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WSU Indigenous project featured in NSF STEM video showcase

Closeup of Zoe Higheagle Strong
Zoe Higheagle Strong

With Indigenous science curriculum development as its focus, a team of scholars from Washington State University has been included in this year’s NSF STEM for All Video Showcase: Learning from Research and Practice, held May 5-12.

The annual event is funded by the National Science Foundation, and facilitated by TERC, a non-profit organization dedicated to innovation and creative problem solving in math and science education.

Each year, the event hosts more than 100 three-minute videos from federal-funded projects that aim to improve STEM and computer science education. During the seven days, researchers, policymakers, and the public are invited to view the video presentations, post comments in the facilitated discussion areas, and vote for the videos that are most effective in conveying the creative work being done.

The WSU presentation is based on the $2.5 million NSF-funded Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science (CRIS) project, which weaves together traditional Indigenous learning with western learning.

However, project lead Paula Groves Price, a professor of cultural studies and social thought in education, said CRIS is unique.

“Part of what’s different, I think, about this project, compared to many other National Science Foundation grants, is that we are working primarily with tribal language and culture teachers,” she said.

The team represents language and culture teachers from the Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene) Tribe, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. It also includes faculty and graduate students from WSU’s College of Education, as well as its Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation.

The project activities are designed for students and teachers to critically problem-solve local issues related to the environment and sustainability from the perspective of traditional knowledge, stories, and language.

The learning modules include a heavy technology emphasis, including web and iPad applications.

As is discussed in the video, Zoe Higheagle Strong, an assistant professor of educational psychology, and WSU’s executive director of Tribal Relations, said when the relationship isn’t fully reciprocal, everyone loses.

“If you go into Native communities, and you watch them engaging in fisheries or forestry or different Indigenous knowledge systems, you can see this excitement and engagement of students learning,” Strong said. “We’re missing that component: Indigenous ways of knowing and teaching within the public schools. Not only is it hurting Native students, but it’s hurting all students.”

In the video, CarlaDean Caldera from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, a tribe that has worked closely with WSU on the project, said everything about this has a student focus.

“The question we ask the elders are ‘what would you want our youth to know about the water; about first foods? What would you want them to know?’”

The Tribal liaisons include Caldera, Kellie Fry from the Colville Confederated Tribes, and James Whistocken from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

The WSU team is led by Price, Kim Christen, Strong, Francene Watson, Landon Charlo, Sandra Larios, and Lotus Norton-Wisla.

The CRIS project video is available online.

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