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Developing an informal environmental health education model for use in Tribal communities: 1516742

Principal Investigator: Jamie Donatuto
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Diana Rohlman
Organization: Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The project will develop an informal tribal community-based environmental health (EH) education framework based on Indigenous knowledge, practices, and learning styles using a First Foods paradigm. First Foods represent a unique, place-based knowledge and practice, intimately tied to traditional ecological knowledge. Most (if not all) tribal communities in the United States have knowledge and practices centered around their local natural resources and First Foods. By building, testing and evaluating an innovative EH education model based on a culturally-meaningful local knowledge source, First Foods, this project seeks to increase informal STEM learning in tribal communities. American Indians and Alaska Natives account for 2% of the population but only 0.1% of STEM-related degrees. By working specifically with this underserved and underrepresented group, this project seeks to engage tribal community members in informal STEM learning, increasing access to informal learning settings, particularly for young people who are not currently engaged in formal STEM learning environments. The EH framework will be disseminated locally, regionally and nationally through Indian Health Boards, conferences, and with other tribal communities interested in informal STEM education and environmental health programs.

The project will review established EH and First Foods program curricula to develop a tribal-specific community-based EH education framework. The project will use the contextual model of informal STEM learning developed by Falk and Dierking, which is designed to integrate personal, sociocultural and physical aspects of learning. The project will adapt this model in order to create a space for community experience to enrich learning, as well as expanding the view of the physical context beyond the biophysical environment to encompass a holistic definition of the living environment. This model and framework will be developed in an iterative manner, with continuing formative evaluations both internally and externally. The overarching hypothesis is that the proposed model will increase informal STEM learning by providing a culturally meaningful education platform that resonates with tribal community members. The model will focus heavily on the sociocultural aspect of learning, striving to collaboratively design a CBEH education program that is appropriate and adaptable for tribal communities and includes pertinent EH themes and information. Metrics and evaluation techniques will be developed, as relevant, for the iterative evaluation of specific program components. Year 1 development and evaluation will focus on the review of community-based EH activities, design of the project EH model and prototype program components. Critical review will be provided by project advisors, the Swinomish Health and Human Services Committee, and tribal elders. Year 2 will focus on the implementation of prototype program components. The project external evaluator will use mixed methodologies, including observation, interviews, pre-and post-surveys, participant ranking of activities/events, and quantitative analysis of attendance at EH events. A tribal-university partnership has been established that includes expertise in informal STEM learning, environmental health program evaluation, cultural competency, and outreach and engagement.

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