Dine studies at Navajo Tech infuses Navajo perspectives into summer programs

An instructor for the Math Circles Summer Camp at Navajo Technical University demonstrates how to use formulas to solve a problem. During the two week camp, students learned the importance of the Navajo Culture through mathematics. (Photos/Navajo Technical Univeristy)

An instructor for the Math Circles Summer Camp at Navajo Technical University demonstrates how to use formulas to solve a problem. During the two week camp, students learned the importance of the Navajo Culture through mathematics. (Photos/Navajo Technical Univeristy)

CROWNPOINT, N.M. — Students and community members were brought together this summer through distinct summer camp programs that infused math and language instruction with Navajo perspective and instructions from Navajo Technical University’s Diné Studies.

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Navajo Language Academy and graduate student at Navajo Technical University, Dana Desiderio, listens to audio in Navajo and receives assistance translating its meaning from Diné studies instructors. (Photo/Navajo Technical University)

Programs at the summer camps included a Navajo Circles camp for youth grades 6-12, and a Navajo Language Academy (NLA) for academics and language enthusiasts. This was the first time NTU hosted the eight-year old Nation Math Circles camp and the seventh year hosting the NLA.

“We are the only Math Circles in the U.S. that integrates Navajo knowledge and thinking. It helps our students to gain more while learning about Navajo culture,” said Dr. Henry Fowler, Dean of Diné Studies at NTU. “We also have the Navajo Language Academy at NTU for our undergraduate and graduate students in the Diné Studies program to participate with long-time instructors of the Navajo language.”

The Navajo Math Circles camp has been in operation for eight years. It made its first appearance in Crownpoint this summer. The camp ran from June 10-21 and had 42 student participants and six teachers from regional middle schools and high schools.

The camp’s intent was to improve math proficiency through interactive projects and activities specific to Navajo experience. Unique to Math Circles is the merging of mathematics with Navajo culture to solve open ended math problems.

The NLA was held from June 13-19 and had 38 participants that went in-depth about the Navajo language and its structure.

NLA was founded in the early 1970s to increase research and understanding of Navajo grammar while developing learning material for instructors. NLA examined learning materials, such as Young & Morgan’s Navajo dictionary and other written documents in their research to better understand the language.

“This was a unique program for students who want to learn more about the Navajo language. It helped me to add more meaning to understanding as I speak [the language],” said Tyler Tinhorn, graduate student in NTU’s Master of Arts degree in Diné Culture, Language and Leadership. “It is important for us as Diné people and speakers to continue conversing with it so we can teach another generation of speakers.”

The goal of NTU’s Diné Studies is to enroll more students in their programs to increase efforts towards language revitalization and cultural preservation. This includes enrolling students in the masters program, which currently enrolled 14 students for the largest cohort since the program began in 2015.

Information provided by Navajo Technical University

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