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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Lessons & Units

A database of lessons and units searchable by content and cultural standards, cultural region and grade level. More units will be available soon. You can use Acrobat Reader to look at the PDF version of the Cover Sheet for the Units and Self-Assessment for Cultural Standards in Practice.


A Cultural Mini-unit


Birds Around the Village


Iditarod Area School District Donna Miller MacAlpine

Grade Level:

2-3 grade


several weeks, preferably during spring or fall migration


Interior Athabascan


1. Students will know the physical characteristics of birds and the reason for those characteristics.

2. Students will be able to identify birds commonly found around their village and describe the distinguishing characteristics of each.

3. Students will be able to describe the behavior and habitat of local birds.

4. Students will be familiar with traditional bird lore and stories about birds and will understand the important place of birds in the Athabascan world.

The selected Alaska Content Standards for Science and Math and the Cultural Standards for Students which are addressed by this unit are identified, and the skills and knowledge which are expected as learning outcomes are listed under the standards.


The study of birds could provide year round material for students at any grade level. Since there are already so many excellent materials and even whole curricula we have provided in this mini-unit a basic outline of some of the many topics which could be covered and a list of some of the more important resources. The incorporation of the indigenous knowledge and the opportunity for students to work with local elders in learning their cultural traditions is what will make this unit different from other bird units you might use.

"Birds Around the Village" was originally created for the Iditarod Area School District by Mary Walker of Holy Cross under a Title VII grant received in 1983 to create local cultural mini-units focusing on language arts. The original unit consisted of daily lesson plans for three levels, grades K-1, 2-3 and 4-6. Over the next 10 years many supplementary materials were added by various staff members and teachers. A total revision of the unit was begun in 1997 and the lessons, reference books and other materials are now included in a learning kit.

This mini-unit was developed into its present form under the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative with the purpose of including more science and math activities and of keying the included material to the Alaska Content Standards for Science and Math, and to the Cultural Standards for Students.

Targeted grade level is 2/3 but lessons and materials could be adapted for other elementary levels. The actual number of birds studied should be determined by the teacher depending on the ability and interest of the class. The unit could be used at any time of year but there is a greater number and variety of birds during the spring and fall migrations.

There are eight lessons, with no specified time allotted. The lesson topics are as follows:

Lesson 1

What is a Bird?

Lesson 2


Lesson 3

Identifying Local Birds

Lesson 4

Bird Habits and Habitat

Lesson 5

Seasons and Migration

Lesson 6

Birds as Food

Lesson 7

Other Traditional Uses of Birds

Lesson 8

Traditional Stories and Beliefs about Birds

Each lesson has one or more objectives and several related activities. Some supplementary pages are included for student use and/or teacher reference. As with all of our cultural mini-units there is no actual text but you should have access to the following books which are included in our learning kit.

Alaska's Birds: Their Identification, Biology, and Conservation, published in 1986 by ADF&G, Coop Ext. Service and other agencies. Some of the pages have been copied and are included with the unit, but it would be best to have the whole book as it is full of excellent information and good activities.

Field Guides: There are many available but the best for Interior Alaska are:

Guide to the Birds of Alaska , Robert H. Armstrong

Western Birds, Roger Tory Peterson

Cultural Information:

Ethnographies of Alaskan people have many references to birds.

The following have the most extensive collections of information.

Bird Traditions of the Upper Stony River Dena'ina, Priscilla Russell

Make Prayers to the Raven, Richard K. Nelson


A general list of Resources is included in this section with more specific materials and resources identified in individual lessons. As in all local units, however, the knowledge and skills of local elders and cultural experts is the teacher's most important resource. Community members should be involved in all possible ways during the teaching of this unit.

A unit like this is never finished. You will always find more interesting facts, more activities, more exciting things to learn about birds. Use this unit as a start and with your students create your own "Birds Around the Village" specifically focused on your community.




SCIENCE: A student who meets these standards should

A-12 - distinguish the patterns of similarity and differences in the living world in order to understand the diversity of life and understand the theories that describe the importance of diversity for species and ecosystems (Diversity)

A- 14A - understand the interdependence between living things and their environments;

A-15 - use science to understand and describe the local environment;

B-1 - use processes of science; these processes include observing, classifying, measuring, interpreting data, inferring, communicating, controlling variables, developing models and theories, hypothesizing, predicting and experimenting;


Skills and Knowledge to be acquired by the student:

1) Students will know the adaptive features of several types of birds which enable them to survive in their environment. (bills, feet, shape of wings and tail)

2) Students will know, both from personal observation and research, the habitat necessary for the survival of different types of birds and will be able to describe that habitat in terms of what the birds need to survive.

3) Students will observe and classify local birds and be able to describe similarities and differences.

4) Students will be able to use field guides to research and identify local birds.


MATH: A student who meets these standards should

A-3 - perform basic arithmetic functions, make reasoned estimates, and select and use appropriate methods or tools for computation or estimation including mental arithmetic, paper and pencil, a calculator, and a computer;

C - 1 - express and represent mathematical ideas using oral and written presentation, physical materials, pictures, graphs, charts, and algebraic expressions.


Skills and Knowledge to be acquired by the student:

1) Students will know migration routes, be able to draw them on a map and to calculate distances traveled for local birds.

2) Given the rate of travel of certain birds during their migration, students will first estimate and then calculate how long it will take them to arrive at specific destinations.

3) Students will be able to prepare charts and graphs to illustrate
such mathematical ideas as
- bird populations at different seasons
- ratio of edible to non-edible local birds
- proportion of types of birds in the local area


CULTURAL STANDARDS: A student who meets these standards should

D-3 - interact with elders in a loving and respectful way that demonstrates an appreciation of their role as culture bearers and educators in the community.

E-2 - understand the ecology and geography of the bioregion they inhabit.


Skills and Knowledge to be acquired by the student:

1) Students will learn to work with local elders to identify local birds and their habitats.

2) Through working with elders students will acquire

a) an understanding of their connection to all living things

b) knowledge of the local ecology and environment

c) knowledge of local geography

3) Students will learn traditional bird stories and lore from the elders and understand that these are an important part of their Athabascan culture.




Alaska's Birds: Their Identification, Biology, and Conservation, A Guide for Youth Groups, ADF&G et al, 1986

A Guide to the Birds of Alaska, Robert H. Armstrong, Alaska Northwest Books, 1995

Western Birds, Roger Tory Peterson, Houghton Mifflin, 1961

Upland Game Birds of Forest and Tundra, ADF&G,1968

Ducks at a Distance: A Waterfowl Identification Guide, Bob Hines, 1985

Alaska Wildlife Notebook Series, ADF&G

Birds of Alaska Coloring Book, Arctic Audubon Society, 1981

Birds, Birds, Birds; Nature Scope from Ranger Rick, NWF

Amazing Worlds: BIRDS - Teacher's Book from Birds Kit, Dorling Kindersley


The bird section in:

- Bugs to Bunnies: Hands-on Animal Science Activities for Young Children; Goin, Ripp and Solomon.

- The Kids' Wildlife Book: Exploring Animal Worlds through indoor/Outdoor Experiences, Warner Shedd

A Guide to Bird Education Resources, Partners in Flight (available from US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Common Birds of the Anchorage Area (2nd grade), Anchorage School District, 1985

Bird Traditions of the Upper Stony River Dena'ina. Upper Stony River Ethnoornithology, Priscilla Russell/George West, 1992

Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest, Richard K. Nelson, University of Chicago Press, 1983

The following are bird curricula and related materials available from Fish and Wildlife Service at their regional office in Anchorage or local offices such as the Innoko Wildlife Refuge office in McGrath. The FWS education specialist in Anchorage is Heather Johnson who can be contacted at 907-786-3367 or by email at In McGrath contact Bev Skinner at 907-524-3251.

Birds and Wetlands of Alaska, alaska seaweek curriculum Series V, 1988

Learn About Seabirds, Curriculum Teacher's Guide, Grades 4-6, US Fish & Wildlife Service

Teach About Geese and Facts About Geese, US Fish & Wildlife Service

International Migratory Bird Day Organizers Packet, Partners in Flight

Shorebirds of the Pacific Flyway: An information and activity guide about Shorebirds, their Habitat, Migration and Conservation for grades 2-10

Shorebird Sister Schools Program, US Fish & Wildlife

Classroom Feeder Watch Program, Teacher's Guide, Grades 5-8

Wildlife for the Future: Alaska Wildlife Curriculum: Teacher's Guide K-8

Alaska's Forests & Wildlife: Alaska Wildlife Curriculum Teacher's Guide K-12

The Shorebird Kit - contains a variety of materials including resource books, games, posters, puppets



Fish and Wildlife Service also has a collection of audio and video tapes about birds including some made in Alaska.

Whouy Sze Kuinalth
"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"
Tauhna Cauyalitahtug
(To Make a Drum)
Math Story Problems
St. Lawrence Island Rain Parka Winds and Weather Willow
Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village Dog Salmon


Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
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Last modified November 7, 2006