Stem Month – November Special Message
Posted on November 1, 2022
Those working for the First Nations Education Administrators Association acknowledge November as STEM month. Education administrators and educators within First Nations schools understand the value and facilitate the interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) that already exist in First Nations learning environments. Implementing these cultural practices into existing mainstream curriculum for the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is trending in First Nation Schools; but it can be challenging.
The FNEAA is featuring, Tammy Webster, a pioneer in the promotion of STEM within both the mainstream education systems and First Nations communities’ education systems.
Tammy Webster is an Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg. She is a certified Ontario Teacher and Principal. She currently works with Let’s Talk Science as Director of Equity. The path to becoming Director of Equity had her meandering about, trying to find a niche where she could contribute to the present education of children, youth, and adults to forge a different path for First Nations children and youth. Tammy attended University of Waterloo (UW) and completed a Bachelor of Science. She attended University of Western Ontario for a Bachelor of Education. With this in hand, she started her career as a teacher. With the goal of moving into a principal or superintendent role in the Ontario education system, one needs a master’s degree. Tammy attended York University and obtained her Masters and went on to complete the qualifications for principal certification. After many years in a classroom and as a school board consultant, Tammy ventured into her current role at Let’s Talk Science.
Tammy revealed the following successes and challenges with implementing STEM during a short interview with an FNEAA official.
- What does Indigenizing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math mean to you?
Using “decolonizing indigenization” by Adam Gaudy and Danielle Lorenz (2018) as the basis for this question; my personal view on Indigenizing STEM is: understanding, revising and empowering Indigenous knowledge and views to be in the pivotal position that all thoughts and worldviews join and connect. Using the metaphor of a fire as the representation of Indigenous thoughts and knowledge as the pivotal position, Indigenizing means that all other systems/knowledge come to that fire. While historically, attempts have been made to extinguish the fire, it still exists and continues being fueled and protected for our future. The Indigenizing process from my perspective requires all people to be in relationship to the fire, to the path, to experiences, to the environment and to those nurturing and protecting the fire.
- Can you describe the current trends in teaching STEM, and how do you envision changing or incorporating Indigenized curriculum?
From my experience, STEM is taught in separate silos. Elements of western science found in the Ontario curriculum are separated into different strands. Each strand is content heavy on concepts but lacks the relational components – relation to community, to self, to land, to future generations and how all those relations work together. Incorporating diverse worldviews and voices from equity deserving groups in curriculum are ‘added –in’ to a western lens of science. From a privilege/power perspective, the curriculum is still westernized/colonized with token acknowledgments of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis worldviews.
For future considerations, instead of changing or incorporating First Nations, Inuit or Métis worldviews into a westernized curriculum, I would like to see Indigenous informed, designed, created, implemented and protected curriculum.
- Is there anything else you would like to add about teaching and Indigenizing curriculum for STEM?
There are many amazing educators already doing elements of this work in and out of their spaces of education (classrooms, land, virtually etc.). Their commitment to a different future for students needs to be nurtured, supported, and guided for the next generations to continue to walk and protect the fire. Keep talking, keep learning, and keep asking questions. Establish and build relationships with everything and everyone surrounding you.
FNEAA encourages its members and First Nations educators to continue the strategies for encouraging STEM activities, not just in November, but throughout the academic year. Some suggestions for this include the following.
- Acknowledge the STEM components that are naturally part of cultural practices and highlight them in land-based learning and classroom activities.
- Allow students to show off their skills and knowledge by hosting a STEM fair and sharing their knowledge through projects, storytelling, and art.
- Engage students’ interest in STEM by encouraging them to explore and ask questions about how and why things work, at all levels of education.
- Display pictures of careers, both traditional and mainstream, that require skills in STEM.
- Invite community members to come and tell their stories about their chosen STEM careers.
- Invite traditional knowledge holders to share how preservation of foods, tanning of hides, navigation via celestial markers, living in sync with the environment, and use of certain plants and minerals, are scientific and have been used for thousands of years.
Thank you to Tammy Webster, for the interview contributions
The Learning Counsel: Education News Media, Research and Content. Industry News 5 Ways to Celebrate STEM. (n.d.) https:// thelearningcounsel.com/article/5-ways-celebrate-national-stemsteam-day