Lindsey Bark
Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH – In collaboration with Oklahoma State University, the Cherokee Nation is one of three Oklahoma tribes chosen by NASA to create a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum that includes Native American culture.

As part of a $3.3 million program called Native Earth|Native Sky, the program will “build culturally-relevant earth-sky STEM programming” to help increase students’ understanding and interest in STEM, according to science.nasa.gov.

According to an OSU press release, the funding is a cooperative agreement with OSU College of Education and Human Sciences.

“NASA has been wanting to do more public outreach,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “Just the same as we have a doctor shortage and we have a nursing shortage, there’s a shortage of engineers. And we want to try to put this in the mindset of these kiddos that, hey, all that gaming, and all that stuff you’re doing, that is directly related to software engineering, and the types of things that it takes to get a rocket into space, to get a get a moon lander to land and what we’re doing on Mars.”

Warner said the plan is to develop a “good usable curriculum that fits the standards” for public education. He said the Cherokee Nation is planning and working with several departments on implementing ideas.

“Anytime you look at building a new program like this, I think from an educator standpoint of view, how can I build this in a way that the public schools find it useful?” Warner said. “Then ultimately, from a tribal stand point of view, how can we tie in our culture, our history and our heritage?”

NASA has five objectives on how they want to accomplish intertwining tribal culture into education:

  • Identify “earth-sky legends” and “earth-sky words” in each tribe’s language by interviewing elders and educators;
  • Create tribe-specific STEM curriculum that interweaves each tribe’s legends as well as STEM principles from national and state standards by using “evidence-based curriculum development protocols” to include culture and language in STEM programming;
  • Test the effectiveness of each curriculum in summer camps and school settings in each tribal nation;
  • Create professional development opportunities for educators that are local to the tribes and regional to the state; and
  • Identify “iterative design principles of the program” using student assessments and tribal feedback to adjust the curriculum until it achieves the desired results.

The program’s grant is for five years, and Warner said in that time the idea is to get kids more interested in STEM. He said Mary Golda Ross set the tone for Cherokees in STEM by being the first Native American aerospace engineer.

“That’s the tone that we want to keep that’s been set long ago,” he said. “There are no limits to what they can do if the opportunities there exists.”

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This article was first published in the Cherokee Phoenix