Arctic and Earth SIGNS workshop seeks to educate communities

Dragonflies fly across Ballaine lake, scattering as buckets attached to ropes soar through the air into the glittering lake below. The gathered community members and educators taking part in the workshop draw in their buckets. A variety of tests are performed on the collected lake water in the buckets, they include readings of temperature, alkalinity, and dissolved oxygen. All of this was a part of the Climate Change and My Community 2019 Course put on by the Arctic and Earth SIGNS program.

Participants collecting water samples. Surface water from closer to the middle of the lake is better for the tests, so ropes and a good throwing arm is recommended.

The Arctic and Earth SIGNS workshop, based out of IARC, seeks to increase community-focused scientific outreach through workshops that give community members a hands-on experience with science using the GLOBE protocols. It emphasizes effects the changing Arctic has on both a personal and a global scale. The workshop starts by focusing on the experiences of community elders who have seen the change within their own lives.

“We wanted [participants] to first listen to their elders and learn what was important to their elders in their own community regarding climate change,” said Katie Spellman, who ran the workshop alongside Elena Sparrow and Malinda Chase. “We then wanted them to be able to find something that interests them and design an investigation centered on a problem in their own community. We wanted youth to feel empowered to be agents of change, using the tools of science.”

Katie Spellman, one of the workshop leads.

The workshop also focused on the interweaving of western science and the culture and knowledge of Alaska Native communities.

“I hope they take away an understanding of how data collection through what we sometimes call ‘western science’ can be braided with their indigenous knowledge to gain a richer understanding of their own community and environment in their community,” said Bonnie Murray, a NASA education specialist who assisted with the workshop.

Nicole James, an alumni from last year’s workshop, also emphasized the bonds and community that the workshop created.

“We still have a connection. We call each other, we use Facebook… we have a connection with them,” she said about her fellow alumni from the workshop. Nicole has presented at two conferences since her workshop, one of which she did alongside fellow alumni.

Hearing the cheers and camaraderie between the participants during the award ceremony at the end of the week, it’s safe to say that those who took part in this workshop built bonds that they will not soon forget. And as they began to excitedly discuss what materials and tools they would be order for their research projects in their own communities, the passion for science that the workshop ignited is unlikely to flicker out any time soon.