Soon, Alaska Native elementary students in 14 rural Alaska communities will be studying Drones in ways to both connect their science education to their communities and increase their engagement in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These are among the objectives and goals of a newly awarded  National Science Foundation Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant, “Drone Research and Opportunities for Native Elementary Students” or  DRONES.

a drone flies over a snowy field with a vehicle in the backgroundISER’s Dayna DeFeo and colleagues from University of Alaska Fairbank’s Geophysical Institute Lynda McGilvary and Cathy Cahill, and Charlene Stern from UAF’s Department of Alaska Native Studies & Rural Development, will work with educators and community members in the Copper River, Valdez, and Yukon Koyukuk school districts to identify local applications for Drones – or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology. Once these opportunities are identified, the UAF project team will develop curricula that addresses community priorities and train teachers in place-based teaching practices in STEM. The teachers will deliver the curricula to approximately 450 students.

DeFeo, who directs ISER’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research, will lead DRONES’ research effort to identify and refine the key factors and strategies that increase Alaska Native students’ enthusiasm, engagement, and success in place-based STEM education. For many Alaska Native youth, the prospect of following a STEM career means leaving their homes both for education and a career. This project invites youth to explore STEM opportunities that are relevant and applicable to their home communities.

“Place-based education is a recognized approach for rural and Indigenous communities. We will be looking at successful ways to engage students, educators, and community members in the creation of STEM curriculum relevant to their needs,” DeFeo said.