Guardians of the Living Water: Advancing STEM Learning in Informal Settings Across Apsaalooke Communities in the Western United States

Tuesday, September 1, 2020 to Thursday, August 31, 2023
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Summer and Extended Camps, Informal/Formal Connections, Higher Education Programs
Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Undergraduate/Graduate Students | General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals
General STEM
Access and Inclusion: 
Indigenous and Tribal Communities
Montana State University

The Apsáalooke (Crow Indian) Nation in Montana, as well as other Indigenous communities across the United States, disproportionally experience negative consequences from water-related environmental hazards, such as contaminated water. In this project, fifth- and sixth-grade Apsáalooke youth will act as change agents through investigating water issues in their communities and presenting findings to their communities. They will conduct this water-related research in the context of an informal summer program designed to integrate Indigenous and Western perspectives on science. For example, youth will learn the cultural significance of water sites while also practicing methods for collecting and analyzing data relative to those sites, guided by Apsáalooke elders and science professionals. During the summer program, Indigenous high school students and tribal college students will mentor the youth. To develop this program, the project team will conduct interviews with elders and Apsáalooke community members in scientific fields to determine the desired features of a program that integrates Indigenous and Western science. They will use the findings from these interviews to develop a multimedia toolkit, which includes a set of comprehensive materials that will enable other researchers and informal educators to implement similar programs. This toolkit will include information about water science and water quality, lesson plans and related resources for the summer program, professional development materials to prepare the high school youth to act as mentors, handouts for family members to facilitate at-home engagement with their children, and more. The project team will research how the implementation of the toolkit influences the participants' water-related knowledge and attitudes toward science. The toolkit, and the associated empirical findings, will be disseminated widely through local, regional, and national professional networks that serve American Indians.

Montana State University, in partnership with Little Big Horn College, will implement and research an informal summer program for Apsáalooke youth in the fifth and sixth grades, as well as a mentorship program for Indigenous high school students and tribal college students. The older students will participate in a four-week internship program in which they learn about conducting water research and facilitating science activities that foreground Apsáalooke perspectives and cultural practices. The high school and tribal college students will partner with Apsáalooke elders and science professionals to facilitate and implement a two-week summer program for the fifth- and sixth-grade youth. This program will use the toolkit materials that were previously developed in consultation with elders and other community stakeholders. Regression analyses of validated pre- and post-surveys, as well as inductive analyses of interviews with stakeholders, will be used to study how the mentoring program affects the high school and tribal college students' attitudes toward science and career interests, and how the summer program affects the fifth- and sixth-graders' water-related knowledge. The research team will also study how youth participation in the program affects their family and community members' water-related knowledge. This project will result in a multimedia toolkit, freely available to the public and widely disseminated through professional networks, which specifies how other informal educators and researchers can implement similar mentorship programs and summer programs for Indigenous youth. Ultimately, this project will broaden participation through resulting in empirically-tested materials that advance practice in informal education for Indigenous youth and their communities. This project is funded by the Advanced Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

This Innovations in Development award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Vanessa SimondsVanessa SimondsPrincipal Investigator

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