This planning grant at the University of Wyoming is being used to pilot activities associated with the SkyWatcher project, which is envisioned as a program to use remotely-controlled telescopes for astronomical observing as strategy to intellectually engage a diverse and collaborative group of 13-18 year old Native American and Polynesian students on supported pathways to geoscience careers. In this planning phase, the project team is working with cultural leaders and educators within the Wind River Reservation (Wyoming) and the Hilo Laupahohoe Waiakea School district complex (Hawai'i) to establish products and infrastructure to support cohorts of students engaged in high-tech astronomical research, leveraging more than 100 robotic and remotely controlled telescopes around the world. This first phase is focused on building stronger relationships with the target communities and getting their input on project design details. A leadership team consisting of scientists, educators, local teachers, targeted students, and cultural elders is meeting virtually and face-to-face to develop a plan that is fully reflective of local needs and emphasizes local priorities and mores. Developing scaffolded, inquiry- and social networking-based activities and materials that incorprate sufficient geoscience content within the context of astronomical reserach are being designed. Community-based programs that include star parties and classroom visits are being provided.
planning project was focused on building and nurturing community support for STEM education. The project focused on two specific education communities: (i) the Shoshoni Indian Nation on the Wyoming Wind River Reservation and (ii) the Native Hawaiian homeland communities on the Big Island of Hawaiâ€™i. The goal of this planning project was to create a more fertile environment for conducting future STEM education efforts. This was needed to support the success of future larger scale efforts. These communities have long had fragmented STEM education programs done "to them" rather than with them collaboratively, and as a result, are inclined to be suspiciously cautious partners. These past well-meaning programs have been largely disconnected from the longstanding and previously existing indigenous knowledge and expertise that exist within these communities. In contrast, the present project focused on building collaborative and trusting partnerships with stakeholders. This was done through several simultaneously approaches. One was to conduct interviews and focus groups with stakeholders—teachers and elders in particular—to find out what they most desired in STEM education support. This is in contrast to previous efforts where supposed experts came to the communities with pre-packaged products and services that often were far from alignment with local needs. One difficulty in this is that many communities have rapidly changing school and community leaders, and the investigators often found themselves reinitiating relationships from the beginning. Another was to conduct STEM education awareness programs for community members where elders and children were invited to come together as a family. The most frequently used strategy was to conduct evening Star Parties with telescopes. Classroom presentations were also conducted, and the content was carefully constructed to be consistent with the wishes of community elders. One lesson learned in this was that communities desired small group presentations rather than large 100-plus person programs. Finally, the investigators conducted diversity awareness building presentations and workshops at professional scientific conferences, disseminating lessons learned through the project. These presentations acknowledged the NSF award. The next steps for the investigative team are to collaboratively pursue larger-scale funding requests to provide communities with the specific STEM education programs they most desire.