STEM Education Center


Ah Neen Dush - HeadStart Program in Northern Minnesota


Ah neen dush (roughly translated as ‘why?’ in Ojibwe) is a professional development partnership between the University of Minnesota and the White Earth Reservation Head Start program in Northern Minnesota. Funded by Office of Head Start, Ah neen dush aims to support and mentor Head Start teachers as they create engaging environments, that weave discovery-based science and mathematics activities with Ojibwe philosophy and tradition. This interdisciplinary program draws on several research disciplines, among them cultural responsive education; early childhood education; child development; science, mathematics and environmental education; professional development theories; and learning technologies to create a long term, and sustainable program.


Grant Sponsor:

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services


Principal Investigator:

Gillian Roehrig, STEM Education Center


Project Personnel:

Stephan Carlson, U of M Extension

Mia Dubosarsky, STEM Education Center

Jennifer Jones, STEM Education Center

Linda Frost

Barbara Murphy, Institute of Child Development


Ah neen dush’s guiding principles are:

  1. A long-term commitment to working toward sustainable professional development.
  2. Discovery-based science and mathematics curriculum rooted in Ojibwe culture and developed by the teachers with assistance from the program team.
  3. Multifaceted learning experiences: teachers play the role of students during modeled lessons, teachers during curriculum development, and presenters during each monthly session.
  4. Making connections to families and community members.
  5. Mentoring: online mentoring as well as monthly classroom visits.
  6. Learning communities: creating teams of teachers who work and learn together.
  7. Reflective journaling.
  8. Effective use of technology: enhancing the culture of learning communities and project dissemination via the project’s website.

The study is comprised of a diverse population of 37 female teachers from 9 classrooms across 6 different centers on the reservation. The teachers differ in age, level of education, years of experience, knowledge of traditional culture, and ethnicity. Approximately half of the teachers are Native.

The professional development format utilized by Ah Neen Dush includes:

Year 1: Monthly visits to the classrooms, monthly workshop with the entire group, two summer workshops

Year 2: Monthly visit to the classrooms, monthly workshop with the entire group, two summer workshops, model lesson in each classroom.

Year 3: Two visits a month to the classrooms, model lessons, monthly workshops with small cohorts, summer workshop.

Topics covered during professional development activities encompassed:

  • Nature of Science
  • Nature of Math
  • Child Development
  • Learning & Teaching Cycle
  • Culture & Science
  • Teaching through Inquiry
  • Thematic Teaching
  • Home School Connections
  • Nature
  • Water
  • Blocks
  • Wild Ricing; The Three Sisters Garden

The team used the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation protocol (Pianta, La Paro & Hamre, 2008) to score classroom interactions during monthly visits. Teachers reflected on the workshops as well as completed surveys at the end of each unit.

Year 2 summary results of observational data show an overall improvement in all dimensions across two years of the program. Reflection data provides additional support as teachers report being more aware and at ease about teaching science.

Baseline Post Year 1 Post Year 2
Emotional Support 5.39 5.56 6.07
Positive Climate 5.68 5.73 6.29**
Negative Climate* 1.29 1.00 1.12
Teacher Sensitivity 4.67 4.93 5.46
Regard for Student Perspective 4.49 4.57 5.67**
Classroom Organization 4.78 4.20 5.67**
Behavior Management 4.90 5.07 5.83
Productivity 5.25 4.32 5.96**
Instructional Learning Formats 4.20 4.11 5.21**
Instructional Support 2.28 3.02 3.46***
Conceptual Development 1.93 2.86 3.13
Quality Feedback 2.42 3.29 3.7***
Language Modeling 2.49 3.57 3.54

*Lower scores are better for Negative Climate the scoring is reversed to provide an overall total for the Emotional Support domain

** Statistically significant growth from year 1 to year 2

*** Statistically significant growth from baseline to year 3


Supporting materials for culturally based early childhood inquiry activities:

Learning science and mathematics during early childhood year enhances young children’s thinking and provides them with problem solving skills. Research shows that many early childhood teachers avoid teaching science and mathematics during the early years due to a variety of reasons (emphasis on literacy; science and mathematics anxiety; lack of science and mathematics courses during teacher preparation, perceiving science and mathematics as ‘difficult’ subjects, and more). As a result, some of these children arrive to school unfamiliar with scientific or mathematic concepts, and may have lag behind their classmates.

Research also tells us that children who come from a minority culture, and especially American Indian culture, where the home and community culture may differ greatly than the culture of school, have the greatest gap in science and mathematics, compared with their middle-class White counterparts. However, cultural based curricula and pedagogy, connecting science and math concepts and practices to the home culture of the students, is proven to minimize and eliminate those gaps.

During the three years of Ah Neen Dush program, the team developed a number of supporting materials, which can be used by teachers, curriculum developers and early childhood educators. All those materials are free to use and modify to use with your students for EDUCATIONAL (not commercial) purposes only. Check this site periodically, as new materials are being added.


Culturally based inquiry units:


Publication & Presentations:

Mason, A., Dubosarsky, M., Roehrig, G.H, Carlson, S., Farley, M. (2011). Ah neen dush: Harnessing collective wisdom to create culturally relevant science experiences in pre-K classrooms. In S. Gregory, W.Goins and S. Kewanhaptewa-Dixon (Eds.) Voices of Native American Indian Educators: Integrating History, Culture and Language to Improve Learning Outcomes for Native American Indian Students.

Roehrig, G.H, Dubosarsky, M., Mason, A., Carlson, S., & Murphy, B. (2011). We Look More, Listen More, Notice More: Impact of Sustained Professional Development on Head Start Teachers’ Inquiry-Based and Culturally-Relevant Science Teaching Practices. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 20(5), 566–578.

Dubosarsky, M., Murphy,B., Roehrig, G.H., Frost, L.C., Jones,J., & Carlson, S.C. ( with Nette Londo, Carolyn Melchert, Cheryl Gettel, and Jody Bement) (2011).Animal Tracks on the Playground, Minnows in the Sensory Table: Incorporating Cultural Themes to Promote Preschoolers’ Critical Thinking in American Indian Head Start Classrooms.Young Children, 66(5), 20-29.

Roehrig, G.H, Dubosarsky, M., Mogush-Mason, A., Murphy, B., & Carlson, S. (2010, January). Ah Neen Dush: A Science and Mathematics Professional Development Program for Head Start Teachers on the White Earth. Association of Science Teacher Education, Sacramento, CA.

Dubosarsky, M., Mason, A., Roehrig, G.H., & Carlson, S. (2009,October). Ah neen dush: Harnessing collective wisdom to create culturally relevant science and mathematics experiences for Head Start children on the White Earth reservation. National Indian Education Association, Milwaukee, WI.

Dubosarsky, M., Roehrig, G.H, Mason, A., Murphy, B., & Carlson, S. (2011, January). Pattern of Change in Teaching Science among Head Start Teachers on an American Indian Reservation. Association of Science Teacher Education, Minneapolis, MN.

Dubosarsky, M., Roehrig, G.H, Mason, A., Murphy, B., & Carlson, S. (2011, April). .Professional Development Program Boosts Science Teaching Practices among Head-Start Teachers on an American-Indian Reservation. National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Annual Conference, Orlando, FL.

Mia Dubosarsky, M. (2011, April). Preschool Children’s Views about Science and Scientists: Findings from an Innovative Research Instrument. National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Annual Conference, Orlando, FL.


Contact: Gillian Roehrig