KARMA’s PEBL Initiative Infuses Engineering Education with Native Culture

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, innovative approaches are essential to engage students and prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century. KARMA made great strides in this direction through its LEGO Foundation Playful Engineering-Based Learning (PEBL) grant. Focusing on professional development, cultural integration, and robotics/coding, KARMA established a dynamic project team and collaborated with educators, cultural experts, and organizations worldwide. The PEBL team consisted of new staff, maverick teachers, a parental advisor, and a Cultural Team with a Navajo elder, a Navajo college professor, and a Native professor emeritus.

The maverick teachers drove the PEBL work shaped by their years of experience and willingness to push boundaries. Together, they collaboratively authored a comprehensive PEBL manual titled “Instructional Strategies and Resources for Joyful Culturally Infused Learning – Coding and Engineering Design.” In addition, the Cultural Team published “The Weaving Together of Inter-Tribal Cultures: Philosophies to Live By,” a document examining the intertwining of Native culture and technology.

The manual was designed for Native STEM teachers. It is a collection of culturally relevant lessons, resources, and strategies for teaching engineering, robotics, and coding. KARMA transformed the written manual into a dedicated section on their website. This move allows teachers across Navajo and Hopi Nations easy access to valuable tools that promote culturally infused learning experiences in the classroom.

KARMA organized a conference for educators to unveil their manual. The conference titled “Acknowledging Culture in 21st Century Learning” drew more than 30 attendees, including educators and other stakeholders who were inspired to bring these activities into their classrooms. In response to the enthusiasm of the attendees at the conference, KARMA hosted a second conference focused on hands-on learning. This event provided teachers with practical experience using educational technology, fostering a deeper understanding of the potential impact on student engagement and learning outcomes.

KARMA’s commitment to collaboration extended beyond conferences. They welcomed international visitors, including Play@Heart and LEGO Foundation from Denmark, as well as American visitors from WMSI and Tufts University. These collaborations involved visits to various schools and cultural sites. They continue to collaborate with these organizations, sharing experiences as they continue to develop as an organization.

During the two-year PEBL project, KARMA reached 114 Navajo and Hopi teachers at eight different schools. They brought playful learning to over 800 students. With the grant, the young organization developed a core foundation to expand its outreach as it continues to grow in the future.

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