How to Close the STEM Achievement Gap for Indigenous Students: Local Culture Characteristics

Look at the reality for Indigenous students: The drop-out rate is higher than for other groups, math skills are lower and university degrees are lower.

Some people may think that the solution to that problem is to just add technology.

But a new study discussed at the International Society for Technology in Education’s 2022 conference found that any solution to the achievement gap “must consider the whole system,” because “students don’t learn in a vacuum,” Maria Burns said. Ortiz, one of the study’s co-authors and the CEO of 7 Generation Games, an educational gaming company.

The study, conducted before the pandemic forced schools to switch to virtual learning, looked at the factors that affect teachers who work in rural schools with predominantly Indigenous students. achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The researchers interviewed 40 teachers from 32 schools and after-school programs with at least 90 percent indigenous students.

The analysis of the interviews revealed six main themes about what educators believe would improve Indigenous students’ STEM performance: highly qualified staff, holistic STEM education, specific STEM curriculum and instruction, incorporation of local culture into education, technological infrastructureand more STEM funding.

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation that asked education companies to explore how technology can solve a problem in schools. But the teachers interviewed “had a strong feeling that technology couldn’t just be used as a band-aid, that it didn’t stand alone. It had to be integrated with everything else, with kids learning their culture, with an individualized curriculum,” said lead author AnnMaria De Mars during an interview with Education Week before the conference. De Mars is the chairman of 7 Generation Games.

Researchers note that the themes are interrelated. Without a highly qualified staff, schools cannot easily have holistic STEM education or can easily incorporate culture into STEM education or have proper technical integration. Without funding, schools cannot hire qualified staff, schools cannot afford effective technology, and schools cannot provide teaching materials.

To really close the achievement gap, schools also need to solve this “spider web” of interconnected problems, the researchers said.

Ultimately, however, the priority for educators in Indigenous communities was to have a STEM curriculum that: including local culture and tribal languages

“From the interviews it really became clear that it would be nice to integrate the curriculum and knowledge, [educators] I really felt it had to reflect the specific tribal languages ​​and cultures of their students,” Burns Ortiz said.

“When [students] seeing things in context, it makes more sense to [them]† They remember it better. They remember it better. They pay more attention to it,” says De Mars.

The researchers said that during interviews, some educators expressed concerns that nothing practical would come of the study. So, with funding from the USDA, the researchers created math games featuring Indigenous culture to help students connect with what they were learning. Analysis of students’ use of the games found that students’ math scores improved significantly, De Mars said.

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