Lowell Observatory Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach Program

Program Type

Teacher Development/Training
Hands on/Project-Based

Target Audience

American Indian/Alaskan Native

Teachers/Educational Leaders


New Mexico


Pre-K - 5
Grades 6 - 8

 Promising link

Program Impact

Over the past 17 years, 21 astronomers and about 75 teachers have partnered with Native American reservations in Arizona and New Mexico to engage students in historically underserved and culturally isolated schools in astronomy. In 2014, Deidre Hunter, astronomer at Lowell Observatory and program founder, won the 2014 American Astronomical Society’s Education Prize for the nationwide renown of the program.


Program Overview

The Lowell Observatory Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach Program is a science enrichment and outreach program for Navajo and Hopi teachers and their classes. The program focuses on grades 5–8, the middle years when students are still inherently curious about the world. The middle years also are the stage at which the most impact can be made on attitudes towards science, graduation rates and future career options.

The goals of the Lowell Observatory Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach Program are twofold:

  • To use astronomy to help teachers get Navajo and Hopi children excited about astronomy and science in general, encouraging a lifelong understanding of science for all and advanced study for some
  • To help teachers of Navajo and Hopi students learn about astronomy and astronomy activities so that they will be better able to incorporate astronomy in their classrooms

The program pairs astronomers with teachers for one year. Each astronomer visits each partner teacher’s classroom many times throughout the year, leading astronomy discussions and hands-on activities in collaboration with the teacher. The program also features nighttime “star parties,” with astronomers, amateur astronomers, teachers, parents, families and community members—an excellent way to foster parent and community engagement in education. The year-long partnership culminates in a field trip to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, during which students visit the Steele Visitor Center during the day and observe the skies on research telescopes at the active research facility at night.

The program honors the cultures, heritages and learning styles of the Navajo and Hopi students. Astronomers work with tribal educators to incorporate a rich history of astronomical observations, astronomical knowledge, and native language and stories about astronomic objects. For example, students learn about the daily, monthly and yearly cycles of the sun and the moon from Hopi tradition and about the movements of Navajo constellations.

The program supports partner teachers with personalized training, classroom curricula materials and workshops at the Lowell Observatory. Partner teachers serve as resources for other teachers in their schools to broaden the impact of the program.


Deidre Hunter

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Design Principles

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Overarching Principles

  • Need

    Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need.

  • Evaluation

    Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress towards the compelling need identified.

  • Sustainability

    Ensure work is sustainable.

  • Replication and Scalability

    Demonstrate replicability and scalability.

  • Partnerships

    Create high impact partnerships

  • Capacity

    Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals.

STEM Principles

  • Challenging and Relevant Content

    Offer challenging and relevant STEM content for the target audience

  • STEM Practices

    Incorporate and encourage STEM practices.

  • Inspiration

    Inspire interest and engagement in STEM.

  • Under-Represented Groups

    Identify and address the needs of under-represented groups.