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Actua’s Cultural STEM Kits – A COVID-19 Pivot Story

July 28, 2021

“The COVID-Pivot” – sounds like the dance move of the year, doesn’t it? Well, we wish it were as easy as a one, two step, but pivoting in the face of a global pandemic has had many of us tripping over our own feet. Fortunately for Actua’s community of partners and youth, fostering ingenuity and innovation is what we do best. 

Actua prides itself on being an agile organization that responds quickly to the evolving needs of those we serve. While it hasn’t always been easy, the pandemic has allowed us to sharpen and strengthen these skills. We’ve worked closely with our network members to adapt our programs to ensure we reach the same number of youth with the same measurable impact. We’ve leveraged video conferencing to connect with youth in their homes and created Actua-At Home, where parents, teachers and youth can access a magnitude of online STEM resources, activities and workshops. But, one of the most remarkable pivots of all has been our Cultural STEM Kits. 

Actua’s Cultural STEM Kits

Recognizing that not all youth have access to computers or the internet at home, we asked our community partners how we could continue to serve their youth. Overwhelmingly communities suggested we deliver STEM activities directly to youth. This was particularly important for youth who, under normal circumstances, participate in Actua’s national InSTEM program, which engages Indigenous students in land-based STEM education. Since these participants haven’t been able to gather together on the land to learn about STEM the same way, we decided to take land-based STEM education to them.

Enter Actua Cultural Kits!

Earlier this year, Actua partnered with Indigenous cultural practitioner Rod St. Denis, to design a series of Cultural Kits that could be delivered to youth. Each kit challenges participants to create a scaled model of a Indigenous cultural unit and learn about the Indigenous knowledge that contributes to its innovative design and function. 

There are four themed kits to choose from:

Tipi Tikinagan Qamutik Canoe

Within every kit there is also an activity that builds from the Traditional Indigenous Knowledge associated with the unit to help participants make the connection between Indigenous Knowledge and mainstream STEM.

Take the Cultural Kit with the Tipi for example. Tipis are used by some Indigenous Peoples across North America and have been around for centuries. They’re designed to be taken down and built easily while providing warmth and shelter from the weather. STEM is integrated into all aspects of the structure and design of tipis. For instance, a convection current is created in the tipi as the hot air from the fire rises and pushes the smoke out through the smoke hole at the top. The cold air replaces the rising warm air creating the current and keeping those inside warm. By adjusting the smoke flaps, occupants create an efficient system to stay frost free in the winter and dry in the summer. 

Participants receiving the tipi kit are provided with the materials and tools to build a miniature tipi and learn about its unique design and the methods and materials used to ensure the structure is stable and can promote heat transfer. They are also instructed through an activity that explores how the tipi design makes use of the principle of convection and learn about convection, heat transfer and insulation by experimenting with various materials.Thanks to Actua’s Outreach team, we’ve already delivered over 1000 kits, and we’re just getting started!

Learn more

Learn more about the importance of land-based STEM education and Actua’s InSTEM program in our Indigenous Land-Based STEM Education Discussion Paper.

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