Meaningful, Authentic and Place-Based Informal Science Education for 6-12 Students
Abstract:American Indians are underrepresented in STEM and especially in Earth sciences. They have the lowest high school graduation rate and highest unemployment. On the other hand, tribes are in search of qualified young people to work in geo- and hydro-technical fields to manage reservations’ natural resources.
Dalbotten and her collaborators at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and local 6-12 teachers ran a place-based but non-themed informal monthly science camps (gidakiimanaaniwigamig) for 7 years starting 2003. Camps were held on reservation and some activities focused on observing seasonal changes. The students enjoyed coming to the camps but the camp activities went largely unnoticed by the reservation itself.
For the last 5 years, we and the same cast of characters from the gidakiimanaaniwigamig camps ran a very place-based, research-based camp program, manoomin. The research was focused on manoomin (wild rice) which is a culturally important plant and food that grows in local lakes and wetlands. Manmade changes in hydrology, toxic metals from mining, and changing weather patterns due to climate change threaten this precious resource. Our plan was for 6-12 students to investigate the past, the present and the future conditions of manoomin on and around the reservation. It became clear by 3rd year that the research project, as conceived, was overly ambitious and could not be completed at the level we hoped in a camp setting (6 weekend camps = 6 full days per year). However, students felt that they were involved in research that was beneficial to their reservation, reported gaining self-confidence to pursue a career in science, and stated a desired to obtain a college degree. They also became aware of STEM employment opportunities on reservation that they could aim for. The camps also fostered a trusting relationship between researchers at Fond du Lac resource managers and the U. of MN.
Based on these experiences, we proposed a new format for these camps that are based on collaboration among tribal resource managers, local teachers and university researchers. Activities focus on topics the resource managers choose. We believe this is a format that can be readily exported to other tribes and have begun testing the idea this fall.