The White Earth Academy of Math and Science
Karen Terry, U of MN Extension, Water Resources
The White Earth Academy of Math and Science “offers culturally relevant educational opportunities to White Earth students. Students learn modern science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through traditional American Indian stories and hands-on activities. Integrating western science and the Anishinabe way of life is critical to the program's success.” The overall program, which is in its 17th year, ran for three weeks (June 13-July 1), and Extension Educator Karen Terry spent two days working with the students learning about rivers, watersheds, and land use impacts. There were about 40 students, ranging from 4-8th grade.
On the first day, the students used 3-D maps to explore the Wild Rice River Watershed in which they live. They also gathered around the stream model to study the five components of healthy rivers: Biology, Channel Shape, Water Quality, Connectivity, and Hydrology, and how the sixth component – People – can affect change in a watershed.
On the second day, each group of students conducted an experiment with the stream model. They came up with a hypothesis (that more sediment would move downstream at higher flows than at lower flows), identified assumptions, discussed methodology, and then conducted their experiment. Students were responsible for building their own stream channel for the experiment (determining the dimension, pattern, and profile of their stream), and they took turns doing two tasks during the experiment: controlling the flow rate and capturing the sediment sample. One student was assigned the role of data recorder. Once the data were collected, each group analyzed their numbers, and they all proved that their hypothesis was true.
Other classes throughout the 2016 3-week Academy included studying local fisheries, making their own “bee hotels,” building beaver dams, conducting their own science fair projects, learning about aquatic robotics, making paper, container gardening, Ojibwe language lessons, forest management, becoming familiar with fire safety equipment, team building, and more. One of the messages shared throughout the Academy is that math and science careers are interesting and viable options for these students to consider. The last day of the program is always a Feast and Awards Ceremony to celebrate the students’ successes.
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