Astronomy Outreach Program Helps Native American Students

Native American Astronomy Outreach

The goal of the Native American Astronomy Outreach Program (NAAOP) is to help teachers to get their students excited about STEM and STEM careers. One component of the program is Book Club, used to increase student interest in STEM, but also student literacy. Native students generally read below grade level, and yet reading is a fundamental skill for success in life. Because of the pandemic, classes at Kayenta Unified School District on the Navajo Nation were held online for the entire school year. So in order to hold Book Club, the team had to send each of the 494 students a copy of the book for their grade level.

The Lowell team worked with their partner teacher to lead the students through the curriculum unit developed for that grade level, doing some of the lessons as demonstrations and some as group at-home activities. Book Club was carried out using “popcorn” reading online coupled with some reading as homework. Notebooks were provided for students to record unfamiliar words in a vocabulary list along with the definition that they found.

The Navajo Nation was particularly hard hit by the pandemic. In terms of cases and deaths per population, it exceeded for a time anywhere else in the United States. Teaching students online has been complicated even further by the fact that many households do not have electricity and those that do often have no or poor connections to the internet. At the very best, students’ internet connections were variable.

The project reached a total of 478 Navajo students and 50 Apache students.

The student and teacher materials included books for Book Club:
4th grade – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader’s Edition, by William Kamkwamba
Erosion: Changing Earth’s Surface by Robin Koontz
5th grade – Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
6th grade – Hidden Figures, Young Reader’s Edition by Margot Shetterly
Life Under Ice: Exploring Antarctic Seas (2nd Edition) by Mary Cerullo and Bill Curtsinger
8th grade – The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivarly, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table, Young Reader’s Edition by Sam Kean.