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Minnesota Native News

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Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


7 Generation Games Expands Platform

7 Generation Games has been creating educational games for students and schools across the country. The games blend math, language, and Indigenous history.

In November of 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the company a $1million COVID-19 Rapid Response grant to expand their reach and produce a new platform to help meet challenges in education during the pandemic.

The program is called Growing Math, and creates resources for teachers.

Here’s Leah Lemm with the story.

STORY #1: 7 Generation Games expands platform

Leah: Maria Burns Ortiz started 7 Generation Games with her mother in 2013 and has led its efforts to close the math gap for students from Indigenous, Latino, underserved, and rural communities. Now 7 Generation Games has 50 thousand users!

Here’s Maria Burns Ortiz with some background on 7 Generation Games:

Maria Burns Ortiz: My co-founder Dr. AnnMaria De Mars and Erich Longie, who is now the tribal historic preservation officer for Spirit Lake, but used to be school board president, were doing the data analysis for the National Indian Education study in DC. So it's the largest study in the country, looking at American Indian and Alaskan Native youth and multiple facets of education. And they saw that Indigenous youth were underperforming in math at a greater rate than other students.

But they also saw that the more time spent on culture, the more kids were engaged in the curriculum. But at the same time, the more time spent on culture, the worst kids were doing in some of these standardized subjects. So in math and language arts. And Erich saying, you know, it makes sense because if you take an hour out of class to study out of the day and you're working on Lakota culture or Dakota language, it's coming out of other times, so you have less time across the board.

Reporter: They weren’t willing to accept the binary, one or the other, math or culture learning. So they set on figuring it out.

And in thinking about what was relevant and exciting for students, Maria and her colleagues thought: Video Games.

Maria Burns Ortiz: And we thought, you know, kids will play a video game countless number of times, 50 times a day, incrementally further. And you don't see that when it comes to math worksheets. Right? But what could we do to leverage that? And then what do really good video games have? They have good stories and cultural history, even daily life in general is so full of incredible stories. And so we thought if we could combine those two aspects into something that teaches math, we'd be on to something. So that's how we ended up building out our first games. Our first game was Spirit Lake, which we built out on Spirit Lake. We ended up expanding from there.

Reporter: Combining culture and schooling through video games has gone from one game to many. And now they’ve expanded even more. Juliana Taken Alive leads the new Growing Math program, which comes from a $1 million COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant from the USDA.

Juliana Taken Alive: So what Growing Math is connecting, creating resources for teachers in terms of lessons, videos, and then connecting that with the games. And we show teachers how to use the games, how to use the reports, and then how to connect that connection with the lessons that are being created. It's already something that 7 Generation Games was doing - working with the math games online.

Reporter: Growing Math expanding on the strengths of 7 Generation Games to create resources for teachers during and beyond the pandemic.

Juliana Taken Alive: So when Growing Math started, it was to accommodate the distance learning and teachers that were teaching by, you know, Google Classroom, Zoom, you know, whatever. So it's easier for them to use something that already exists. And then once we start going back to face-to-face, they can keep using it. And the other thing is to produce something that our students, as Indigenous students can identify with.

Reporter: The program is no cost to schools. More info at 7 Generation Games DOT COM For MN Native News, I’m Leah Lemm.

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