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Igniting excitement for science

An annual science fair has sparked interest in science careers on Minnesota's White Earth Indian Reservation. Test scores are also up as a result of collaboration between the White Earth community and Extension.

Collaboration makes math and science meaningful for Ojibwe youth.

Science education on northern Minnesota's White Earth Indian Reservation has improved considerably since Extension teamed up to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through a 4-H model of learning.

Extension and the reservation began the cooperative effort 14 years ago to address community members' concerns about low math and science test scores. The White Earth Academy of Math and Science summer school program was developed, and three years ago, an annual science fair was added to complement year-round learning.

"The collaboration succeeds because it draws on the strength of relationships with elders and teachers to connect the curriculum to Ojibwe culture," says Deb Zak, Extension northwest regional director. "The students learn STEM concepts, while honoring and nurturing traditional practices and values."

The model is also strengthened by a national 4-H STEM initiative.

Extension's research-based 4-H model means that youth get to take charge of their learning with the guidance of adults trained in youth development. During the science fair, students present projects to four University faculty members and graduate students, who serve as judges. Zak says she's seen participation double to nearly 90 students in just a few years.

Test scores, as well student attitudes about STEM, have improved. After taking part in the five-week summer school, 55 percent changed their minds and agreed they would like a job that involves science, mathematics and/or engineering.

And the science teachers?

"The teachers are more engaged than ever and have a better idea of how to work with the kids to put together a quality project," Zak says. "They see it as a great way to get the kids to learn science."

For more information, visit Extension's White Earth Reservation Academy program.

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