Cortez Middle School teachers are reaching out to tribal students and parents in Towaoc, offering a series of hands-on scientific experiments.
“The purpose of the program is to provide an opportunity for community building, leadership development and an appreciation for science,” said seventh-grade science teacher Jeff Sand.
The Ute Mountain Ute Science Night, a partnership between the school and Ute Mountain Ute tribe, launches this week. Starting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, this week’s scientific experiment centers on manipulating ferrofluid, a NASA rocket fuel, via magnetism.
“The hands-on activities will be student-led,” Sand said.
A shared meal follows each event at the Towaoc Community Center. Held on the third Thursday evening of every month through May, students that participate in all this semester’s experiments will be eligible for a daytrip with CMS staff to the Red Eagle Challenge Ropes Course in Shiprock.
“Our science department wants students to know that science has less to do with memorizing facts and more to do with understanding how to use the framework of the scientific method to explore questions we may have about the world,” Sand said. “If we can provide opportunities where students can engage inquiry and curiosity with their parents and members of their community, we know that the likelihood that these students enjoy science increases.”
This past fall, CMS Principal Glenn Smith and staff met with Ute Mountain Ute parents and tribal education officials to discuss how the school could engage the Towaoc community. According to Sand, that discussion spurred the science experiments.
“The Science Night program isn’t the result of a shift in values so much as an increased awareness around strategies for more effective communication and relationship building,” Sand said. “The concept ... is really a macro version of how we are working to engage students one-on-one.”
This year, the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school district has focused on social emotional learning, an educational process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.
“One of the cornerstone efforts of a social emotional learning school is to teach in an engaging way,” Sand said. “Science, when it is project and inquiry-based, can engage students as a way to build relationships, increase attendance, encourage positive student choices and promote lifelong learners.”
“Providing Towaoc students an opportunity to facilitate these hands-on activities with their families and community seemed in line with that understanding,” Sand said.