Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 32 Number 1
October 1992

INSERVICE ACTIVITY THAT EMPHASIZES
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CULTURE IN TEACHING SCHOOL SCIENCE

Gerry Haukoos and Dorothy LeBeau

While changes have been occurring in science and science teaching across the continent, there is little evidence that culture and science are being integrated to better serve non-European Americans. This is a report that demonstrates an attempt to integrate science and culture at the Math and Science Institute for teachers of American Indian children sponsored by the Office of Indian Education Programs. One hundred and fifty-four teachers from 23 American Indian nations participated in an institute that emphasized (1) increased integration of science and culture, (2) decreased content/teacher-centered instructional strategies, and (3) increased hands-on/student-centered instructional strategies. Statistically significant changes occurred in each category when contrasted with overall and other assessment categories.

Introduction

Since the early immigration of Europeans to North America, culture and ethnicity have long been prominent in shaping a nation's political and social system. Although that system has not always served everyone equally, it has elevated the importance of culture and ethnicity in the larger American society. Throughout the 19th century differing cultural and ethnic views produced ongoing conflict and distrust among many of the new and resident populations. However, those differences were politically narrowed after the turn of the century when preoccupied policy makers allowed assimilationists to enact their new social conformity doctrine (Cubberley, 1909). Goals of the doctrine were to rid cultural and ethnic groups of their traits by forcing Anglo-conformity behavior through social assimilation (Banks, 198 1).

In the decades to follow, philosophers and writers presented a case for less conformity and sought greater expression of the social uniqueness of culture and ethnicity. They argued that a cultural pluralistic society would enrich the nation and all would benefit from its many diverse people and their contributions. Yet, it wasn't until the cultural revitalization movements of the last two decades that cultural pluralism was truly considered a viable alternative to cultural and ethnic conformity. Now, cultural pluralism has been translated into what the public and educators alike call, multiculturalism. Like the philosophers from the turn of the century, the purpose of multiculturalism is to create in the person an ability to look at the world through her or his own eyes, and then, make decisions that will enhance personal achievement and self-identity (Baldwin, 1988). Even though its composition and meaning may still be argued globally, it appears this view of culture and ethnicity has developed an acceptance in some institutions of the American society.

Typical of the past century's changing national views of culture and ethnicity were educational policies and programs serving various minority populations. For American Indians, educational policy vacillated between assimilation and self-determination much like the larger population. While the Immigration Acts were being successfully argued during the 1920s, the Meriam Report (1928) was arguing for massive reform in the administration of American Indian education. Yet, it wasn't until 1969 that Congress learned the Meriam Report recommendations had never been put into operation (U.S. Senate, 1969). Ironically, however, the same goals proposed by the Meriam Report, build a school curriculum that reflects the local culture and educational values, have now become the foundation to the new multiculturalism some 60 years later.

A Curricular Perspective on Culture and Ethnicity.

Within the changing educational perspectives on culture and ethnicity have also come changes in human acquired knowledge during the past century. For exampie, science has made unprecedented breakthroughs in its interpretation and understanding of the natural world. Accompanying those discoveries have also been pedagogical changes in how science is to be taught in the schools. Prior to the Sputnik revolution, science was taught more as a body of facts that needed to be committed to memory and understood. Even though remnants of pre-Sputnik science teaching still exist, emphasis now is placed on the importance of presenting science to children as inquiry by using manipulatives with direct experience in problem solving. Not only does this instructional philosophy create greater interest among children, but it also provides them an intellectual scheme for understanding the underlying philosophy and nature of science.

While changes have been occurring in science and science teaching, there are few reports that actually demonstrate the integration of science and culture into local culture and curricula. For example, science is still taught in most American Indian community schools using the conformity and assimilation strategies from the turn of the century. Yet, American Indian cultures do not accept the separation of science from other aspects of their life as do most Anglo-Americans. In fact, there is no word in any traditional American Indian language that can be translated to mean science as it might be defined by Western culture (Cajete, 1986). Yet, expressions of science thinking are abundant throughout traditional American Indian agriculture, astronomy, ecology, and medical practices. In addition, processes of science which include rational observation of natural events, classification, and problem solving are woven into all aspects of American Indian culture (Cajete, 1986). So ultimately, if the goals of multiculturalism are to be achieved in a more pluralistic society, then increased racial and cultural awareness must be translated into programs that meet those goals. One such program was the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Math and Science Institute, sponsored by the Office of Indian Education Program; Suite Gleska College, Rosebud, South Dakota, and Haskell Indian Junior College, Lawrence, Kansas.

 

Institute and Study Description

Institute Description.

During 1990, two 2-week institutes were conducted to provide 154 elementary teachers from 23 American Indian nations an opportunity to obtain new content and methods for teaching science and mathematics. Yet going beyond traditional institute activity, this project included a component designed to study inservicing factors related to teachers in multicultural settings.

Normally, inservicing activities seek to provide curricular and method updates as previously described, but here, the institute objectives were designed to:

1. Convince elementary teachers that science was to be taught to elementary children using an inquiry approach with hands-on manipulatives in a problem-solving setting.

2. Persuade elementary teachers that integration of science and culture was not only possible for good science, but that it was also necessary.

This task was accomplished through an intensive hands-on science portion of the institute that used a number of basic persuasion strategies suggested by Ross (1985). Foremost among these was to persuade the participants to recognize their current teaching behavior as it related to hands-on science and the integration of science and culture. Then, alternatives to the former behaviors were provided through intensive institute activity. These alternatives contained enough examples of integrated culture and science in their content to influence change in individual attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and emotions. Following the institute presentations and activities, each participant had to personally internalize and voluntarily accept the new proposed patterns of behavior if they were to change. Substantive changes were based upon each participant:

1. Being able to discuss their current beliefs related to the desired change.

2. Recognizing that both their thoughts and activity products would be accepted as valid contributions of their work and thinking.

3. Doing science activities the same way they would be doing them with their students.

4. Recognizing their freedom to explore other alternatives to the assigned activity.

5. Experiencing science activities that integrate science and cultural concepts.

6. Recognizing the positive attitude and classroom climate in which they were working.

In other words, these delivery strategies sought to respect the spirit of each person coming from the many nations across North America.

Study Description.

At the beginning and end of the intensive hands-on science portion of the two Math and Science Institutes, participants were asked to respond to the assessment inventory, "Toward a Philosophy for Teaching Science to American Indian Children." The instrument consisted primarily of different instructional strategies teachers may use to teach elementary school science. Strategies like:

    • Presents science information to students using a lecture-discussion method.
    • Science process skills are an integral and prominent part of the teaching and learning process.

However, embedded in the instrument's 30 items were seven strategies that specifically integrated science and the American Indian culture. Such included representatives like:

    • Community elder resource people are an integral part of the science program where they talk about how ancestors inquired and solved problems for everyday living.
    • Medicine Men are appropriately used to reinforce the integration of health, nutrition, and spirituality.

Items from the latter group were placed in the instrument to determine the amount of current curriculum integration, and also, to seek participants' view toward integrating science and culture in the future.

The assessment procedure required cooperatively grouped consensus on determining the value of each science teaching strategy as it related to participants' dispersal of personal and professional resources (e.g., time, energy, money). In essence, how much value did they place on using a particular strategy in their teaching. The assessment task was accomplished through placement of "value dots" behind each item. Value dots were simply small, red-punched construction paper pieces that could easily be added or subtracted from items as assessment views changed during the activity. All 60 dots were to be used among the 30 assessment items with at least one item receiving a five-dot value. Pre-assessment values centered around participants' view of current curriculum integration and activity, while post-assessment emphasized what participants thought should and could be accomplished as a result of institute activity. Once the task was completed, group generated data were placed on the chalkboard so all could assess the current status of science teaching among attending participants.

Pre-assessment and post-assessment data generated from the two institutes were statistically analyzed using descriptive statistics (central tendency, variability) and one-way analysis of variance. Overall, individual and grouped instrument items were analyzed in the study. Grouped items selected for analysis fell into three primary areas: (1) integration of science and cultural strategies, (2) content/teacher-centered strategies, and (3) hands-on/student-centered strategies.

Results

Analysis of data from the study indicate participants made important shifts in a number of desired areas related to change dynamics for teaching science to American Indian children. Such shifts occurred with items pertaining to integrating science and cultural strategies, content/teacher-centered strategies and hands-on/student-centered strategies. More specifically, five of the seven strategy items pertaining to the integration of the American Indian culture and science showed statistically significant pre-assessment/post-assessment gain (Table 1). Such gains occurred in:

    • Community elder resource people are an integral part of the science program where they talk about how ancestors inquired and solved problems for everyday living.
    • Medicine Men are appropriately used to reinforce the integration of health nutrition, and spirituality.
    • Field trips to local areas are used to study where resources have been harvested for meeting and solving daily needs (e.g., sage, soap weed, skins).
    • Literature of science-related events in the culture (e.g., star stories) is used for its scientific value.
    • Activities to demonstrate science concepts are rewritten to make use of culturally relevant materials and practices.

When mean values for culturally related items were grouped together, there was a shift from a 1.73 mean value points upon institute entrance to 2.78 at exit (Table 2). Such significant gains can be contrasted with change ratios for all assessment items grouped together (2.05 to 2.45), and all noncultural items (2.15 to 2.35). These results suggest that institute activity contributed to persuade participants to change their understanding of how science and American Indian culture could be integrated through hands-on activities.

Equally important changes occurred with shifts in items related to content/teacher-centered strategies vs. hands-on/student-centered strategies. There were significant declines in value through institute activity (1.67 to .81) (Table 2 & 3) through content/teacher-centered strategy items like:

    • present science information to students using a lecture-discussion method;
    • conduct demonstrations in front of class so students learn a scientific approach to investigating the natural world around them;
    • and students memorize definitions of science words

 

 

Table 1

Changes in Assessed Values for All Items Denoting

Curriculum Integration of Science and Culture

Instrument

Items

Assessment

Pre- Post

Source

ss

df

Ins

f

Students meet or read about successful Indian, Hispanic, Black scientist role models.

2.22 2.00

Between

Within

.82

1096.22

1

65

.82

16.87

.05

Activities to demonstrate science concepts are rewritten to use culturally relevant materials and practices.

1.31 3.39

Between

Within

69.39

132.76

1

63

69.39

2.11

32.93*

Literature of science-related events in the culture (e.g., star stories) is used for its scientific value.

1.81 3.06

Between

Within

27.12

177.52

1

67

27.12

2.65

10.24*

Study science-related problems which influence the future of Indians, e.g., nutrition, AIDS, land use.

2.93 2.92

Between

Within

IE.03

159.53

I

74

IE.03

2.16

1E.03

Medicine men are appropriately used to reinforce the integration of health, nutrition, and spirituality.

.72 1.52

Between

Within

9.19

86.96

1

55

9.19

1.58

5.81*

Field trips to local areas are used to study where resources have been harvested for meeting and solving daily needs, e.g., sage, soap weed.

1.66 3.39

Between

Within

53.22

86.44

1

69

53.22

42.48*

1.25

Community elder resource people are an integral part of science program where they talk about how ancestors inquired and solved problems for everyday living.

1.48 3.12

Between

Within

46.47

96.80

1

61

46.47

1.59

29.28*

Significant level, Alpha=.05

Table 2

Changes in Pre-Assessment and Post-Assessment

Grouped Item Value Points

Strategy Item

Groups

Pre-Assessment

Mean

Post-Assessment

Mean

Culturally Related

1.73

2.78

Nonculturally Related

2.15

2.35

Content/Teacher-Centered

1.67

.81

Hands-on/Student-Centered

2.48

3.25

All Assessment Instrument Items

2.05

2.45

In contrast, there were significant offsetting gains in value (2.48 to 3.25) (Table 2 & 4) in hands-on/student-centered strategy items like:

    • activities are taught that allow students to explore science materials before they invent concepts to explain them;
    • written materials include liberal quantities of hands-on investigations and activities that children can actually do;
    • science process skills are an integral and prominent part of the teaching and learning process;
    • and increased permissiveness within exploration and inquiry activities is used to increase the emphasis on creativity rather than on achievement.

These mean value changes that showed statistically significant increases in integrating science and cultural strategies, decreases in content/teacher-centered strategies and offsetting increases in hands-on/student-centered strategies, substantiate relative success of overall institute objectives and activities.

Discussion and Implications

The objective of the intensive hands-on science portion of the institute was to persuade participants to teach science using a direct-experience or handson approach that incorporated all aspects of American Indian culture. Analysis results from three areas of the supporting study indicate that significant progress had been made toward reaching those goals. First, there was an increase in score values for understanding the need for hands-on science. Accompanying those scores were parallel gains in the incorporation of culture into the hands-on strategies, as well as, declines in the need for use of content-oriented teaching strategies. Together, those results provided greater understanding of the overall inservicing task needed to improve science teaching for American Indian children.

In 1977, an American Association for Advancement of Science report stated that the primary barrier to American Indian participation in science was its lack of relevance to Indian lives and their survival as a culture. This institute and accompanying study took steps to remedy those barriers through positive integration of culture into the inservicing process. However, when a review of literature in this area was conducted, few examples concerned themselves with the nature and culture of the teacher involved in the inservice process. This may not appear to be significant for European-Americans, but those unspoken messages for American Indians can only propagate the misnomer that the user of science is a servant to its preordained doctrine. That mind-set parallels that of the assimilationists' Anglo-conformity doctrine, and in either instance, integration of science and culture do not benefit.

Table 3

Changes in Assessed Values for All Items Denoting

Content/Teacher-Centered Strategies

Instrument

Items

Assessment

Pre- Post

Source

ss

df

Ins

f

Students memorize definitions of science words.

1.43 .43

Between

Within

14.58

80.41

1

57

14.58

1.41

10.34*

Present science information to students using a lecture-discussion method.

2.18 .39

Between

Within

49.99

103.86

1

62

49.99

103.86

29.84*

Present science theories and then conduct studies to prove those theories.

1.15 1.23

Between

Within

.11

127.61

1

61

.10

2.09

.05

Students memorize classification schemes and definitions as a scientific approach to nature study.

.86 .44

Between

Within

2.44

74.12

1

54

2.44

1.37

1.78

Conduct demonstrations in front of class so students learn a scientific approach to studying the natural world around them.

3.11 1.47

Between

Within

45.01

135.05

1

66

45.01

2.04

21.99*

Students receive detailed and specific instruction or each step when they conduct studies, analyze data, and seek correct answers and conclusions.

1.29 .89

Between

Within

2.40

89.81

1

60

2.40

1.50

1.60

Significant level, Alpha=.05

Table 4

Changes in Assessed Values for Items Denoting

Hands-on/Student-Centered Strategies

Instrument

Items

Assessment

Pre- Post

Source

ss

df

ms

f

Science process skills are an integral and prominent part of the teaching and learning process.

1.85 3.44

Between

Within

42.88

140.65

1

66

42.88

2.13

20.12*

Students have an opportunity to do group exploration and draw group conclusion.

3.13 3.60

Between

Within

4.00

132.74

1

71

4.00

1.87

2.14

Written materials include liberal quantities of hands-on studies and activities that children can do.

2.52 3.26

Between

Within

10.48

204.68

1

74

10.48

2.77

3.79

Students are encouraged to formulate new questions, restate problems in their own words, and create new ideas.

2.27 3.62

Between

Within

9.57

594.20

1

67

9.57

8.87

1.08

Activities are taught so students explore science materials before they invent concepts to explain them.

2.00 3.00

Between

Within

17.99

176.00

1

70

17.99

2.51

7.15*

Provide activities that encourage a science attitude through careful thinking, open-mindedness, and neutral observation.

2.79 3.34

Between

Within

5.39

136.11

1

70

5.39

1.94

2.77

Use written materials that encourage children to explore, discover, and find answers for themselves rather than telling them the results.

1.97 2.22

Between

Within

1.02

198.44

1

64

1.12

3.10

.33

During studies teacher functions as a guide by assisting, asking questions, and suggesting alternative procedures or thinking.

3.57 3.55

Between

Within

43.03

166.48

1

73

4E.03

2.28

2E.03

Increased permissiveness within exploration and inquiry activities is used to increase the emphasis on creativity rather than on achievement.

2.21 3.21

Between

Within

17.00

143.12

1

66

17.00

2.17

7.84*

* Significant level, Alpha=.05

Today, American Indians are the least represented culturally different population in science-related fields of study. This has been a concern of those seeking to see greater participation; however, examples from the literature again only substantiate the lack of understanding for the level and degree of integration that normally exists between science and traditional American Indian cultures (Haukoos & Beauvais, 1985; Robbins, 1983). If the perceived lack of relevance is to be overcome, responsible educators must continue to find ways of integrating culture and hands-on science within a multicultural philosophy of education. As Hodgkinson (1985) pointed out, one in every three Americans will be a minority by the year 2000. While this large non-White population will add a high level of energy and creativity to the nation, their failure to participate in the educational process could lead to diminished futures for all. Similarly, if American Indian values and cultural views of science are not woven into the more global fabric of the philosophy of science, all aspects of science and technology will be diminished in years to come.

Results of this study suggest that when model activities representing integrated science and culture are presented in an appropriate classroom climate, teachers can be persuaded to accept new patterns of instructional behavior. Not only was it important for teachers in this setting to learn the importance of hands-on/student-centered science and its integration with culture, but it was also important for them to experience its delivery in a classroom climate where environmental mental variables were appropriately managed. Under such conditions, teachers can develop a multicultural view of education that will contribute to the growth and development of all people that share the Earth together.

Gerry Haukoos is a science educator and a member of AISES and other science teaching and research organizations. As a nonresident graduate instructor at Sinte Gleska College, Gerry has focused his attention the last decade on promoting an ethnoscience philosophy for teaching science to American Indian children. He is a member of the Curriculum and Instruction faculty at Illinois State University.

Dorothy LeBeau is a classroom teacher at Rosebud Elementary School in the Todd County School District, Mission, South Dakota. She also is a member of the Education faculty at Sinte Gleska College. As a graduate of the Sinte Gleska College Graduate Education Program, Dorothy is active in promoting Indian education throughout her region and in the state of South Dakota.

References

American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1977). Native Americans in Science. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Baldwin, J. (1988). A talk to teachers. In: R. Simonson and S. Walker (Ed.) Multicultural Literacy. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press.

Banks, J.A. (1981). Multiethnic Education, Theory and Practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Cajete, G. (1986). Ethnoscience: A Native American perspective. Paper presented at the meeting of the Native American Science Association, Phoenix, AZ.

Cubberley, E.P. (1909). Changing Conceptions of Education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Inc.

Haukoos, G.D. & Beauvais, A. (1985). Importance of Cultural Characteristics When Developing Science Curriculum for Minority Students (Native Americans). Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators, Las Vegas.

Hodgkinson, H.L. (1985). All One System: Demographics of Education, Kindergarten through Graduate School. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership, Inc.

Meriam, L. (1928). The Problem of Indian Administration. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, Inc.

Robbins, R. (1983). John Dewey's philosophy and American Indians: A brief discussion of how it could work. Journal of American Indian Education, 22(3), 1-9.

Ross, R.S. (1985). Understanding Persuasion. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

U.S. Senate. (1969). Indian Education: A National Tragedy–A National Challenge. 91st Congress.

 
 
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