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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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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.


by Jonas Ramoth and Sidney Stephens

Activity 1 - Traditional Forecaster


This unit hinges on students spending field time repeatedly with a traditional forecaster (TF) for the purposes of: exploring weather from the perspective of that elder/expert; learning to recognize specific weather signs, changes and patterns that are important for the area; and coming to understand how the local culture and environment have affected the development of scientific weather knowledge. Such a TF might be an elder or a younger hunter, trapper or other cultural expert with traditional knowledge to share. Observations about weather or climate change over the years, advice about safety and travel, or more subtle understandings, aesthetics, or values might also be shared by the expert.

Such field time is intended to be at least monthly for every student and the knowledge gained in class; and used as a basis for developing local weather studies.

Getting Ready

Finding someone who is willing to work with your class on a regular basis may well be the most difficult part of your job. Is there a person who is known for his or her weather knowledge - who knows when storms are coming, or when it's a good time to set snares, or when it's not safe to travel, or what changes have occurred in weather patterns over time? Is this person also known as a teacher - someone who is willing or could be willing to share what they notice, know and think about with the students and with you? Seek him or her out and explain that you want to do a weather study with your class in which students learn traditional (and contemporary) ways of understanding the weather. Explain that you want the students to regularly spend time with an elder/cultural expert so that they can learn to observe their world carefully, come to recognize significant local weather signs, and understand the significance of these signs within a larger, cultural context. Talk with this person about how this can best be done realizing that different people are comfortable in different settings. Some might prefer a camp setting initially followed by classroom visits whereas others might prefer simply walking through the community with students on a regular basis, and still others might want students to visit them in their home. The critical thing is to arrange a regular exchange between the Traditional Forecaster (TF) and students in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for all. Some days, observable weather signs may be abundant and occupy the bulk of discussion whereas other days, attention may settle more on historical knowledge or on aesthetics or values - things known through culture. All are important aspects of understanding local weather, and the Elder/culture expert will help students see how it all fits together.

Remember that in the field, groups of 4-6 work best so set up a rotation schedule that accommodates the Elder's time and allows each team of children to work with the Traditional Forecaster as much as possible. All students should have a chance to spend time with the Forecaster before any of the other lessons are done for each student


Chart paper

Class weather journal




1. Read or describe a weather scenario like the following to your students.

Pretend that it is December and you would like to go ice fishing on Selawik Lake. It is very cold and calm with a few clouds. You wonder if the weather is going to warm up and notice that an east-southeast wind has begun to blow. Would now be a good time to go ice fishing? Why or why not? (Note - it would not be a good time to go fishing because this situation is predictive of a severe storm.)

2. Have students think about this a bit and then do a fast-write in their weather journals. Once the students have written, have a class discussion around this problem, trying to elicit as much student knowledge about weather as possible and creating a class concept map of their ideas. (Embedded Assessment (EA) - prior knowledge of weather signs)

3. Explain that they are about to begin a winter long study of weather as described in the overview and summary above, and that the local traditional forecaster is going to help them by working with them outdoors. Encourage students to be especially tuned into weather information and tell them that they will be responsible for recording thoughts from their walk in their weather journals when they return.

Explore 4. Time with expert.

5. When the students return, give them some time to reflect on their experience. Ask them to record their thoughts in their weather journals using words, pictures, or diagrams in as much detail as possible. What did the TF notice? Talk about? Explain? What weather signs did he notice? What signs did he link together as important weather indicators? What patterns? What stories did he/she tell? How did it feel to be there? What would you especially like to remember? What do you wonder about now? Tell them that you will be reading and responding to their journals on a weekly basis. (EA- journals and Observational Checklist)

6. Ask students to discuss some of this information with the class as a whole. Record weather observations, patterns, and questions on concept map, chart or in class weather log.

7. This procedure is repeated throughout the unit with a goal of continuously compiling and clarifying student knowledge about local weather signs and patterns.


8. Students design a local weather study based on information gained from the TF as described in the next several lessons

9. Students create a story, poster, report, painting, video, computer project, song, dance, or dramatic performance representing such things as: the most significant things they have learned about weather from the TF; how weather affects people and how people have learned to respond to various weather conditions; the three or four most significant weather patterns/indicators for their area; how to behave responsibly given certain weather conditions.


* Note - The goal here is to help students think about their experience with the TF. This includes focusing not only on weather information, but also on what was noticed or not noticed, discussed or not discussed, gradually building an understanding of what was perceived, talked about and explained by the TF. Depending upon the situation, this might well reveal a whole new perspective on weather including ways of observing, perceiving and interacting with weather as well as the aesthetic regard in which weather is held.



Section I - Observing Locally

Section II - Understanding Wind

Section III - Connecting Globally

Appendix A - Selawik Weather Information from Jonas Ramoth

Appendix B - Assessment

Appendix C - Weather Resource List

Appendix D - Interdisciplinary Integration



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  


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 18, 2006