Sixth Graders Research Pow Wow Dancers

May 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 14-4: Cultural Resilience, Tribal College News

Students collected data on pow wow dancers such as these at the United Tribes International Pow Wow.

The Dancers and Data project began after the United Tribes International Pow Wow in September 2001. Jen Janecek thought there must be a way to use all the information on the 1,700 singers and dancers in a learning project. Janecek, who directs the Rural Systemic Initiative at United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), found a willing collaborator in Jamie Higlin, who teaches sixth grade at Theodore Jamerson Elementary School on the UTTC campus.

UTTC has sponsored the pow wow near its campus in Bismarck, ND, for 32 years. Tens of thousands of people now participate in the renewal of tribal culture, competing in singing and dancing contests with thousands of dollars in prize money. The National Science Foundation funds Rural Systemic Initiatives, including Janecek’s, to integrate technology into math and science curricula.

Students began their Dancers and Data project by entering nine years of pow wow registration data into a FileMaker Pro database with fields for last name, first name, age group, dance category, year, gender, city, state or province, country, and tribal nation. Students, many of whom had no prior keyboard experience, took only 30 hours to make over 4,700 entries, which often involved reading problematic handwriting thus also teaching the value of good penmanship.

After data entry, students began asking questions: What ages are most of the dancers? Which is the most popular dance category? Where do people come from, and how far do they travel to get here? How many dancers have registered in each of the last nine years? Sixth graders learned to use data to answer their questions, export information into spreadsheets to design tables and charts, and then add graphics and photos to create a colorful slide show presentation.

Four months later, the students presented Dancers and Data publicly, fielding questions from the school board and sixth grade parents. They subsequently also presented the slide show to UTTC college president and deans, the pow wow committee, and at education conferences in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and around the region.

Jamie Higlin points out that in addition to covering every one of the math standards, her class won the monthly attendance award while working on the project. “The real life problem solving hit home and kept students motivated,” Jamie said. During the 2002-2003 school year a new group of sixth graders is entering another year’s pow wow data. They plan to produce public service radio announcements using their results. For more information on this project, contact Jen Janecek at <> or Jamie Higlin at <>.

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