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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 3 - Agreeing on Terms


In order for students to design and carry out local studies of the weather, their descriptions of weather elements need to be uniform, consistent and agreed upon by all. In rural Alaska, consensus on the meaning of words has been built through shared experience and communication over time. The words or expressions used to describe weather are specific to the area/culture and fit the range of local weather conditions perfectly. In science, understanding and agreement on terms is also critical and is often called "defining operationally."

In this activity students observe and describe the wind, analyze their descriptions for clarity, and compare them both with Jonas Ramoth's descriptions and with the Beaufort Wind Scale. Students then decide which terms are most appropriate for their study (define operationally) and create a Selawik Wind Scale for use in future observations.


Student weather journals Beaufort Wind Scale

Class weather log or chart Wind Observation Guides




1. Ask students to recall any confusion/disagreement that they might have had in sharing and comparing their weather journal observations and indicate that today they're going to be spending some time on figuring out how to communicate clearly about their observations.

2. Tell students that they will be going outside for just 10 minutes or so to observe the wind using all their senses and to record their observations with words and drawings. Provide them with an observation sheet including such observation prompts as:

What visible effect is the wind having on things within your sight?

How would you describe the direction of the wind?

How would you describe the strength of the wind?

How does the wind smell? Taste?

What effect is the wind having on you?

Encourage Iñupiaq speakers to use Iñupiaq terms for weather conditions and to also think about how those terms might be translated for non-speakers.

Explore 3. Students go outside to observe and record observations of the wind.

4. Using both English and Iñupiaq, students share observations and record on the board or chart paper. Expect variation.

5. Help students discuss and analyze which observations and description are alike? Different? Which words and/or pictures describe observable evidence? Paint a clear and precise picture? Are open to multiple interpretations? Are the most helpful and descriptive? How did location influence observations?

6. Help students to realize that for the purpose of weather study and prediction, descriptions are most helpful if they:

Describe observations

Are brief

Use precise language/drawings

Communicate information accurately

7. Help them also see that the height and position of the observer influence observations.


8. Provide student groups of 4 with a copy of Jonas Ramoth's description of wind as follows:

We talk about wind in terms of how its handling visible stuff like grass in summer and snow drifts in winter. If you're home and look out the window, if smoke from a neighbor's stack is leaning over, you know there's a little bit of a breeze or maybe the smoke is moving vigorously. If snow is drifting on the ground, the wind is strong, a surface wind. In storm conditions, visibility is affected and you can't see across the street - on a snow machine, you can't see your skis. 20-25 mph winds are a storm. 30mph winds are a blizzard and even if its warm, a fine powder of snow finds its way in through your clothes. If you go out, you need a facemask and goggles. Its better to stay put, stay home.

Ask students to work in groups to compare Jonas' description of wind strength with their own descriptions.



9. Discuss how their descriptions are alike or different from his.

Explore 10. Give student groups a copy of the Beaufort Wind Scale and ask them to compare Jonas' descriptions of wind to Beaufort's.

Beaufort Wind Scale

Number or

Wind Speed

Effects that Can be Seen on Land and Water



Less than 1

Still, calm air, smoke will rise vertically





Rising smoke drifts, wind vane is inactive



Leaves rustle, wind felt on face, wind vanes begin to move.



Light Breeze



Leaves and small twigs move, lightweight flags extend.



Gentle Breeze



Small branches move, raises dust, leaves and paper


Moderate Breeze



Small trees sway.


Fresh Breeze



Large tree branches move, telephone wires begin to whistle, umbrellas difficult to control


Strong Breeze



Large trees sway, becoming difficult to walk



Moderate or Near Gale



Twigs and small branches broken from trees, walking is difficult


Gale or Fresh Gale



Slight damage to buildings, shingles blown off roofs

Strong Gale



Trees are broken or uprooted, building damage is considerable


Whole Gale or Storm



Extensive widespread damage


Violent Storm



Extreme destruction, devastation


Generalize 11. Ask how they are alike? (both describe visible effects of wind and rank them in an order from least to most windy). Ask how they are different? (Beaufort's Scale has many more categories, uses the terms breeze and storm differently than Jonas, includes weather events not common in Selawik, assigns force numbers, and always includes reference to wind in m.p.h.)
Explore 12. Refer them to the criteria listed in step #6 above. Tell them that their job is to come up with a Selawik Wind Scale specifying (1) the range of probable wind conditions for Selawik from calm to most windy; (2) the effects to be observed and; (3) the terms to be used to describe those observations. They can use Jonas' descriptions as is; refine or add to them based on their own observations; and/or incorporate elements from Beaufort. Use of Iñupiaq terms should be encouraged where possible.


13. Once the groups have created their descriptions have each group record their wind scale descriptions on chart paper and post on the board.

14. Using either a whole class discussion or carousel rotation, help the class decide upon the descriptions that will work best for them.

15. Decide upon best spot for observation of wind.

16. Check with Jonas about decisions.


17. Use Selawik Wind Scale in weather studies and personal observations*

(See Selawik Winter Winds Daily Observation Sheet for example)



* Note - While this lesson focuses specifically on the force of the wind, wind direction is also a very significant factor. If students are familiar with the cardinal directions relative to their community, it will be easy to specify direction. If they are not familiar, directionality will need to be investigated using both relative description and compass work in order to complete the wind observation protocol. It will also be critical to decide on a specific place from which observations will be conducted.



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
University of Alaska Fairbanks
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Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
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Last modified August 18, 2006