Reno, Nev. (July 14, 2020) – Meghan Collins, M.S., Education Lead for the Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project and Assistant Research Scientist at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno has received a $100k grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to develop a STEM curriculum with Diné (Navajo) and Hopi communities.
With this funding, Collins, Karletta Chief, Ph.D. (University of Arizona), Kyle Bocinsky, Ph.D. (DRI/Crow Canyon Archaeological Center), and several other members of the NWAL team will work with teachers serving Indigenous communities to develop and adapt STEM curriculum to place-based contexts. The project, called “Teaching Native Waters,” will host in-depth, yearlong professional development experiences to 20 middle and high school teachers serving Indigenous students in the Diné (Navajo) and Hopi Nations.
“This project builds on opportunities that we identified during the course of the Native Waters on Arid Lands project, where teachers wanted ways to bring STEM curriculum into their classrooms for the benefit of young and future generations,” said Collins. “We are thrilled to be able to continue this important work with new funding from USDA-NIFA, and help make science from the NWAL project actionable in K-12 classrooms.”
The long-term goal of “Teaching Native Waters” is to include more Native American students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This project will help to address issues of diversity in STEM and important gaps in professional development for teachers serving rural students.
This grant was one of four awards given out through USDA-NIFA’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields program (WAMS). WAMS supports research, education/teaching, and extension projects to increase participation by women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in science technology engineering and math.
This project is expected to begin in August 2020 and run through July 2022. Additional DRI researchers that will be working on the Teaching Native Waters project include NWAL Program Director Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., and NWAL water quality lead Alexandra Lutz, Ph.D.
Climate change, in the abstract, can be a difficult phenomenon to comprehend – but on the ground, youth from Native American reservations in Arizona are already experiencing everyday impacts in the form of droughts and warming temperatures.
“Place-based education utilizes elements of the familiar, such as local landscapes, resources, and experiences, as a foundation for the study of more complex topics,” explained Meghan Collins, M.S., Assistant Research Scientist at DRI and NWAL’s Education Lead. “In this case, we worked with teachers to draw meaningful connections to some of our main project themes of water for agriculture and people, drought and climate connections, and solar energy.”
Workshop participants engage in a hands-on demonstration related to solar power at NWAL’s teacher workshop in Arizona. September 14, 2019.
Fourteen teachers attended the September workshop, including K-12 and GED adult educators from the Hopi, Navajo, and Tohono O’odham communities of Arizona. The workshop began with a day of seminars, discussions, and hands-on demonstrations led by researchers from DRI and the University of Arizona (UA). Activities were aimed at helping teachers gain a thorough understanding of the subject matter, and incorporated data and information relevant to reservations of Arizona.
Ed Franklin, Ph.D., (UA) led a professional development seminar on solar energy, using locally-appropriate methods and hands-on examples to demonstrate how solar panels can be used to generate energy and pump water. NWAL team member Alex Lutz, Ph.D., (DRI) led the group through a lesson in water quality, with a focus on salinity and total dissolved solids, using maps of water contamination from the Hopi and Navajo reservations and a hands-on exercise with salinity-meters. NWAL team member Kyle Bocinsky, Ph.D., (DRI/Crow Canyon Archaeological Center) led a seminar on climate and weather patterns, comparing modern-day climate conditions with paleo data from the last 1000 years, through an examination of the local tree ring record.
Workshop facilitators and participants counted tree rings as part of Kyle Bocinsky’s dendrochronology demonstration at NWAL’s teacher workshop. Sept 14, 2019.
On the second day of the workshop, NWAL team member Meghan Collins facilitated the group to use a template for developing place-based lesson plans. Teachers and scientists then worked together to create place-based lesson plans that incorporated the requirements of Arizona State Science Standards.
The lesson plans connected elements of each school’s local landscapes and resources with the science lessons from the NWAL/UA researchers. One teacher, who came from a community that will soon be constructing a new school, developed a lesson plan that asked students to calculate whether their new school’s energy needs could be met by solar energy. Another teacher developed a lesson plan for students to collect water quality samples from around their community and have them tested for arsenic, which is present in certain areas of the Hopi Reservation.
“One of the most important parts of this workshop was that the teachers had face-to-face contact with the researchers, so they could develop an understanding of the science that was presented and turn that into something they could teach,” said NWAL Program Director Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D., (DRI/University of Nevada, Reno). “This workshop was a clear demonstration of our team being able to translate research into tangible outcomes that our tribal partners can use.”
Workshop participants gather outside of the STAR school for a demonstration on solar power by Ed Franklin of University of Arizona. Sept. 14, 2019.
The idea for the teacher training was sparked during a climate-agriculture resiliency workshop that NWAL held for members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes during March 2019, which centered around the idea of making climate data useful for farmers and ranchers in native communities. Several teachers were in attendance, and wanted to know how to bring local climate science data into their classrooms for the benefit of young and future generations.
The NWAL team planned the September teacher’s workshop and recruited participants, with help from Trent Teegerstrom (UA Tribal Extension Program), Ed Franklin (UA), and Susan Sekaquaptewa (University of Arizona Hopi FRTEP Agent). The STAR school provided a venue, and the director and teachers from the school participated in the workshop and provided a tour of their impressive facility.
“This workshop was an experiment, but it worked extremely well, so we’re going to build on this to do additional workshops this year or next,” McCarthy said.
Facilitators and participants from NWAL’s teacher workshop on place-based education. STAR School, September 14-15, 2019.
The Native Waters on Arid Lands project partners researchers and extension experts with tribal communities in the Great Basin and American Southwest to collaboratively understand the impacts of climate change, and to evaluate adaptation options for sustaining water resources and agriculture. Partners in the project include the Desert Research Institute; the University of Nevada, Reno; the University of Arizona; First Americans Land-Grant Consortium; Utah State University; Ohio University; United States Geological Survey; and the Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program in Nevada and Arizona. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. To learn more, please visit: http://nativewaters-aridlands.com.
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