Water Values–Advancing Informal STEM Learning through Native Voices, Planetariums, and Reciprocal Collaboration

September 1st, 2019 - August 31st, 2021 | PROJECT

Water is an essential, basic need. It is the sustenance for living organisms. For many Native American communities, like the Ojibwe tribes of Minnesota, water is a sacred valuable life source that permeates all aspects of their culture. In these communities, water stories are often used to communicate the value and impact of water on their lives and the lives of others. These stories signal geohydrologic, sociocultural, and sociopolitical societal shifts over time. This pilot study will explore the feasibility of using Native water stories and informal learning experiences to bring water science and issues of water sustainability to youth and public audiences. A significant outcome of the pilot will be a youth-museum-educator co-created public planetarium show and program based on the water stories collected and archived. This approach is particularly novel. It provides an entry into STEM through a dynamic, multimedia context that typically does not engage youth as co-creators of the experiences. Water Values will give voice and a public platform to youth and their communities to elevate ecological issues that are relevant and timely within their own communities. It will also promote scientific discourse through field experiences, interactions with scientists and STEM professions, and community leadership development. Further, this pilot will also test a reciprocal relationship model among its partners. Analogous feasibility research to the Water Values pilot does not exist in the current NSF portfolio. Therefore, the project will not only contribute to the emerging literature base on the intersectionality of STEM, storytelling and Native cultures, but it will also contribute to broader discourse about water health, access, management, and sustainability.

The pilot study will bring together the long standing gidakiimanaaniwigamig program, with its master teachers who are experts in culturally responsive education for Native American youth, and the Bell Museum, which has decades of experience in developing informal STEM learning programs for a broad community. Thirty-five middle school aged youth, five educators, and over 200 community members will engage in the work. During the summer residential program, youth will be exposed to STEM content and important water science concepts through field-based research and a culturally relevant, placed-based curriculum focused on water and communicating water stories. These experiences will be extended during the academic year through weekend science activities that will focus on the compilation of water stories from Native communities, especially from the Ojibwe tribes of Minnesota, and creatively integrating the stories into a fully operational youth-museum co-created public planetarium program. This capstone planetarium show and program will be piloted at the Bell Museum. With regards to the research, four overarching question will guide the study: (1) How does participation in creating water journey stories increase Native students' motivation to learn and engage with STEM, (2) How does participation in creating and presenting water journey stories build change in sociopolitical awareness among Native students? (3) How do Native community members engage with water stories for sociopolitical change and greater participation in STEM? and (4) How does collaboration between gidakiimanaaniwigamig, the Bell, and the UMN impact STEM interest and participation in students and a Native community for transformative experience? Data will be collected from the youth participants, instructors and leaders, and community members. These data will be collected from content surveys, student logs, self-reported intrinsic motivation instrument, observations, and artifacts. The results will be disseminated through various mechanisms within and beyond the target communities. Formative and summative evaluations will inform that work and will be led by an external evaluation firm, Erikkson Associates.

This feasibility study is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. 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.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Bhaskar Upadhyay, Principal Investigator, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Diana Dalbotten, Co-Principal Investigator
Jonee Brigham, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1906654
Funding Amount: $296,092


Access and Inclusion: Ethnic | Racial | Indigenous and Tribal Communities
Audience: General Public | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Programs | Planetarium and Science on a Sphere | Public Programs | Summer and Extended Camps