The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) entitled Research in Optics for K-14 Teachers (ROKET) (#EEC-1300370 and #EEC-1009496) was a multidisciplinary RET in the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) at the University of Arizona (UA). ROKET supported 50 teachers from Native American schools in a 6-week summer research experience over a 7 year period in labs in the College of Optical Sciences and the College of Science. Applying theories of American Indian identity development to teacher development, the goal of this program was to increase cultural awareness in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) classroom curriculum and build professional mentoring relationships to transform Native American classrooms and pique the interests of Native American youth toward STEM careers. The ROKET program collaborated with the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) at the UA. For over thirty years, AILDI has lead efforts to document, revitalize, and promote indigenous languages, which improves articulation of mainstream science terms to the indigenous population. The collaboration between CIAN and AILDI represented a unique program for science educators working in Native American communities to apply STEM concepts through the lens of native language and culture and develop culturally competent STEM curriculum. In total, 289 applications were received for the ROKET program, with 50 participants selected from 42 different Native American schools across 12 different states. Some teachers were from the same school and a few participated in the program twice. Forty percent of the participants were Native Americans and 56% were females. Since the program, teachers have attended approximately 25 conferences, several with their students. Program deliverables included a research poster and two STEM lesson plans for their classroom – one with indigenous culture embedded into STEM concepts, and the other based their university research. Additionally, participants received $1500 toward classroom supplies to support the RET lesson plans. Outcomes include increased teacher confidence in performing research, improved laboratory skills, and greater understanding of STEM pedagogical development specifically geared toward Native American culture. Broader impacts of this program on Native American youth involve precollege partnerships developed between teachers and research mentors post-RET, such as student and faculty mentor visits to local participant classrooms at least once a year to support teachers with their RET research lesson plan; a nanophotonics afterschool club for 3rd graders; an afterschool STEM program bringing together precollege teachers, students, parents, and university students, an on-campus UA optics summer camp with an RET partner school; Frontiers for Young Minds project with CIAN and an RET participant’s students; STEM comic book development collaboration with an RET participant as illustrator; and RET STEM education contributions for dissemination on CIAN’s Photonics Hub, an online education clearinghouse. Lasting impacts such as these provide engaging academic experiences in STEM for Native American youth; improve teacher-student relationships; and bridge reservation schools, tribal communities, and the universities in the hopes of motivating Native American youth toward STEM careers.
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