Indigenous STEAM camp teaches kids about the stars and Ojibway culture using pop-up planetarium
Lessons aimed at sparking kids' interest in science incorporate Ojibway traditional knowledge
A group of Indigenous students learned about constellations through a lesson incorporating Ojibway creation stories, a laser pointer and a portable planetarium Wednesday on the University of Winnipeg campus.
The pop-up planetarium day was part of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Camp put on by Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, an outreach program of the university.
"We use this course to tell our stories and go over a lot of our culture," said presenter Rockford McKay.
McKay is Anishinaabe and the science facilitator for the Manitoba First Nations School System. He taught the group of 30 children aged five to nine about the Ojibway creation story, the moon, the four seasons and the Ojibway names of constellations.
Over 10 years ago, McKay attended a conference in the United States and came across a portable planetarium. He and Cree educator Wilfred Buck started developing lessons to teach young people about science and astronomy through an Indigenous lens, with McKay focusing on Ojibway culture, and Buck focusing on Cree.
For McKay, it's an opportunity to teach Indigenous students about the stars and cosmology through an Indigenous worldview.
"It's a jumping point not only for language and culture, but it's a jumping point for science education, as well as mathematics," said McKay.
"When we talk about science with Indigenous students who are given the opportunity to learn, they'll pick it up as well. They love it."
Getting kids excited about science
This is the seventh year that Wii Chiiwaakanak has put on a free, educational summer camp for Indigenous students in the inner-city. This is the first year that they have put an emphasis on the sciences.
"We're underrepresented in all of those areas and so I think it's important to give that opportunity to ignite that passion within young kids, especially Indigenous kids," said Angeline Nelson, director of community learning and engagement for Wii Chiiwaakanak.
Wii Chiiwaakanak translates to "walking together" in Ojibway. The centre is located in Winnipeg's west end and offers education and cultural programs to help develop paths for Indigenous students to university.
Nelson said that earlier this week the students were introduced to coding, learned how to make bannock and learned about Inuit culture and storytelling.
The rest of the camp will see the kids learning from a chemistry professor and doing water-related experiments based on traditional teachings. They will be doing more coding, some engineering and will travel to FortWhyte park.