Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 76

LAST WORD

"

Dr. Wren Walker Robbins (fourth from left)
and Dr. Mark Bellcourt (second from right),
former vice-chair of the AISES Publishing
Inc. Board of Directors, with members of
the UND College Chapter in 2015

Community Building Through
STEM Teacher Education

T

ribal colleges are in a unique position to
help the communities they serve adapt
to changing times in ways that support
their traditions. Many tribal communities face
a crisis of Native human capital in sectors that
require highly skilled STEM workforces. But
the experiences of Native students in the K-16
pathway can impact their determination to
overcome systemic barriers that discourage
them from pursuing these STEM careers.
Creating educational pathways that actively
invite Native students' identities - their values,
beliefs, and perceptions of nature - into the
STEM classroom is key to solving this crisis.
I remember middle school science classes
where I was expected to sit still and listen to
teachers talk about a nature that was alien to
me. The lessons presented a non-living world
of math and mechanics in forms of English
that seemed disconnected from my own sense
of language. I was already fascinated by nature
and wanted to share my perceptions woven
with the insights and stories from my family,
but when I did, I often received blank stares or
condescending looks. I quickly learned that
76 WINDS OF CHANGE * FALL 2017

my experience was not relevant to the science I
was learning in school.
When we teach science in this way, from
the perspective of one intellectual tradition, we
run the risk of harming students by unfairly
asking them to check their identities at the
classroom door. K-12 achievement data for
Native students shows the highest levels of
underrepresentation in math and science. A
similar pattern occurs in STEM careers.
I'd like to see a road to STEM opened,
smoothed, and supported for future generations of Native students. This means thinking
about science in new ways. Human communities have always engaged in science using
systematic practices to explore, collect, validate,
and share knowledge. When these different
forms of science sit in the same room, they
inform and enhance one another. If we
understand and honor the science that's
already in our cultures, science doesn't become
foreign; it's something that belongs to all of us.
As an example of building community
capacity, in 2007 only a handful of the
approximately 600 K-12 teachers on the

Wren Walker Robbins, Mohawk, holds
a doctorate in cell biology. She is director of
Secondary Science Education at Salish Kootenai
College in Pablo, Mont. She also directs
Changing Communities Consulting, and
is cofounder of Transformational Community
Associates. Robbins is a Sequoyah member of
AISES and former president of North Star
AISES Alliance and Professional Chapter.
aises.org

COURTESY OF WREN WALKER ROBBINS

"

I'd like to see a road to STEM opened,
smoothed, and supported for future
generations of Native students.

Flathead Reservation were descendants of the
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
That year Salish Kootenai College started a
bachelor's degree program in elementary
education. They have since added early
childhood, secondary science, and secondary
mathematics degrees. Approximately 100
students have successfully completed the
course and are employed in nearby schools,
mostly elementary. Their presence changes
the underlying theoretical and cultural
frameworks in ways that help schools meet
the needs of Native students.
It's a challenge to recruit Native students
into secondary education (math or science)
teacher training programs, even with
scholarships and stipends. Prospective
students don't have a positive sense of the
profession or how rewarding, marketable,
and needed it is in their communities. I often
wonder what my experience might have been
if I had even one STEM teacher who
understood my predicament.
To build STEM intellectual capacity in our
communities, we need secondary science
teachers who can mentor and model positive
scientific educational pathways. Once we have
teachers who are trained to open young
Native minds and souls to science in earlier
years, we can have a flow of students moving
toward STEM degrees and careers, able to
support their families and their communities
while remaining deeply connected to their
Native identities. To do this, we need our
foresters, biologists, engineers, parents,
grandparents, and teachers to work together.
My relatives taught me that before we start
anything important we need to acknowledge
each other, that we need one another. I need
you, I need you, I need you. We need you to
help open doorways for future Native
students and their communities. Become a
math or science teacher!
- Wren Walker Robbins


http://www.aises.org

Winds of Change - Fall 2017

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Winds of Change - Fall 2017

Contents
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Intro
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover1
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover2
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Contents
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 2
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 3
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 4
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 5
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 6
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 7
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Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover3
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover4
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