Chickasaw Nation one of three tribes selected for NASA’s Native Earth

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Choctaw citizen Dr. Kathryn Gardner-Vandy is working with the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Nations to incorporate earth and sky stories, as well as language and other culturally relevant topics, in their STEM education curriculums.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has chosen Oklahoma State University (OSU) to create a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program that includes First American culture in the curriculum. Named Native Earth | Native Sky (NENS), the OSU team is funded by NASA’s Science Activation program and is working with the Chickasaw Nation, Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation to tailor a STEM curriculum specifically for each tribe’s children.

When complete, STEM curriculum will include specific stories, language and cultural components from each of the respective traditions. Curriculum will be available to each tribe as a free open education resource.

According to Choctaw citizen and Assistant Professor at OSU’s College

of Education and Human Sciences, Kathryn Gardner-Vandy, meetings will be conducted  with each tribe to determine which earth and sky based stories are to be highlighted. Other cultural elements and First American language will be featured in the personalized curriculum as well.

“As a member of the Choctaw Nation, I am particularly interested in seeing First American culture celebrated. I hope that the beautiful interweaving of First American knowledge and STEM principles can be seen and understood by all through the NENS program," Gardner-Vandy said in a recent statement.

The NENS program is built to provide culturally relevant earth-sky STEM programming for middle schoolers. By combining traditional stories and language with current STEM topics, children will have increased understanding of the importance of science and technology in their future educational goals.

“In my opinion the geosciences and space sciences are a great way to teach all STEM subjects. Likewise, I know how important the connection is between First Americans and their sense of place, including the earth and sky,” Gardner-Vandy said.

NENS will create evidence-based curriculum and development protocols that include culture and language alongside STEM programming. The curricula will include videos from NASA scientists/engineers and community subject matter experts, as well as illustrations from each of the tribes.

“We will have a one-time summer camp for each of the tribes to test the curriculum,” Gardner-Vandy said. “We will also have a weeklong professional development workshop for the teachers in each of the nations’ jurisdictions.”

As a $3.3 million cooperative agreement from NASA, NENS will begin its summer camps and professional development opportunities for teachers the summers of 2023-2025. They will soon begin conducting interviews with elders of the tribes and working with language and cultural departments to determine the best stories and words to use in the program.

The long-term goal for OSU and NASA is to continue partnerships with First Americans of Oklahoma, ensuring children establish positive connections with STEM concepts and are encouraged to pursue STEM careers.

“We were one of many proposals that were sent to NASA through their Science Activation program. They wanted programs that were geared to underrepresented populations. Our program does just that,” Gardner-Vandy said.

According to NASA’s website, the NENS program provides “a process by which Subject Matter Experts can engage with learners” and “a process by which to broaden participation of under-represented and under-served learners,” forming a collaboration with a current program that has a similar goal of serving underrepresented populations (First Americans and Alaska Natives).

For more information on NASA’s Science Activation Program, go to https://science.nasa.gov/learners.