Integrating Culture and Science Ed: Rose HoneyBy Jill Anderson
Doctoral student Rose Honey, Ed.M.’05, never thought she’d wind up doing research, especially in her native Montana. After all, she had jobs as varied as teaching science in Zimbabwe and working in children’s television.
But it was actually through her teaching position in Zimbabwe that she started thinking of bringing her expertise – including degrees in physics and mind, brain, and education – back to her home state. Her experience in the African nation ignited an interest in how different cultures learn in different ways, something she could apply to the Native populations in Montana.
“Working with Native communities was a way to bring all of my interests together and bring them back home,” Honey says. “Thus, the more interested I became in the integration of local Native American culture into science education.”
Honey is part of an emerging field of study examining how Native Americans learn science. A lack of Native Americans in the field of science initially prompted the Jack Kent Cooke Dissertation Fellowship recipient to study how middle school students become interested in science, possibly leading to careers in the science and technology fields.
Montana, home to seven reservations and 12 different Native American tribes, offered the perfect place to research, especially considering the Indian Education for All Act — a bill introduced and passed into law in the state in 1999 — mandating that Native American history and culture be integrated into curriculum. Honey believes using traditional stories and knowledge about medicinal plants may be one way to include Native culture in the science curriculum, and may provide students with a way to relate to the materials they are learning. It is also a way to teach Native students their culture and language, and how it relates to the environment around them.
As part of her dissertation work, Honey is focusing specifically on how intrinsically motivated Native American middle school students are to learn cultural information related to the science taught in the classroom. In particular, she’s trying to determine whether students become more interested in science when culture is incorporated into the lessons. The mixed methods study will look at 150 students – both Native American and white, who live on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana – to assess the importance and value of using culture as a learning tool.
Ultimately, Honey says she hopes her research will provide insight for educators and hopefully show them how important it is to incorporate local culture into the classroom. Her goal is to get more Native American students to choose careers in the science field a particularly relevant topic given that many reservations in Montana are home to plentiful resources and are contentious grounds for issues concerning water management, oil drilling, and wind energy.
“There are a lot of decisions being made that impact the land,” Honey says. “We want to get more Native Americans involved in sciences so they can be the ones who are grounded in both science and their culture, and the ones who make decisions that are better for their community.”