Project Profile

Investigating environmental identity development among children in rural Alaska Native communities through intergenerational, culturally responsive community science programming



This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand culturally responsive approaches supported by appropriate technologies to broaden participation of Indigenous students in STEM studies and careers. In this project, WGBH Educational Foundation and the University of Alaska Fairbanks will work collaboratively with advisors, library workers, public media professionals, and families, educators, and community members from rural Alaska Native villages to inform the research base on environmental identity, i.e., the empathy, knowledge, and skills that children need to act responsibly for the environment.


Although environmental identity has come to be understood as an important component in children’s future knowledge of and commitment to the environment, little is known about how elementary school-aged children begin to construct a meaningful environmental identity and how the adults in their lives can support them in doing so, particularly among Indigenous children and families. The project will address this research gap.  Building on Molly of Denali, a PBS KIDS animated children’s series that features an Indigenous lead character, the project team will explore how children in rural Alaska Native villages relate to their environments, how parents and other community adults conceive of environmental identity and regard their role in nurturing it with children, and how the project team can leverage these research findings, along with positive perceptions of Molly of Denali, to create an intergenerational, community-based learning program that engages Alaska Native families in environmental science learning while contributing to children’s environmental identity development.


The design-based research project will unfold over three phases: (1) formative research, during which the team will collaborate with three communities to conduct initial research into how 6- to 8-year-old children from rural Alaska Native villages relate to their place and environment; the role adults play in fostering this relationship, and how community assets and technology resources are being used, or could be used, to support science exploration in informal environments; (2) iterative co-design and testing, during which the team will work closely with two rural Alaska Native communities to develop, test, and revise an implementation model and set of prototype multimedia resources for an intergenerational community science program that supports environmental identity development; and (3) scale-pp evaluation, during which Alaska-based evaluator Goldstream Group will work with additional rural Alaska Native communities to assess the revised model and resources and learn more about factors that could support or impede wider implementation of finished materials across Alaska. The materials will be tested with families from at least 4 communities engaging a total of 24 children. The project will also include a process evaluation that will investigate the co-design process. Across all phases, the project will engage children as active researchers, capturing their lived experiences in nature via drawings, descriptions, and child-led nature tours that employ portable cameras. Data will also be collected from informal educators (e.g., library workers, public media representatives), community members (e.g., tribal Elders, local STEM professionals), and parents via interviews and focus group discussions. Throughout, researchers will use qualitative approaches (e.g.,content, narrative, discourse, framework analyses)to identify and describe behaviors associated with environmental identity development and will share findings with the field. This project is funded by the ITEST program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.


This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



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Project Duration
2022 - 2024
Project Status