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Idaho State News

U of I Team Partners with Tribal Nations to Integrate Indigenous Knowledge in STEM Teachings

MOSCOW — Dozens of K-12 teachers in ancestral tribal homelands will soon work directly with tribal leadership and University of Idaho researchers to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and practice into STEM K-12 curriculum.

The professional development program, called Cultivating Relationships, will be built and delivered in collaboration with tribal nations. A new $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation through its Discovery Research K-12 program is helping researchers test the model in four regions of the Western U.S. and tribal nations starting summer 2023.

The U of I team hopes the program will result in curriculum that supports more Indigenous youth to see STEM fields as a place where their experience matters and their knowledge is vital for global wellbeing

Past research has shown STEM lessons ignore Indigenous principles that shaped thousands of years of sustainable land management practices. By centering Indigenous lessons and relationships with the land in K-12 lesson planning, the project seeks to bridge the long-standing disconnect in American classrooms.

“Teachers rarely come into K-12 classrooms with an understanding of Indigenous peoples, their nations or a sense of how important their relationship to the land is,” said Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, a U of I associate professor in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences who leads the interdisciplinary project team. “To address this gap, it is important to share this information with teachers to apply in the classroom.” 

Sixty-four K-12 teachers from three regional Native American tribes (Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, and Shoshone-Bannock), and one tribe in Arizona (San Carlos Apache) will enroll in a 12-month, 15-credit teacher certification program two years. 

“There is a discontinuity between STEM teachers to the STEM learning that is happening on land each summer in tribal communities through our knowledge systems. The direct involvement of tribes will help to close the gap with our Native youth and help them to thrive in multiple cultures with different measures of success, education standards, and ways of knowing the world,” said Sammy Matsaw, Shoshone-Bannock Fisheries research biologist and co-director of River Newe. “As tribal nations, we ultimately want to ensure our nations’ youth can access our ancestral-community knowledge and STEM training in supportive and innovative ways.” 

Participating teachers will be immersed in experiential learning of Indigenous approaches to scientific fields and land management. The teachers will use that knowledge to create STEM teaching lessons with U of I faculty. Research on the certificate program aims to determine best practices for incorporating Indigenous knowledge and STEM content into contemporary teaching methods. 

Results of this project will be shared with tribal education leaders, community members, and researchers. Organizers hope the work will shape teacher education programs for K-12 STEM education models.