Creating opportunities for all learners has not been common practice in the United States, especially when the history of Native American educational practice is examined (Bull, 2006; Chenoweth, 1999; Starnes, 2006a). The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is an organization working to increase educational opportunity for American Indian students in science, engineering, and technology related fields (AISES, 2005). AISES provides pre-college support in science by promoting student science fair participation.
The purpose of this qualitative research is to describe how American Indian student participation in science fairs and the relationship formed with their teacher affects academic achievement and the likelihood of continued education beyond high school.
Two former American Indian students mentored by the principal investigator participated in this study. Four ethnographic research methods were incorporated: participant observation, ethnographic interviewing, search for artifacts, and auto-ethnographic researcher introspection (Eisenhart, 1988).
After the interview transcripts, photos documenting past science fair participation, and researcher field notes were analyzed, patterns and themes emerged from the interviews that were supported in literature. American Indian academic success and life long learning are impacted by: (a) the effects of racism and oppression result in creating incredible obstacles to successful learning, (b) positive identity formation and the importance of family and community are essential in student learning, (c) the use of best practice in science education, including the use of curricular cultural integration for American Indian learners, supports student success, (d) the motivational need for student-directed educational opportunities (science fair/inquiry based research) is evident, (e) supportive teacher-student relationships in high school positively influences successful transitions into higher education.
An overarching theme presented itself embedded within all themes: the importance of understanding the continued resiliency of the American Indian culture as it relates to success. Ultimately, for long-lasting change to occur, teachers and the community must focus on eliminating educational barriers, while supporting academic success, in order to initiate renewal and school wide change.
University of Minnesota Ed.D. disseratation. October 2008. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Mary R. Hermes, Ph.D. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 158 pages, appendices A-C.
Welsh, Cynthia Ann.
Making science education meaningful for American Indian students : the effect of science fair participation.
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