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Teacher "Thinking Circles" Reveal Protective and Risk Factors for Persistence of American Indian Students and Retention of Non-American Indian Teachers in Reservation Schools

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Pre-College: Perceptions and Attitudes on the Pathway to Engineering (2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Allison Jane Huff-Lohmeier University of Arizona

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Dr. Huff-Lohmeier is the Education Director for a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center, Center for Integrated Access Networks, at the University of Arizona where she also teaches Technical Communication in the College of Optical Sciences. Prior to this, Dr. Huff-Lohmeier worked with the United States Embassy Association in Lima Peru, Central Michigan University, University of Maryland, College Park, and University of Oklahoma. She grew up in the Republic of Panama, Canal Zone and attended Department of Defense Dependent schools for her early education foundation. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of West Florida, Master of Education in Instructional Psychology and Technology from the University of Oklahoma, and Doctorate of Health Education from A.T. Still University. She has lived in four different countries and traveled extensively before establishing her roots in Tucson, Arizona. Besides her husband and four children, her passion is in empowering others through education by developing strengths-based programs that increase persistence in school and college programs.

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Amee Hennig University of Arizona

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Amee Hennig has her B.S. in physics and creative writing from the University of Arkansas as well as her M.A. in professional writing from Northern Arizona University. She oversees the education and outreach activities for the Center for Integrated Access Networks based out of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona. At the University of Arizona she manages a number of summer programs for Native American students and educators.

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Daniel Lamoreaux University of Arizona

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Daniel Lamoreaux is a current doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona's School Psychology program. While working as a graduate assistant for the education office of the Center for Integrated Access Networks, he was directly involved in the coordination and evaluation of the center's summer research programs for Native American students and teachers. His primary interests lie in the education of students with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and in the effect of built space on school social and academic environments.

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This study used focus groups called Thinking Circles to gather valuable experiential data on perceived protective and risk factors for STEM non-Native teachers that potentially impact American Indian student and non-American Indian educator persistence in American Indian reservation schools. Participants in this study were teachers (N=29) in a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program from 17 different tribes across the United States. All participants taught science or math on American Indian reservations. Some participants were citizens of the reservations they taught on (n=9), while other teachers were non-American Indians contracted by the reservations to teach (n=20) on native lands. Three separate Thinking Circles were conducted over three summers and participants were prompted to brainstorm protective and risk factors for: 1) STEM non-American Indian teachers’ relatability to American Indian students; 2) American Indian student persistence; and 3) retention of STEM non-American Indian educators on the reservation. Once data were transcribed and reviewed, several patterns of insights emerged across prompts. Common protective factors for all three prompts emphasized the need for STEM non-American Indian teachers to: 1) gain the trust of students; 2) build relationships with students’ families, 3) learn about and participate in the local culture and language; and 4) engage with community members to build rapport. Identified risk factors across prompts included: 1) student absences; 2) STEM non-American Indian teachers’ lack of understanding of tribal community hierarchy and culture; 3) STEM non-American Indian teachers not feeling welcome or comfortable to participate in community ceremonies, and 4) STEM non-American Indian teachers not understanding how to apply STEM concepts within their students’ cultural context and existing STEM knowledge. That these patterns of identified protective factors and risk factors appeared across prompts and across different tribal regions and grade levels suggests the potential benefit of a future study to further investigate the correlation between non-American Indian teacher training and improved American Indian student persistence in STEM. These results have the potential to transform precollege STEM classrooms in reservation schools, university recruitment programs, and university teacher preparation curriculum.

Huff-Lohmeier, A. J., & Hennig, A., & Lamoreaux, D. (2017, June), Teacher "Thinking Circles" Reveal Protective and Risk Factors for Persistence of American Indian Students and Retention of Non-American Indian Teachers in Reservation Schools Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28905

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