, and a name called out when the leaf is place: koaloal adak, koaloal epwel, koaloal leng, pwei koar di. The -di signifies completion.

Four pounders must pound, never three nor five. Four is the number of completeness. Each pounder holds a small stone called a moahl. In a full sakau service there are four to six stones being pounded in the nahs. The front stones are for Nahnmwarki and Nahnken. The pounding stones for each have names. The moahl for Nahnmwarki are moahleina, moahlasang katau, moahleileng (moahleiloang), and moahleini. The moahl for Nahnken are moahleiso, moahlmwahu (moahlamwahu), souriahtek, (soauriahtik), and souriahlap (soauriahlap).

These details and more are covered in the course textbook under the sakau ceremony section.

Darleen, Herpelyn, Petery, Esmirelda, and Stephanie on the high platform, Nahnmwarki's side.

Patty, Beverly, and Darleen.

 A typical Pohnpei cook house.

Children of Dien.

Wengweng, the squeezing of the sakau.

Pwehl, the first cup, goes to Nahnwarki. Marvin Bartolome is the oarir receiving the cup.

Upon advice, Nahnmwarki decides to redirect pwehl, the first cup, to Souwel en Lempwel, a title in Dien.

Sabodan calls out Souwel en Lempwel. Souwel must crawl across the altar, he must not raise his head above that of Nahnmwarki, take the cup, drink, and then pass the cup to Sabodan (not back to Nahnmwarki), and crawl back off the altar. Sabodan gives Souwel extra credit for having known how to take a cup offered by a Nahnmwarki. Souwel still commits an error - he was supposed to mount the altar to the left of the center post and dismount to right.

Second cup, arehn sakau, goes to Nahnken.


Sabodan calls another redirected cup, esil, the third cup. Esil in Kitti is usually for Daug, the third title down from Nahnmwarki. In some municipalities esil may have gone to the Wasahi, second to Nahnmwarki, but in the other municipalities esil now goes to the wife of Nahnmwarki, Nahnalek or Likend.

Felix is shown respect and honor by Dien.

Squeezing the sakau requires strength and stamina. The wrap is Hibiscus tiliaceus.

With two men at wengweng there were two cups available, thus oapoang, fourth cup, went to Nahnalek. Sabodan opted to use the modern five cup nohpwei that Kitti uses. Dien sometimes uses the older four cup tradition, but much of Kitti uses a five cup nohpwei. The fifth cup was an insertion to include women in the service. In the other municipalities the third cup was shifted from Wasahi or Daug to Nahnalek or Likend.

The other fourth cup, oapoang, went to Nahnkeniei. Elizabeth demonstrates close to correct formal service. Her hand positions are correct, but her upper body is too upright.

The amount sakau in the nohpwei cups is but a small amount. There is little to drink per se in a nohpwei cup. To sit in these positions of honor is not something these students are likely to ever experience again. This is a unique life experience and remains a form of cap stone event in the ethnobotany course.

Esmirelda reats to being asked to annoint the monarchy

Sabodan caught the instructor off guard when he called for marekeiso. Marekeiso is the term used when putting/applying coconut oil on the Nahnmwariki’s body only. For everyone else, Pohnpeians use the word kei. Leh is oil, the generic phrase for coconut oil. Kei refers to oil applied to a human body. Lehn kalangi is the name of the first leh or oil and/or the initial oiling of the Nahnmwariki’s body right after the 4th serving (cup/ngarangar) of the first sakau (ahmwadang) is presented. The second time oil is called for and applied the oil is referred to as marekeiso. Lehn kalangi and marekeiso are employed only with the presence of the Nahnmwariki. When the menindei calls "ansouhn lehn kalangi" or "ansouhn marekeiso" he is calling for oiling of the monarch. Put another way, if one calls coconut oil "marekeiso" and then applies that oil to a person, one is effectively acknowledging that person as Nahnmwarki. Felicy Spencer produces a bottle of leh, and Esmirelda was asked to do the honors.

When the monarch is annointed with oil, the others in the nahs are also annointed.

Esmirelda annoints the monarch.

Esmirelda demonstrates knowledge of the social situation by not standing erect on the altar.

Esmirelda annoints Nahnken.

Esmirelda annoints the Nahnalek, Franson on the right is oarir to Nahnmwarki.

Esmirelda annoints the Nahnkeniei last - annointing each in rank order as should be done.

Esmirelda, Miki, Lina, and Lerina. 

Only now, with the close of the formal ceremonial part of the nohpwei, are those in the nahs free to speak. Now the purpose of the nohpwei can be announced, whether a kamadipw, asking for a daughter in marriage, celebrating the birth of a first child to a woman, or the sad passing of a loved one at a funeral. Up until this point the nahs has been quiet but for the few words spoken by the menindei. As Sabodan explained, this goes back to the era of sakauen enilapw, sakau for the great spirit.

With the nohpwei ceremony complete, the students headed back to campus. Above is seen the first of the two squeezings that are done with each cup.

He then rearranges his grip to prepare for the second squeeze, essentially a reversed grip or doubled squeeze.

Demonstrating the second, what I call reverse, squeeze.