NTU’s Diné Studies Department Infuses Navajo Perspective into Summer Programs

Navajo Language Academy and graduate student at NTU, Dana Desiderio listens to audio in the Navajo Language and gets some assistance translating its meaning from Diné studies instructor at NTU.

Published August 15, 2019

CROWNPOINT, N.M. — Navajo Technical University’s Diné Studies program brought together students and community members by hosting distinct summer programs that infused math and language instruction with Navajo perspective. The programs 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.”

An instructor for the math circles summer camp demonstrates how to use formulas to solve a problem. Students were brought together to learn the importance of the Navajo Culture through mathematics at the two week math camp.

The Navajo Math Circles camp has been in operation for eight years, but made its first appearance in Crownpoint this past summer. The camp ran from June 10-21, 2019, and had 42 student participants and six teachers from regional middle schools and high schools.  The intent camp 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 – July 19, 2019, and had 38 participants that went into depth about the Navajo language and its structure. The NLA was founded in the early 1970’s to increase research and understanding of Navajo grammar while developing learning material for instructors. The 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.”

NTU’s Diné Studies program aims to enroll more students in their programs to increase efforts towards language revitalization and cultural preservation. This includes enrolling students in the M.A. program, which currently enrolled 14 students for the largest cohort since the program began in 2015. For more information about the Navajo Math Circles, the NLA,  or NTU’s Diné Studies department, please contact Sharon Nelson at snelson@navajotech.edu.

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