Weaving Together Native Cultural Knowledge and Western Science to Support Diverse Students' Learning about the Earth

Wednesday 4:30pm-5:45pm Student Union: Ballroom B
Poster Session Part of Wednesday Session


Holly Godsey, University of Utah
Steven Semken, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus
William Tsosie, Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department
Amanda Cangelosi, University of Utah
Bennie Begay, University of Utah
Candace Penrod, Salt Lake City School District
The University of Utah's Center for Science and Mathematics Education conducted a series of teacher workshops on Math and Earth Science from Navajo (Diné) and Western Perspectives in order to promote effective instructional practices for diverse students. The workshops are based on the premise that by developing an understanding of the cultural capital that indigenous and other culturally underrepresented students bring to the classroom, teachers can learn to relate science content in ways that are more relevant and inclusive. Underrepresented students often find that their cultural worldview and sense of place seem to conflict with mainstream science teaching, leading to confusion and disinterest in science. Connecting science concepts to cultural knowledge, and situating learning in local landscapes and environments enables students to construct new knowledge in the context of their own experiences and helps lessen any sense of discontinuity that arises from seemingly disparate ideas about Earth processes. For example, traditional Diné concepts of natural processes resulting from dynamic interactions between the systems of the Sky (Yádilhil) and the Earth (Nohosdzáán) are not dissimilar to Western concepts of Earth system science.

The summer (2013, 2015 and 2016) workshops brought together geoscientists, Diné cultural experts, and in-service K-12 teachers from the region for field-based inquiry and mutual sharing of expertise. Field geological activities emphasized observational skills, Colorado Plateau geologic history, and applications of mathematics to phenomena. Each participating teacher selected a cultural, scientific, or pedagogical topic to research in advance and share with the group during the workshop. Highlights, activities and findings from each of the workshops will be shared in this presentation.