Indigenous cultural contexts for STEM experiences: snow snakes’ impact on students and the community

Brant G. Miller, Gillian Roehrig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Opportunities for American Indian youth to meaningfully engage in school-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experiences have historically been inadequate. As a consequence, American Indian students perform lower on standardized assessments of science education than their peers. In this article we describe the emergence of meaning for students—as well as their community—resulting from Indigenous culturally-based STEM curriculum that used an American Indian tradition as a focal context. Specifically, the game of snow snakes (Gooneginebig in Ojibwe) afforded an opportunity for STEM and culturally-based resources to work in unison. A case study research design was used with the bounded case represented by the community associated with the snow snake project. The research question guiding this study was: What forms of culturally relevant meaning do students and the community form as a result of the snow snake game? Results indicate evidence of increased student and community engagement through culturally-based STEM experiences in the form of active participation and the rejuvenation of a traditional game. Implications are discussed for using culturally-based contexts for STEM learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-58
Number of pages28
JournalCultural Studies of Science Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The overarching problem students set out to solve through snow snake activities was: ‘‘How do you make the best snow snake?’’ Each of the lessons within the curriculum appealed to a part of this question. The curriculum ran for nine weeks and culminated with a snow snake festival highlighting student efforts. The festival, originally supported through grant funds but now sustained by participating schools, provided an opportunity for students to come together, face-to-face, and celebrate the snow snake tradition. Multiple schools and communities throughout northern Minnesota now engage in snow snake activities each year. The goal of the festival was to build community amongst participating students and to strengthen the snow snake tradition and game as a viable form of recreation and perpetuation of culture.

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0737565. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The snow snake curriculum was the result of a very thoughtful collaboration between the people of the White Earth Nation and the University of Minnesota. More importantly, the snow snake curriculum would not have been possible if it were not for the tribal communities that created this beautiful game and have kept the tradition alive amidst the technological age in which we all live. A special thank you is extended to the knowledge keepers that keep the flame of tradition, language, and sport burning. A special thank you is also extended to Robert Shimek for his willingness to share his knowledge throughout this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Community
  • Culturally-based
  • Curriculum
  • Engagement
  • STEM
  • Snow snakes


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