Promoting Geoscience STEM Interest in Native American Students: GIS, Geovisualization and Reconceptualizing Spatial Thinking Skills

Donna M Delparte, Rick Richardson, Karla Eitel, Sam Matsaw, Teresa Cohn


Recent innovations in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and geovisualization tools offer new opportunities to promoting interest in geoscience and STEM careers. The place-based educational model is particularly suited to geoscience education and can appeal to Native American students’ connection to local places. Yet the geoscience discipline is heavily imbued with Western Science conceptions of places, spaces, and physical processes that are not in congruence with the interconnected worldview of Indigenous Science. This review of the literature on geoscience education offers three recommendations to promote geoscience and STEM interest among Native American youth. The practice of science is a field that has only been recently contested by the Indigenous Science worldview. This cognitive dissonance between Native American students who have a deep attachment to their local environment can be at odds with the rational, objective perspective of Western science. The place-based educational model aligns with Indigenous Science and prior research has shown that it promotes STEM and geoscience in Native American students. Since GIS and geovisualization tools are well-suited to place based education and promote spatial thinking skills, which have been identified as crucial to geoscience and STEM success, this review provides several examples of research and education projects using these technologies. Yet our understanding of spatial thinking is based on Western Science’s conceptions of space as an abstract quality. We contend that like other areas of science which are increasingly more open to Indigenous Science practices, spatial thinking research needs to do likewise by developing an analytical framework that accommodates Native American ideas on space and place. We draw on recent research to frame an argument for advancing research on creating a hybridized conception of spatial thinking that can accommodate both Western and Indigenous Science perspectives.


Geoscience education, STEM, Native American students, GIS, geovisualization, place-based education, Indigenous Science, spatial thinking

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