Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Xoa:dau to Maunkaui: Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into an Undergraduate Earth Systems Science Course

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Xoa:dau to Maunkaui: Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into an Undergraduate Earth Systems Science Course

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Very few Native American students pursue careers in the geosciences. To address this national problem, several units at the University of Oklahoma are implementing a geoscience "pipeline" program that is designed to increase the number of Native American students entering geoscience disciplines. One of the program's strategies includes the development of an undergraduate course called 'Earth Systems of the Southern Great Plains.' The course focuses on geoscience topics that relate to the southern plains (particularly Oklahoma), emphasizes "sense of place," integrates indigenous knowledge and geoscience content, makes use of Kiowa stories and metaphors, and uses Native American Art as a vehicle of learning. Students in the course are required to put living indigenous philosophies into practice through teaching activities and the construction of geoscience models using everyday materials. The course is designed to highlight the integrated nature of Earth processes, elicit students' experiences through exploration of case studies illustrating links between indigenous knowledge and Earth processes, and demonstrate the process of practicing science. Formative student evaluations are providing useful information and the course is evolving. Preliminary assessment results suggest that integrating Native American culture, art, and geoscience content is a successful approach.

INTRODUCTION

The course 'Earth Systems on the Southern Great Plains' is an introductory Earth System Science course that integrates indigenous knowledge into the geosciences and uses Native American art as a vehicle of learning. The course is part of a project at the University of Oklahoma (OU) entitled "Diversity in Geosciences: Development of a 'Pipeline' for Native American Students," the objective is to develop opportunities for Native American students to participate in geoscience education and research.

Data from the National Science Foundation (Huntoon and Lane, 2007), indicate that certain groups, including Native Americans (Riggs and Semken, 2001), are underrepresented in geosciences at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This is certainly the case in the geoscience-related colleges (The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences or CGS) and The College of Earth and Energy or CEE at the University of Oklahoma). In Oklahoma, 17-18% of the population is Native American. Yet in 2006 only 3% of the students in both colleges were Native American. Native American students comprise only 7.1% of the total student population at OU. Projections indicate that in the next 5 years the numbers of Native American High School students in Oklahoma will increase by approximately 2025% (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2003). The opportunity exists to increase the number of Native Americans in the geosciences, provide rewarding educational and career opportunities for the students, make important connections with families and communities, and contribute to the growing science and technology workforce in Oklahoma and surrounding regions.

The introductory undergraduate course uses a multidisciplinary approach with a global perspective and builds on the "connectedness with the planet" that is a part of Native American beliefs (Cajete, 2000). The course is designed to; 1) cover selected topics in greater detail than in most introductory courses, while highlighting the integrated nature of Earth processes, 2) elicit students' experiences through exploration of case studies illustrating links between indigenous knowledge and Earth processes, and 3) demonstrate the process of practicing science. The course focuses on geoscience topics that relate to the southern plains (particularly Oklahoma) and emphasize "sense of place." A "sense of place" refers to the set of meanings of and attachments to places held by individuals and/or by groups and that is important in their cultural and educational philosophies - in this case, of Native Americans (Semken, 2005). …

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