Navajo Translation to Six Full Option Science System Modules

Doris Tsinaginnie Tso, M.Ed, Education Specialist, Navajo Nation, Window Rock, Arizona
September 02, 2003 | FOSS in Schools


Cover of the Navajo translation of the FOSS Water Module.

An earlier project at Northern Arizona University inspired Doris Tso to consider more translations of FOSS modules into the Navajo language. She was interested in providing a program to teachers and students in the Navajo Nation that was standards-based and employed cooperative learning. A proposal to have six of the Full Option Science System (FOSS) module teacher guides and student sheets translated into Navajo was submitted in the spring of 2000 to the Navajo Nation–Rural Systemic Initiative. The particular modules were chosen for their relationship to the lives of the Navajo people. The subjects covered in the modules were familiar to the Navajo and were an important part of their environment.

The proposal was granted, so a search began across the Navajo Nation for teachers that could speak, read, and write Navajo. This was not as easy as you might imagine, but 15 Navajo teachers were identified to work on the translations during the summer of 2000 for three weeks. This timeframe turned out to be overly optimistic. So the team was given more time on their own to complete the work. The work turned out to be more complicated than originally expected. The team got farther into the task during the fall and the winter of 2000.

One issue was the desire to integrate Navajo cultural themes, but the key problem faced was there were no Navajo equivalents for some of the science words and materials. One way to deal with this would be to go with a description of the terms, which the Navajo language does when it comes to new terms, but that often got long and complicated. With people involved from across the Navajo Nation, some team members thought there was a need to translate the manual word for word. Eventually the team decided to go with the description method of the terms in most cases rather than word for word.

The group was back at it for a week in the summer of 2001 at Whitehorse High School, near Montezuma Creek, Utah. They made a lot of progress during that week when they finalized a format and did a final edit on some parts. Still, no manuals were completed by the end of the week. The group decided to take a rest from the project and picked it up again the following spring.

With so much already invested Doris was compelled to finish the project, so in the spring of 2002 she assigned one person, Kathryn Kenneth of Crownpoint, New Mexico, to complete one unit that could then be used as a prototype. The unit, New Plants, was the nearest to completion. She had been the original translator for that manual and was willing to take the job to its conclusion. Kathryn’s experience, perseverance, and her skill on the computer resulted in delivery of the final draft to Thomas Benally of Rock Point, Arizona, for a final edit. Thomas was one of the original team of translators who had worked on the Human Body Module. The New Plants Module was completed in the summer of 2002. Now with the process figured out, things speeded up with the Water Module completed in the winter of 2002 and Human Body in May 2003.

Now the group is finally ready to pilot the use of those three modules in the classroom this fall. Fifteen teachers across the Navajo Nation are eager to pilot New Plants, Water, and Human Body in the Navajo language. These 15 teachers—all of whom are fluent in speaking, reading, and writing Navajo—were brought together in August to get the guidelines and timeline.

Kathryn Kenneth and Thomas Benally will continue with the three other modules, Food and Nutrition, Solids and Liquids, and Air and Weather. Doris hopes to pilot these translations in the same manner. After the three modules are piloted this fall, they will be published for use in the classroom. The whole Navajo FOSS project was funded by the Navajo Nation–Rural Systemic Initiative, which in turn is funded by the National Science Foundation. The NNRSI is in its last year of funding. Doris and her group hope this project can be an inspiration to others contemplating something similar.