PAUL - When the world was without clocks, calendars and computers,
Incan tribes measured time and space with colored strings. Some of
the pieces were woven together and had knots tied along the way to
represent space and numbers.
The equinox and the position of stars
could be measured under this system even birthdays. The ancient
system was today's version of floppy discs.
"It contained any data that you could
record numerically," said Ben Blackhawk, a math teacher at
Providence Academy in Plymouth. He was one of many presenters Saturday
who demonstrated how American Indians have made significant contributions
to science and math during the second annual American Indians in
Science at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
"The goal of it is to allow people
to meet and learn from scientists from the American Indian community,"
said Sarah Gardner, public relations coordinator. "It's a really
fun way to see how people incorporated their culture into science."
In addition to intertribal science and
math technologies, demonstrators' displays included how to clean
eagle feathers, pottery making, traditional medicine theories, the
aerodynamics of tepees and Midwest fossils.
While sharing his science studies with
the thousands of visitors who drifted through the museum Saturday,
Blackhawk also saw the day as an opportunity to get American Indian
students interested in science and math, a nontraditional field
for members of his community.
Blackhawk, along with Jim Rock, a science
instructor at Wayzata High School, teach a Native American Math
and Science Summer Camp at the University of Minnesota every year.
From the Incan string system and the Mayan
calendar to the Lakota color system, he said many tribes figured
out math and science in ways that were different from European cultures.
But the lessons of time and space are the same in most cases.
Rock said the class provides an opportunity
for students to consider alternative ways of learning about science
outside of what is taught in traditional classrooms.
"The goal is to make sure as native
people, we don't lose our culture. We can have engineering degrees
and keep learning from our elders. We're trying to build a bridge,"
Mary Beth Carpenter, an earth science
teacher at Heart of the Earth School in Minneapolis, hoped Saturday's
event would allow her students to meet other American Indian scientists.
One of her students, 9th-grader Sasha
Weyaus, displayed her class project where students identified fossils
excavated from Milbank, SD
Weyaus said she first took the class because
it was a requirement. But the project that taught her how to distinguish
shark and fish fossils, as well as Saturday's science fair where
she met many role models, has made the learning seem less of a task.
"Now I think it's cool," she
said. "I'm learning a lot."