Researching Apun: Students Using Local, Traditional, and Science Knowledge Bases to Investigate Arct

Linda Nicholas-Figueroa
Associate Professor of Biology and Chemistry
Ilisagvik College

Student engagement in STEM increases when research activities are included in the curriculum. These research experiences, when paired with Culturally Relevant Education, may create a more equitable experience for students by engaging their particular interests and activating the resources they bring to the classroom. To explore the intersection between research experiences and Culturally Relevant Education, we designed and implemented a classroom-based research unit where students investigated apun (Iñupiaq word for snow on the ground) in science courses at Iḷisaġvik College, the only tribal college in the Alaskan Arctic. The snow chemistry unit was designed and developed collaboratively with instructors and researchers, increasing the potential that the unit can be used sustainably in the specific classroom context while addressing the needs of the community. Through this unit, students are empowered to apply their Traditional and local knowledge, along with science concepts and practices, to design and conduct research on the changing Arctic. This project provides a significant opportunity for students to participate in authentic research. As part of their engagement in the research project, participating students will interview community members and Elders to gain traditional knowledge about snow, including words for various types of snow. Students will sample snow, determine its chemical and physical properties, and correlate these properties to the different types of snow. Students present their research results to the community and document feedback to identify future research directions. We used design based implementation research to capture the extent to which both Indigenous and local resources were integrated alongside Western science as the unit was iterated over multiple semesters. Here we will present on the projects implemented by students, which reveal how they engaged in the unit to design projects that were relevant to their community.


Ginger Shultz, University of Michigan; Kerri Pratt, University of Michigan