Ananda Marin is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from the School of Education & Social Policy at Northwestern. She has over a decade of experience working with families and students in community centers, museums, and community colleges. She served as Assistant Dean of Student Services at Harry S. Truman College where she worked closely with the Office of Instruction on classroom redesign projects and retention efforts. At the Chicago Children’s Museum she participated in the exhibit development process and co-facilitated a supplemental reading program with partner schools. Her current research focuses on the intersections between culture, development, orientations to the natural world, and science teaching and learning. In her dissertation she examined the relationship between attention, mobility, and learning about the natural world. She is currently engaged in a collaborative research project between the American Indian Center of Chicago, the Menominee Language and Culture Commission, Northwestern University, and the University of Washington. This community-based design research project aims to create science learning environments based on youth and families’ community practices. As a project member, she has served as a researcher, curriculum designer, and teacher.

Diversity in the sciences is essential if we are to address issues related to the use and distribution of natural resources in innovative and equitable ways. Today, conversations around environmental sustainability, food sovereignty, and climate change are prevalent in many Indigenous communities. For Indigenous peoples meeting the challenges posed by climate change is directly related to participation in the sciences among tribal members and descendants. However, American Indian and Alaska Natives are under-represented in the sciences. Educators and researchers have generated multiple theories to explain this under-representation, including the high rates at which Native students drop out of high school, limited mentorship opportunities, and limited post-baccalaureate funding [i].  While these explanations are informative and point us towards possible solutions, I have come to see success in the sciences through a different framework. Since 2005, I have participated in a community-based design research project. This collaborative project engaged community members and university researchers from the American Indian Center of Chicago, the Menominee Nation, Northwestern University, and the University of Washington in the design of culturally-based science programming. This work has taken a different approach to Indigenous representation in the sciences and asked how epistemologies, or ways of knowing, embedded in instructional environments and materials may impact achievement and ultimately career paths in the sciences among Native students [ii].

In Chicago, members from the American Indian Center [iii] have taken up this work by creating and implementing out-of-school science programming for Indigenous youth and families. The goal of this work is two-fold, to increase science achievement among Native students and to assert educational self-determination [iv] by inviting community members in Chicago to be decision makers in the design of curriculum and instruction.

Šikaakonki [v] – Chicago, is the traditional territory of a number of Woodlands peoples including the Miami, the Pottawatomi, the Illinois, the Sauk, the Ojibwe, and the Ottawa, among others. In the latter half of the twentieth century, many Native peoples moved to Chicago through the federal relocation program [vi]. Today, Chicago is home to a multi-tribal, multi-ethnic community and one of the largest urban Indian communities [vii]. Despite this fact, many Native American youth in Chicago attend schools where they are one of a few, or the only Native student [viii]. At times, the low number of Native students within a school or district is used to constrain conversations about schooling and the needs of Native students. This dynamic makes it easier to ignore the voices of Native parents and caretakers when it comes to developing educational programming for youth.

Drawing on community-based design research methods, we intentionally decided to privilege Native families as decision makers in the design and implementation of out-of-school science curricula. As part of this process, community meetings were regularly held.  In these meetings we vigorously discussed the relationship between culture and science, and we collectively designed a pilot curriculum to be implemented at the American Indian Center. In Šikaakonki, the curriculum that we designed was place-based, influenced by diverse tribal epistemologies, and premised around the big idea of living in relationships.

What does it mean to teach from the big idea of living in relationships? At the most basic level, it means recognizing that culture, or the routine practices that families engage in to accomplish goals, is deeply intertwined with places, both rural and urban [ix]. In our work, we have come to view science education, as teaching and learning about conceptions and relationships to the natural world. Inherent in the design of our curricula is the belief that humans are not apart from nature, but a part of nature and that nature is all around us [x]. In our curricula, we explicitly recognize urban areas as a part of the natural world and Chicago, in particular, as a wetland and prairie environment [xi]. Privileging this stance led us to innovate our pedagogies in two important ways. First, we transitioned away from models of teaching that privileged a single individual as the expert whose primary role was to impart knowledge to less expert individuals. Second, we intentionally planned lessons around the co-facilitation of big ideas and we recognized land itself as a teacher. The move to recognize land as a teacher led us to forefront walking as a teaching methodology. For example, we initially implemented pilot lessons about the water cycle indoors. As we shifted to a co-teaching model and one that recognized land as a teacher, we began to implement lessons outdoors on local neighborhood blocks and in urban, forest preserves. Walking between locations and across land became a teaching activity and a way to develop relationships with each other, particular places and our non-human relatives.

Recently, I have built on this work by researching the ways in which families’ organize attention during outdoor science activities that involve walking [xii].  For me, focusing on mobile, outdoor science activities highlighted the multiple spatial and bodily arrangements people used to establish and accomplish goals related to learning about the natural world. Examining how family members physically arrange themselves and alter their gait in order to coordinate attention and build knowledge about the natural world, has led me to consider the important role of shared view in learning. Establishing a shared view of the landscape supports attention sharing (i.e., joint attention) during place-based activities and consequently mutual meaning making about the natural world. This differs from typical conceptions of attention where sharing gaze is a primary indicator of joint attention. Sharing gaze with another versus sharing a view of the land implicitly shifts our understanding of where knowledge is coming from.

Additionally, my experiences with place-based science curriculum that privileges walking the land has lead me to see joint attention as central to questions of epistemology and equity. Just as algebra is seen as a gateway course in math, attention habits also serve as gateways to participation because of their importance in establishing and maintaining social interactions and imparting values. A persistent question of mine is how findings from place-based and field-based programs may inform discussions about attention, place-based activities and science learning in classroom settings. How might an expanded research program on attention, one that includes the embodied aspects of attention and privileges both shared gaze and shared view inform discussions about the design of classroom spaces and the role of mobility in attending and learning?

I believe that equity in science education requires refocusing the conversation to consider the relationship between ways of knowing and the places of learning. In addition, we must reexamine the end goals of education, in terms of content, human relationships, and relationships between humans and the environment. The lessons we are learning from our collaborative design project is of value and benefit to all students. Reimagining traditional classroom settings in ways that take up both shared gaze and shared view may shift instructional models so that teachers become co-participants in the learning and discovery process.




[iv] See the following pieces:

Swisher, K. G., & Tippeconnic, J. W. (Eds.). (1999). Next steps: Research and practice to advance Indian education. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

Tippeconnic, J. W. (2000). Reflecting on the past: Some important aspects of Indian education to consider as we look toward the future. Journal of American Indian Education, 39(2), 39-48.





[ix] See the following pieces:

Bang, M., Curley, L., Kessel, A., Marin, A., Suzukovich, E., & Strack, G. (in press). Muskrat theories, tobacco in the streets and living Chicago as indigenous land. Environmental Education Research.

Cajete, G. (2000). Native science: Natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.

Kawagley, A.O. (2006). A Yupiaq worldview: A pathway to ecology and spirit (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Oliveira, K. A. R. (2011). Wahi a kahiko: Place names as vehicles of ancestral memory. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 5(2), 101-115.

Robinson, A., & Tout, D. (2012). Unsettling conceptions of wilderness and nature. Arena Journal, (37/38), 153-175.

[x] See the following pieces:

Bang, M., Warren, B., Rosebery, A. S., & Medin, D. (2013). Desettling expectations in science education. Human Development, 55(5-6), 302-318.

Cajete, G. (2000). Native science: Natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.

Kawagley, A.O. (2006). A Yupiaq worldview: A pathway to ecology and spirit (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Pierotti, R. (2011). Indigenous knowledge, ecology, and evolutionary biology. New York: Taylor & Francis.

[xi] See the following pieces:

Bang, M., Marin, A., Faber, L., & Suzukovich, E. S. (2013). Repatriating Indigenous Technologies in an Urban Indian Community. Urban Education, 48(5), 705-733.

Kessel, Adam. (2013, September 23). Citizen science and the power of tribal diversity: Rethinking urban environmental education in Chicago. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

[xii] Marin, A. (2013).  Learning to Attend and Observe: Parent-Child Meaning Making in the Natural World. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

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One Response to “Lessons on Equity in Science Education from Walking Urban Forest Preserves by Ananda Marin”

  1. G.B. Starr-Bresette on 11/16/13 1:32 PM US/Eastern

    Traditionally, ways of knowing and the places of learning are intergenerational. Walking with grandfather is a repeated ceremony that imparts learning FROM the earth (and ALL of our Relations.)

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