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Framing the Chemistry Curriculum

The “Framing the Chemistry Curriculum” Project, 2013-2018

In Summer 2013, the science faculty and deans at Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC) and Little Priest Tribal College (LPTC) met over a period of six weeks to develop a program to connect college science instruction to community topics. Our project was submitted to the National Science Foundation for consideration as part of a newly announced funding program called “Broadening Participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).” We were successful and our project was one of five selected for funding. There were more than 100 applications. Here’s the announcement from NSF (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=129037).


Dr. Mark Griep is the Principal Investigator of the project and he is Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You can learn more about Mark and his research at http://chemweb.unl.edu/griep/. Dr. Johnny Jones and Dr. Don Torgerson are the Co-Principal Investigators. Jones is LPTC President and Torgerson is NICC Academic Dean. The final (and critical) members of the Leadership Team are the Science and Math Instructors at LPTC and NICC.


The Framing project is a cycle with four parts, each of which needs to be shaped to create stronger ties between the communities and the science taught in their tribal colleges. To help make this happen, Mark Griep welcomes your constructive comments. If you are from the communities served by NICC or LPTC, send a “Dear Mark” email with your ideas to mgriep1@unl.edu.


1. LPTC/NICC Joint Advisory Board

The Board meets once a year to generate and manage a list of Community Topics and to review the previous year’s activities. The Community Topics are used by the Case Study Group described in the next section.


The Board provides advice and guidance to Principal Investigator Mark Griep. Nebraska’s two tribal colleges each have four people from their communities who serve on the Joint Advisory Board. Also on the Board are: Judy gaiashkibos, Executive Director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs; Dr. James Riding In, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies at the Arizona State University; Shelly Valdez, President of Native Pathways and an educational consultant focusing on indigenous science & worldviews of understanding science; Elisabeth Roberts, who is President of STEM&Leaf LLC and will carry out the formative and final assessments; and Dr. Christopher Cornelius, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


The inaugural meeting of the Joint Advisory Board took place in April 2014. Here is their first list of Community Topics. (Please note that the tribal colleges will not perform experiments on protected medicinal plants and have no intention of publishing oral histories. We will seek advice from the relevant tribal councils when questions arise about these topics.)


Community Topics are holistic and interconnected (subtopics are in parentheses)


Community Health (Genetics, GMOs, Food Sources)


Water Sources (Natural Disasters, Remediation Programs, Metals, Testing, Policy, Watersheds)


Renewable Energy (Solar, Wind, Compressed Wood Pellets)

Air Quality

Climate Change (Trends, Historical Knowledge, Ecosystems)

Natural Resources (Soil, Land)

Animal Habitat

Economic Development Issues (Trust Lands, Environmental Racism)

Waste (Solids, Land Fills, Hazardous)

Oral Histories (will not be published without tribal council permission)

Medicinal Plants (will not be used for experimentation without tribal council permission)


2. Case Study Group

The Group meets once a year to identify scientifically measureable parameters that are related to Community Topics. The goal is to find materials and measurements that are important to life in the community.


The inaugural meeting of the Case Study Group took place in May 2014. Here is their first list of Scientifically Measureable Parameters. In the first year, the focus was on making connections to the chemistry laboratory experience.


Community Topics Linked to Scientifically Measureable Parameters

Ownership/Stewardship: this is an umbrella topic for discussion and not for experimentation

Medicinal Plants: seek tribal council input before using these materials; it is more accessible to use edible plants such as milk weed and Echinacea root; compare caffeine in tea, energy pills, Yerba mate and other products; measure the oils in aloe

Disease: diabetes; heart disease; measure glucose concentration in blood samples taken from animals; examine properties of over-the-counter drugs; examine effect of caffeine, aspirin, and nicotine on heart rate of planktonic daphnia; hair samples can be examined for effects of respiratory diseases, air quality, acid rain

Community Health: sugar source comparison (honey, sugar cane, corn syrup, agave nectar)

Water Sources: rainwater vs other natural water sources, pH, pO2, Fe, nitrates, phosphates, compare water treatment methods

Climate Change: how to read and interpret raw data; volume of rainwater per year

Natural Resources: soil buffering capacity; compare soil from a field, edge, prairie, and forest; soil organic matter; micronutrients; soil types; plant tissue analysis in response to soil treatments; grow a plant all semester and compare effects of Round-Up, pesticide, herbicide

Animal Habitat: nematodes


3. Chemistry Course Sequence

The two-semester Chemistry Course sequence will be offered simultaneously at four campuses: LPTC in Winnebago and at the three NICC campuses in Macy, Santee, and South Sioux City. The lectures will be given by Janyce Woodard, LPTC Instructor, and will be televised to the other three campuses. The laboratories will be given by Bev DeVore-Wedding, in the UNL Teacher Education Ph.D. Program, from the NICC Macy campus and will be televised to the other three campuses. There will be one Teacher’s Assistant at all four campuses to help students with lecture and laboratory components.


Since the Leadership Team agreed that Mathematics preparation was critical for success in the Chemistry, students are strongly encouraged to take the summer Algebra course prior to taking Chemistry Course.


The inaugural offering of the Chemistry Course sequence will take place during the 2014-2015 Academic Year.


4. Teacher’s Workshop

In early summer, there will be a 3-day workshop for tribal college science instructors so we can disseminate what we’ve learned. The first Workshop will take place in May or June 2015. In addition, comments about all aspects of the project will be gathered from Workshop participants. A summary of all activities and comments will be brought before the Joint Advisory Board to complete the cycle. During the summer workshops in 2016 and 2017, we will invite science faculty from the South Dakota tribal colleges in hopes of disseminating our project further and as a way to strengthen our regional ties.