Summit Historical Society offers Ute STEM education program for area children

Students at Frisco Elementary School participate in the Ute STEM educational program, which the History Colorado Center formed the Summit Historical Society to bring to the local community.
Summit Historical Society / Courtesy Photo

The Summit Historical Society teaches a program on the history of the Ute tribes and their uses of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with assistance from the History Colorado Center.

Summit Historical Society president Sally Queen said her team was trained on the program in fall 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic halted its implementation. Now, the historical society offers the program to Summit fourth-grade students as part of their history curriculum. The company will also run sessions at private schools and for home-schooled children, and the nonprofit introduced the program to a group of Boy Scouts earlier this week.

The program, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, allows children to interact with a large-scale map that shows how the Utes roamed the Colorado and Utah region in different seasons and look at through old and new photos of the Utes. Next, students are divided into groups and then rotate through the stations highlighting each of the STEM areas and how common they were in everyday Ute life.

Queen said seeing children in the program would renew anyone’s confidence in the education system. She said she thinks the program is important for showing kids that history can be fun and it’s not always about reading textbooks.

“For us, it’s just gratifying that these are so well designed that they can tie history to today,” Queen said. “History Colorado, they’ve done the research, so we can accurately go in and say, ‘Let me tell you about this person and the connections to Summit County. “”

Liz Cook, who leads the project for History Colorado, said the program was just one part of a much larger project, which she said broadly examines traditional knowledge of the Ute and its connection to the how we think about STEM topics today. At its core, she said the program is about working with Ute youth, elders and experts to spread their knowledge, and History Colorado features a variety of short films and exhibits related to the project.

“We think this is a really cool model for getting kids, and really learners of all ages, to engage in STEM learning,” Cook said. “We don’t often think of social studies and some of our deeper stories as being STEM stories, but they really are. So I think there’s something fun and challenging about the way the people who’ve lived the longest in Colorado have used science, technology, engineering, and math.

The program went to Frisco Elementary School last week, and Cook was able to be there to help guide the lesson. She said it was rewarding to watch the children of Frisco relate Ute’s experiences with Summit County wildlife to their own experiences.

Cook said the program would not be possible without the help of people from all three Ute tribes: the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Utes in southwestern Colorado and the Northern Utes in Fort Duchesne, Utah.

“It’s truly an honor to be able to work with them, and I think for us to have that conduit to share their knowledge with people across the state is so important,” Cook said.

Cook said History Colorado has similar programs in place, such as History Take-Out, across the state for over 10 years. The organization develops all the practical kits used in the educational program and provides training for local entities.

“It really gives kids a chance to explore hands-on Ute science-related objects and then try challenges that are hands-on activities that explore those STEM concepts a bit more,” Cook said. “Once they’ve received the kit, it’s up to them to start figuring out how they want to share it with their community. And many of our partners are working with schools – some are doing more community events…many different ways of doing it.

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