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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.

Working with Willows


BSSD Unit on SURVIVAL - Edible Foods

Theme: Willows

lesson four

Title: Watching the Willows

A Study of Seasons - Plant Phenology


Authors: Jenna Anasogak, Jolene Katchatag, Mike Kimber, John Sinnok, Nita Towarak, Cheryl Pratt

Grade Level: 5-8 (can be adapted for lower or higher grade levels)

Subjects: Environmental Education, Science, Social Studies, Technology, Geography, Language Arts, Art

Context: Fall and Spring mainly - as soon as school begins and again near the end, at least twice a week, ongoing

Region: anywhere

Materials: Journals from Journey with Journals lesson, colored pencils, watercolor paints or other art media, pencils, camera (optional), large sheets of paper, colored markers, glue


*Alaska Math Standards: A- A student should understand mathematical facts, concepts, principles, and theories.

Skills and Knowledge: A-6- collect, organize, analyze, interpret, represent, and formulate questions about data and make reasonable and useful predictions about the certainty, uncertainty, or impossibility of an event.

*Alaska Science Standards: B- A student should possess and understand the skills of scientific inquiry.

Skills and Knowledge:
  • B-1- use the processes of science these processes include observing, classifying, measuring, interpreting data, inferring, communicating, controlling variables, developing models and theories, hypothesizing, predicting, and experimenting.
  • B-2- design and conduct scientific investigations using appropriate instruments,
  • B-3- understand that scientific inquiry often involves different ways of thinking, curiosity, and the exploration of multiple paths

*Alaska Standards for Culturally Relevant Schools: B- Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to build on the knowledge and skills of the local cultural community as a foundation from which to achieve personal and academic success throughout life.

Skills and Knowledge: B-2- make effective use of the knowledge, skills and ways of knowing from their own cultural traditions to learn about the larger world in which they live.



I. Overview:

Students will develop a qualitative understanding of the characteristics and patterns of seasons and highlight the relationship of seasons to physical and biological markers.

Students will observe and record seasonal changes near their school called the "study site". They will establish that these phenomena follow annual cycles and conclude the activity by creating displays that illustrate the repeating pattern associated with the appearance and disappearance of seasonal markers.

For this lesson, the "study site" will be a place where many willows are growing. Each student will adopt a branch. This should be a branch which is growing toward the south. They will keep their observations in their journals which they created in lesson two, Journey with Journals within this unit.

  • Seasons have distinct characteristics.
  • Seasonal changes can be observed around your village.
  • Seasonal changes follow an annual cycle.
  • Through careful observation, you can begin to understand seasonal patterns.


  • Observing seasonal changes
  • Recording observations into journals
  • Organizing observation in tables and graphs
  • Representing information with pictures, numbers, and photographs

The purpose of this activity is to engage your students in careful observations of the seasonal changes that occur in their region. In this lesson the students will be active participants in planning what they will observe. They will be asked to predict which things they think will change in the study site. They will be expected to make careful observations and to compare these with their predictions. When they have collected observations over an extended period of time, they will be asked to identify trends in the phenomena and to predict "what will happen next" and why. They will be asked to think about how the changes they observe are interrelated and and they should relate the observations to create a profile of each local season using their own observations and, if they wish, to share their information with other schools. You might get another school(s) to do the same research in their region and then use the results to form a comparison between the schools.

This is an activity that continues throughout the school year, most frequently during the fall and spring, with students adding observations on a periodic basis. As the teacher, you will need to decide how often students will visit the study site to make observations. If your site is readily accessible, you may be able to visit as often as once or twice a week, especially during times of the year when many things are changing. When things are not changing as quickly you could visit less frequently such as once a month.

Understanding what causes seasons is not the primary goal of this activity. Rather, it should be viewed as an introductory activity that focuses students on making careful observations, recording these observations in a systematic way, and noticing the annual cycles that their observations reveal. It is a good idea to contact another school and ask them to participate so you can share information with them on the different seasonal observations.

II. Background and Discussion:

A. Ask students to think about the seasons that occur in their region. How would they characterize the local seasons? How many seasons are there? What are they called? When do they begin and end? Compose a description of the local seasons that the class can agree on.

B. Brainstorm about change. Ask students to think about things that are likely to change in their local region during the course of the year as the seasons change. Organize them in small groups and ask each group to make a list of all the changes they think might take place. One way to do this is to think about how the study site will change during each month of the year. Guide them to think about changes such as:

  • changes in plant life and vegetation, e.g. blossoming of trees and flowers, leaves dropping, grass turning brown, the appearance of certain berries or other edible plants, how the willows change
  • changes in animal behavior, e.g. birth of babies, hibernation, migration
  • changes in the physical environment, e.g. getting warmer or colder, rainier or drier, freezing or thawing of bodies of water,
  • changes that occur on the willows e.g. going to seed, appearance of leaves, arrival of buds,
  • changes to edible plants, e.g. berries, sura, the inner willow bark and roots.

III. Getting Ready:

Have a whole-class discussion of all the changes that the small groups have recorded. Create a composite list for the entire class of changes that you think will occur in the study site during the course of a year.

IV. Doing the Lesson:

A. Record actual observations.

The point now is to observe systematically the kinds of changes that students listed in the preceding step. They will each adopt one branch at the study site to take their observations from and around. Help students develop an organized system of recording changes that they observe in the study site. They should draw detailed illustrations with art media and record information in a detailed manner. Make sure students always remember to date their entries. They work should be done with the knowledge that it can be viewed by the entire class for purposes of discussion. Sometimes you may want to have students photocopy their work and display it for the entire class. You may have all of the students display their work for a certain date on a large piece of paper. You could choose one paper per visit to display in secession to show changes in a sequential manner. Their entries can include sketches, leaves, blossoms, or buds collected and fastened on with glue (be sure not to collect from the "adopted branches"), photographs the students took, numerical data they might have gathered, and impressions" they might have recorded in prose or poetry.

B. Review the changes that have been observed in the study site.

Once the students have made some observations and recorded them, it will be valuable to review them in light of the lists produced earlier. Compare the actual observations with the expectations. As you accumulate data over time, discuss how the study site changes from one visit to another. What were the changes in vegetation, edible plants, a nearby body of water, the animals that live there, the moisture, the temperature, etc. Refer to the observations made during the previous visit to form comparisons. If the observations have been recorded on large sheets of paper or a bulletin board, then it will be easy to refer to them during the discussion. Ask students to talk about what has changed and what has not changed. As a concluding activity, summarize the changes that have been observed. Students may need the teacher to write down their summaries of what they say or the students may write summaries in their journals.

C. Explore relationships among changes.

The changes that students are observing in their study site are not occurring in isolation. The are interrelated parts of seasonal change. Ask students to think about and discuss the possible relationships among the phenomena or parameters that are changing. Ask them to discuss, for example, how changes in air temperature are related to changes in animal behavior/ how changes in moisture in the ground are related to changes in plants that are growing in the ground. Look for as many relationships as possible. Ask students to explain how they think these phenomena are related to each other. As a class, write down why you think these things are related. Also ask students to write about these relationships in their journals.

D. Relate the observations to the conventions seasons.

The summer and winter solstices and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes define the conventional seasons. Explain to students that these are special days in the annual calendar, and that they are marked as the longest and shortest days and the days that have equal amounts of daylight and darkness. Ask students to think about the condition of their study site in relation to these divisions of the year. What changes do they observe that might coincide with these astronomical marker? Using the data they collect, ask students to see where they think each season actually "should" begin and end. Ask them to think abut whether there are any easily defined, sharp markers of the beginning and end of each season.

E. Create a profile of your seasons.

As a culminating activity, ask students, perhaps working in small groups, to create a profile of each local season based on the observation they have made. (This activity may have to wait until you have collected sufficient data.) Ask the students to characterize not only the "height of season but also the transition points between seasons. Ask them to think about how the observed phenomena mark the beginning, the height, and the end of each season. Consider whether the seasons begin abruptly or gradually.



  • Ask students to select one aspect of the study site that they have studies, such as willows, and to describe how willows change in the study site over the course of a year. The description could be pictorial, graphical, verbal, and/or kinesthetic.
  • Give students observation of one aspect of the study site (such as air temperature) from two or three months of the year (such as November and December) and ask them to predict what the observation would be like in the month following and preceding the observed months (October and January). This asks them to be able to identify a trend and its direction.
  • Give students the observations from a "mystery month" and ask them to tell what month they think it was and why. If it is too difficult to pinpoint the exact month, ask them to identify the season in which they think the observation was made.


  • If students are comfortable with graphical representation of data, they can create graphs showing certain study site conditions. Current temperature and precipitation would be particularly appropriate.
  • Contact other schools and help get them get involve in this project and share your observations with them. Ask them to send you their observation from their study site. Look at their observation and try to predict how their site will change at the next observation. Compare your prediction with what they send you next.
  • Investigate how seasons are portrayed art, literature, and history.



Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) is a worldwide network of students, teachers, and scientists working together to study and understand the global environment. Students and teachers from over 8500 schools in more than 85 countries are working with research scientists to learn more about our planet. GLOBE students make environmental observations at or near their schools and report their data through the Internet. Scientists use GLOBE data in their research and provide feedback to the students to enrich their science education. Global images based on GLOBE student data are displayed on the World Wide Web, enabling students and other visitors to visualize the student environmental observations. You are invited to join GLOBE: GLOBE science and education activities help students reach higher levels of achievement in science and math. GLOBE helps to increase the environmental awareness of all individuals while increasing our scientific understanding of the earth. Visit

Lesson One - Where's My Willow - a game to play in the willows

Lesson Two - Journey with Journals - journal construction and activities

Lesson Three - Getting the Green Out - a study of willow growth

Lesson Four - Watching the Willows - a study in plant phenology

Lesson Five - Wind in the Willows - a penpal project

Lesson Six - What's in a Willow - nutritional value and edible plant parts

Lesson Seven - Whipping up Willows - gathering, preparing, preserving and sharing


This thematic unit is part of a larger unit on Survival being developed by members of the Bering Strait School District's Materials Development Team. This sections deals mainly with edible plants in the NW Alaska Region.

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Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village  


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
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Last modified August 14, 2006