Precipitating Change with Alaskan and Hawaiian Schools

Supporting Earth science learning from both Indigenous knowledge and Western-style inquiry.
Top: “Alaskan Glacial Ice Flow” by Adam J Skowronski (CC BY-ND 2.0) / Bottom: “Maui: Hawea Point Scenery” by Larry Myhre (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Alaska and Hawaii have significant coastal regions that are important for their cultures and economies, but they are faced with threats caused by coastal erosion. Further, both states have sizable proportions of Indigenous students. Students from communities that are not dominant in Western science often experience science class as devaluing and/or omitting their communities’ cultures and ways of knowing. Learning experiences that elevate only Western ways of knowing have the potential to alienate these students from pursuing personal, academic, or career interests in the sciences. Teaching about coastal erosion in Alaska and Hawaii demands a “multi-perspective” approach.

The Precipitating Change with Alaskan and Hawaiian Schools: Bridging Indigenous and Western Science While Mitigating Coastal Erosion project is positioning middle school students in a culturally congruent epistemological stance (student-as-anthropologist), allowing them to build Earth science learning from both Indigenous knowledge as well as Western-style inquiry. The project aims to promote middle school students’ ability to apply integrated Earth science, mathematics, and computational thinking skills in the context of coastal erosion.

By collaboratively developing classroom investigations within a coastal erosion unit with middle school teachers and students in Alaska and Hawaii, we hope to support students in bridging between Indigenous and Western science through a multi-perspective instructional approach that includes and values Indigenous knowledge and culture and engages students with Western science without asking them to abandon or devalue their home culture perspective. The curriculum is designed with Universal Design for Learning principles, including a multiple-representation glossary, translations for Indigenous languages, and scaffolding to assist students in understanding Indigenous and Western science terms.


Research on student learning is guided by the following questions:

  • What are different ways students make sense of coastal erosion? How do students’ ways of making sense reflect personal and cultural (including Indigenous) funds of knowledge as well as Western STEM perspectives reflective of NGSS-aligned three-dimensional science knowledge and practice?
  • How do culturally congruent, multi-perspective learning experiences that value both students’ home culture and Western science perspectives relate to changes in students’ science knowledge and practices integrating coastal erosion and computational thinking?
  • How do multi-perspective learning experiences influence the approaches to learning students describe when they encounter a new socioscientific issue?
Project Funder
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-2101198. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Principal Investigator
Carolyn Staudt, Beth Covitt, Noelani Puniwai, Tom Moher