The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid education professionals in their efforts to serve American Indian students and close the achievement gap American Indian students have faced in public, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other schools.

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators working with American Indian students are aware of past efforts at improving the academic achievement of these students, the limited success of these efforts, and current federally funded Indian education programs

Educators will:

  1. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  2. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  3. Understand the effects of the Indian Self-Determination and Civil Rights movements on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

Activity 2: Understand the Current Status of American Indian Education

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will understand the great cultural diversity among American Indians, as well as some of their commonalities. Educators will understand:
  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribe today?
  2. What is an extended family?
  3. What is the significance of traditional American Indian values, such as humility, interconnectedness, and reciprocity?
  4. What should all Americans know about American Indians?

Activity 1: Be Aware of Tribal and Family Structures

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students' academic performance and working with local tribes and other Indian organizations are necessary to develop culturally responsive teaching methods. Educators should:
  • Examine current American Indian student test scores, attendance rates, and dropout rates;
  • Work with tribes and community organizations; and
  • Work with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association.

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community

Activity 2: Work With and Involve Community and Parents

Task 3: Incorporate Ethnomathematics and Ethnoscience


Guideline: Unlike most western cultures, native cultures generally approach mathematics and science within the context of their society's culture. The concept of "ethnomathematics" was first used by Brazilian mathematician Ubiratan D'Ambrosio to describe the mathematical practices of identifiable cultural groups. When teaching native students, the relevant math and science curriculum should be related to the students' cultural backgrounds.

Overview: The Australian Academy of Science declares, "the term ‘ethnomathematics' was first used in the late 1960s by a Brazilian mathematician, Ubiratan D'Ambrosio, to describe the mathematical practices of identifiable cultural groups. Some see it as the study of mathematics in different cultures, others as a way of making mathematics more relevant to different cultural or ethnic groups, yet others as a way of understanding the differences between cultures."

D'Ambrosio viewed ethnomathematics as a means to integrate science with social justice. Such a view does not sit "comfortably with many scientists: science, they argue, is science, and trying to make it politically correct will only impede its progress. Some educators fret that teaching mathematics using an ethnomathematical approach reduces it to a social studies subject that teaches students little about ‘real' mathematics. Others simply ridicule the whole notion: according to one disparaging journalist, 'Unless you wish to balance your checkbook the ancient Navajo way, it's probably safe to ignore the whole thing'.... But there are also many scientists, educators and commentators who see ethnomathematics - in all its definitions - as a legitimate discipline with plenty to offer the modern world."

Ethnoscience provides an approach similar to ethnomathematics to relate culture to science.

Ethnomathematics Digital Library

From the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, the Ethnomathematics Digital Library (EDL) is a resource for ethnomathematics, with emphasis on the indigenous mathematics of the Pacific region. The database does provide some information on Native American groups.


Smithsonian Education

This resource provides a database of education resources available through the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Native American related content can be found lesson plans, resources and Smithsonian educational resources aligned to state standards. This database may be useful for teachers searching for culturally responsive resources.

Ancient Observatories: Native American Connections

This NASA resource "provides information to learn more about the Sun's connection to the Earth through images, cultural parallels and activities that Native Americans have used to share Sun-Earth science through several generations."


Ethno mathematics – A Rich Cultural Diversity

From the Australian Academy of Science, this article reviews how mathematics has been used by Pacific native cultures. It points out how "Western mathematics does not meet the needs of all people and is not always easily understood outside the ˜mainstream' culture."


Native Knowledge and Western Science

This Education Northwest resource offers content related to blending native knowledge and western science.

Element 4: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Some research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, culturally responsive teaching methodologies should address:
  • American Indian learning styles;
  • Indianizing curriculum;
  • Ethnomathematics and ethnoscience;
  • American Indian charter and magnet schools; and
  • Language revitalization.

Activity 1: Helping American Indian Children to Learn

Activity 2: Integrate American Indian History and Culture into School Curriculum

Activity 3: The Role of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Activity 4: Teaching Indigenous Languages