The Native Earth | Native Sky (NENS) Program aims to build culturally relevant earth-sky Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming that will increase understanding of and interest in STEM for middle schoolers in three Oklahoma Native American nations. The long-term goal of this effort is for Oklahoma State University to continue partnerships with the Native American nations of Oklahoma to ensure that Native Americans establish positive connections with STEM concepts and are encouraged to pursue STEM careers.
This summer, students from the school districts within and surrounding the Choctaw Nation were invited to register for the first NENS summer camp in June, and NENS welcomed 24 middle school students to the Choctaw Cultural Center in Calera, OK. Through collaboration and guidance with the Choctaw Nation, the NENS faculty and graduate research associates delivered three different lesson plans based on Choctaw Tales and books: Tʋshka and Walo, The Cloud Artist, and Hunter and Alligator. Each lesson explored Oklahoma Academic Standards for science and math while interweaving a Choctaw story. The students from across Choctaw Nation engaged in hands-on exploration and discussion. Each day of the 3-day camp included Nature Journaling, classroom lesson time, Choctaw language class, time for enjoying the beautiful cultural center, a stickball demonstration, and/or social dancing with cultural educators. Nature Journaling and cultural demonstrations were a favorite amongst the kids and teachers.
The NENS team saw these students engage with the content through asking relevant questions, offering conversations about connections to their lives, and creating drawings about the nature around them. One student said that merging science and Choctaw culture impacted them, saying, "It made me more interested in science, because I was learning more than I knew, and I just love learning about culture."
The Native Earth | Native Sky is supported by NASA under cooperative agreement award number 80NSSC21M0005 P00001 and is part of NASA’s Science Activation Portfolio.