Indigenization of chemistry education top of mind for science educators

From left: Dr. Malcolm King, keynote speaker at the 101st Canadian Society of Chemistry Conference, and Chris Phenix, GlycoNet Network Investigator and symposium co-chair.

Exploring reconciliation in chemistry education session co-led by GlycoNet Network Investigator

by Bernie Poitras

Indigenous leaders, researchers, educators and science leaders across Canada discussed the Indigenization and reconciliation in chemistry education at a national chemistry conference last week.

Co-chaired by GlycoNet Network Investigator, Dr. Chris Phenix, the symposium took place as part of the 101st Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition held May 27-31 in Edmonton.

“This is a real important topic that leaders across Canada are trying to address,” says Phenix, a University of Saskatchewan Assistant Professor who has Métis ancestry. “We need to understand how education is key to reconciliation, how to attract more young Indigenous students to study chemistry, and discuss traditional ways of discovery and knowing in order to improve success in chemistry courses.”

Dr. Malcolm King delivers his keynote address to attendees at the Indigenization and Reconciliation in Chemistry Education symposium, May 29 in Edmonton.

Presenters and attendees discussed the history of Indigenous people in Canada’s education system, ways to improve enrolment of Indigenous students in science programs and successful practices currently underway at universities across Canada.

Keynote speaker Dr. Malcolm King, a member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation (Ontario) and the first Indigenous person in Canada to graduate with a PhD in science, kicked-off the afternoon session. King began by recognizing the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a good start but more needs to be done to integrate Indigenous ways in education. His presentation was titled: Reconciliation in Science Education: Respect for Indigenous and western ways of knowing and pathways to discovery.

“Supporting our Indigenous entities doesn’t have to be done with brick and mortar buildings,” says King, a Scientific Director for SCPOR (Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research).  “One of the guiding principles I use is called the Two-Eyed Seeing approach – it’s about seeing science education using western ways and knowledge and Indigenous ways and knowledge to benefit everyone.”

King sees an “ethical space” as a model for co-advancement where western views and knowledge and Indigenous views and knowledge intersect, people are being respectful of each other’s view and listening and hearing one another.

Dr. Michelle Hogue presents her views on Indigenization of chemistry education at the symposium.

Dr. Michelle Hogue, Associate Professor and the Co-ordinator of the First Nations Transition Program at the University of Lethbridge, says Indigenization of education must be carried out by Indigenous people or in concert with them because they see the world in a different way.

“I changed the way I teach to have all my chemistry classes in the lab instead of the traditional classroom lecture environment,” says Hogue. “A more hands-on approach to teaching means more to my Indigenous students. We spend all our time in the lab; we do the practical first, then I bridge to the theory later.”

Hogue says after changing her teaching methods, student attendance in her classes improved, student GPA increased, retention of students improved and registration in other science-related courses at the university also increased.

Phenix says the overall goal of the symposium was to raise awareness of indigenization so educators understand the challenges universities have in establishing partnerships with Indigenous people.

“The hope is that symposium attendees go back to their university and incorporate some of the ideas and strategies they learned in the session,” says Phenix. “We hope this leads to institutions taking concrete steps towards building those partnerships with Indigenous students.”

This summer, Phenix will help GlycoNet develop instructional resources with Indigenous teachers and students that can be adapted to Indigenous high schools across Canada.

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