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Visit aims to inspire science interest in Native students

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

groves-price-p-2011-80PULLMAN, Wash. – As it turns out, Cinco de Mayo will also be a Native American celebration this year – at least for a busload of eighth- and ninth-graders from Paschal Sherman Indian School, part of the Colville Tribe in Omak, Wash.

That’s the day the students will be on the Washington State University campus for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) field trip. WSU organizer Paula Groves Price said she hopes this will become an annual event for the school.

The students will take part in an outreach seminar and workshops including:

* Testing and predicting success or failure of beam designs in construction.

* Learning about microbes, infection, DNA and genetics.

* Managing natural resources, including water and fisheries.

“I think it is going to be great fun for students to do these seminars because they are all hands-on and require them to be problem-solvers,” said Price, an associate professor in the WSU Department of Teaching and Learning. “Breaking beams, being a disease hunter in a white lab coat, playing with goldfish crackers and gummy fish – who wouldn’t want to spend their day doing these types of science activities?”

The visit is part of a collaboration between Price and Kimberly Christen Withey, from the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies, as well as Marc Beutel, from the College of Engineering & Architecture.

The project is called “Streams of Knowledge: Water Sciences and Education for the 21st Century.” One of its long-term goals is to create interest in the sciences among Native American youth so they might pursue a college education and potentially work in their tribal fish, wildlife or conservation departments.

“Many tribes in the region feel a great need to ‘grow their own scientists,’ and the Streams of Knowledge project aims to help facilitate that process through culturally responsive science lessons that blend Western science with indigenous knowledge systems,” Price said. “We want kids to use some of the latest technology to not only learn science but also engage in hands-on projects that can make an impact in their communities.”

Price said Paschal Sherman was selected as the partner school for several reasons, including its openness to new science curriculum and pedagogy. Beutel also has worked with the Colville Tribe for many years on water research and knew people who connected the WSU group to the school.

Paschal Sherman is one of the lowest performing schools in Washington state. Price hopes the visit might make a difference in the students’ engagement and interest.

“I’m excited that the kids will be able to come to WSU, see how great the faculty and facilities are here and walk away feeling like they learned science in a fun way,” she said. “I hope they feel the long bus ride was worth it.”

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