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About Us: An Overview

Zodiac
Navajo Constellations include a cosmic serpent in the night sky.

The Indigenous Education Institute (IEI) and the U.C. Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (UCB) developed Cosmic Serpent, a NSF-funded professional development project to increase the capacity of museum practitioners to bridge native and western science learning in informal settings. Development of Cosmic Serpent stemmed from the fact that a cultural disconnect exists between western scientists and educators and the native community in terms of scientific worldviews and Indigenous ways of knowing. This cultural disconnect manifests itself in the lack of participation of Native Americans in Western science and a lack of appreciation by Western scientists of Native science.

Cosmic Serpent explored commonalities between Western and Native science, taking into account that Native cultures have, over millennia, developed ways of knowing that are highly adapted, interconnected, and enduring. Each knowledge system informe the practice of science and its role in society in a fundamental way, and the commonalities can provided a framework for developing mutually inclusive learning experiences in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The project recognized previous work that integrates the two systems; however, our approach of identifying and looking directly at the commonalities in the context of informal science education (ISE) was very innovative.

David Begay conducting a workshop
David Begay led a group on the path of discovery.

This project was asked: How can ISE providers develop programs that enable all learners to cross cultural borders—in this instance, the culture of Western science and the cultures of long-resident Indigenous peoples? We believe that the multiple meanings represented by the cosmic serpent trans-cultural icon chosen to represent this project, a Native symbol connected to fundamental concepts in earth, space, life, and environmental science, will help to bridge the two worldviews, provide museum practitioners with tools to engage native audiences, and bring indigenous perspectives to all visitors.

Components of Cosmic Serpent included:

  1. professional development workshops from 3 regions and peer mentoring;
  2. museum programs featuring native/western commonalities as entry points to STEM;
  3. regional partnerships among museums and native communities;
  4. multimedia resources;
  5. a legacy document to inform the ISE field on ways to improve STEM programming for Native Americans; and
  6. a culminating conference jointly hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC).

The project was guided and sustained by native and western scholars experienced in bridging native ways of knowing and western science.