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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.






Elder - Catherine Attla

Amy VanHatten, Susan Rogers, Zelma Joseph Axford, Sarah McDaniel, Sarah McClellan, and Alan Dick

Grade Level:



winter for 2 weeks or potentially more



Science Standards:

D1 - apply scientific knowledge and skills to understand issues and everyday events

Skills and Knowledge

  • apply understanding of the concept of weight distribution over a specific area to the construction of snowshoes and
  • identify different types of snowshoes and describe the importance of the various shapes in forested or open areas


Math Standards:

 A2 - select and use appropriate systems, units, and tools of measurement, including estimation

 A4- Represent, analyze, and use mathematical patterns, relations and functions using methods such as tables, equations, and graph

Skills and Knowledge

  • compare and contrast western means of measuring (rulers) with native use of anatomical measures
  • conduct a survey of how many snowshoe types, sizes, who owns them, etc. in their community and graphically display their results


Cultural Standards:

A4- Practice their traditional responsibilities to the surrounding environment

D1 - Acquire in-depth cultural knowledge through active participation and meaningful interaction with Elders

D5 - Identify and utilize appropriate sources of cultural knowledge to find solutions to everyday problems

Skills and Knowledge

  • know which types of snowshoes are appropriate for which conditions
  • demonstrate traditional weaving techniques and integrate with tessellation
  • show how to properly take care of snowshoes


Lesson Outline:

  1. Why do we use snowshoes?
  2. The importance of snowshoes
  3. Native intuitive ways of measuring for snowshoes
  4. Your own measuring stick
  5. Snowshoe survey
  6. How do snowshoes really work?
  7. Improvised survival snowshoes


  • Performance event - Snowshoe Advertisement
  • Performance event - Wood Hauling
  • Cultural Assessment Suggestions


Lesson l--Why Do We Use Snowshoes? (a pre-assessment of student knowledge)


Learning Goal: Students will recognize the value of snowshoes for travelling in winter.

Science Standard: D-1 - apply scientific knowledge and skills to understand issues and everyday events

Materials: Several (at least one) pairs of snowshoes, large paper, markers

Activity: Students will experiment walking and running in deep snow near the school, first with just boots, secondly with snowshoes. Teaching hint: This could be done simply by two students if need be. They could report to the class.


1. Students will first walk through deep snow with boots. They then will walk using snowshoes.

2. Teacher will ask students to make observations about their experience, to compare the two means of walking. What was different? Teacher will ask students to state an answer to the question, "Why do we use snowshoes?" And "How do snowshoes work?"


Activity: Students will brainstorm with teacher what they (think they) know about snowshoes, and what they want to know. At the end of the unit, students will summarize what they learned about snowshoes. (KWL chart)

Lesson 2--The Importance of Snowshoes

Learning Goal: Students will gather information about the usefulness of snowshoes for travelling in Alaska in winter.

Language Arts Activity

Materials: Video, sporting equipment catalogues, student journals

Activity: Students will view a video on survival skills and winter gear pertinent to Alaska, including information regarding snowshoes.

Activity: Students will gather information regarding different types of snowshoes. Information sources could be found in the school library, by using the internet, by asking family members, or by looking in sporting equipment catalogues. Students will report to the class about their findings regarding types of snowshoes and their costs.

Activity: In their (language arts or science or social studies) journal, students will: l)relate an account (actual or fictitious) of how snowshoes proved helpful to someone (even themselves) in an emergency situation, or; 2)write down a history of someone who made a long journey using snowshoes.

Additional Reading Material:

Native stories

Dog Song by Gary Paulsen

Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat


Lesson 3: Native Ways of Measuring for Snowshoes

Learning Goals:

1) To present students with the opportunity to recognize Native of knowledge measurement and calculating for snowshoes

2) For students to have confidence in their own ability to measure

3) For students understand the idea of pounds per square inch (psi)

Math Standard: A-2 - Select and use appropriate systems, units, and tools of measurement including estimation.

Cultural Standards: - D-1 - Acquire in-depth cultural knowledge through active participation and meaningful interaction with Elders.

Materials: Traditionally made snowshoes, construction materials, brass O rings and weaving materials, miniature snowshoes

Activity: Students interact with Native Elder or knowledgeable community member on topic of traditional snowshoe construction. Students will practice traditional weaving techniques.


1. Invite a knowledgeable Elder or community member to speak to the class about traditional snowshoe construction and to demonstrate making snowshoes.

2. In preparation, have students brainstorm questions to ask the visitor. Possible questions

* How do you decide what type of snowshoe to use?

* How do you know what size to use for any individual?

* How do you make snowshoes?

* Ask the elder to explain specifically:

--how to measure size of frame

--how to measure enough babiche to make a pair of snowshoes.

* Ask about other uses of measurement (for sewing, dogsled making, fishnets)


What have you used for walking/travelling in deep snow in an emergency or survival situation?

3. Elder demonstrates measuring and weaving, talks with students.

Activity: Students practice weaving webbing on snowshoes, on brass O rings, or miniature snowshoes from craft store. Elder assists.

Activity: Field trip to demonstrate picking an appropriate tree for making snowshoe frames.

Lesson 4 ---Your Own Measuring Stick

Learning Goal: Students will explore their own ways of determining measurement of: an inch, a foot, a yard, a centimeter, a meter, their own pace.

Math Standard: A-2 - Select and use appropriate systems, units, and tools of measurement, including estimation.

Materials: index cards, variety of measuring tools, large paper or poster board

Activity: Calculate own "inch," "foot," "centimeter," "meter," "pace," "yard"


1. Students ask other members of the community whether they have personal ways of measuring and how they use this method in their daily life and work.

2. Students identify their own "measuring sticks." Using standard western measuring tools or other, students figure out what an inch, a foot, a yard, a centimeter, a meter would be relative to their own body, and the length of their own pace.

3. Students compare their findings with those of other students by making a chart or poster showing their personal measuring sticks.

Lesson 5 -- Snowshoe Survey

Goal: Children will discover how many and what types of snowshoes exist in their homes and community.

Math Goal: Students will practice data collection, analysis, and representation.

Math Standard: A-4 - represent, analyze and use mathematical patterns, relations, and functions using methods such as tables, equations and graphs

Materials: Survey forms, paper, clipboards, tags, snowshoes, computer (optional)

Activity: Students will conduct a survey of snowshoe types and uses present in the community.


1) Review what students learned from research about different types of snowshoes.

2) Ask students how we can find out how many pairs of snowshoes there are in the community and how we might record any information we gather.

3) Discuss needs for accuracy and consistency in data collection.

4) Practice interview techniques on each other.



1) Develop a standard data sheet for everyone to use.

2) Establish teams and jobs for team members.

3) Assign territory within community for each team to inventory.

Data Collection:

Each team collects the information and/or snowshoes within their area. One person asks the questions while the other records data. If owners will permit students to borrow snowshoes, students can label with tag and take back to school as example.

Possible data to take: (students decide what to inventory)
Name of owner


Where Kept


Length--body parts and standard

Width --body parts and standard

Type (shape of frame)

When made (if known)

When acquired by owner

Materials used in construction

Data Analysis:

Figure some ratios. Use information to graph inventory. Select the parameters the students want to visualize (for example length, width, number). Draw graphs. Use computer to create graphs if available.

Alternative activities: Other inventories (boots, snow machines)

Teaching Hints: Possible Ratios 

Cost of traditionally made/store bought (use catalogues and survey information)

Number of people in community/number of people who have snowshoes

Number of people who own snowshoes/number of people who use snowshoes

Number of houses in community/number of snowshoe pairs



Other data collection examples, examples/pictures of different types of snowshoes and how they are used.

Performance Event - Snowshoe Advertisement

Alaska Science Standard: D-1 Grade Level 5-6

Students have already collected information related to snow shoes in their community and have done some research about types and the history of snowshoes, snowshoe making in the region.

Materials: catalogues, pictures of snowshoes or drawings.

Directions to Students: Your job is to design an advertisement for a pair of snowshoes for either a) open trail use, or b) forested areas. Your advertisement should include:

* materials used to make the frame and webbing,

* advantages of materials used,

* comments about appropriate design for use you choose, price

* any other information you feel is important, and

* a picture of your item.

You have 45 minutes to complete this assignment. We will have a product show at the end of the afternoon.



Elements for Snowshoe Advertisement



1. Includes information on frame materials

2. Includes information on webbing materials

3. Design information included

4. Includes information on price

5. Additional information

6. Illustration present



7. Communicates message clearly and concisely.

8. Presentation completed on time.

Lesson 6: Sink or Stay?

Learning Goal: Students will compare psi of different footprints to help understand the concept.

Science Standard - D-1 - apply scientific knowledge and skills to understand issues and everyday events

Math Standard: A-4 - represent, analyze and use mathematical patterns, relations and functions using methods such as tables, equations, and graphs

Activity: Ask students to recall what happened on the first day of the unit (the with/without snowshoe test). Tell students the class will now do some more investigation into why snowshoes are helpful.



1. Have students trace their boot on centimeter graph paper.

2. Since the boot does not have straight edges, some estimating will be necessary. Ask the students to count the number of square centimeters covered by the boot surface. Also have the students count the squares that are more than one-half included inside the outline of the boot, but caution students NOT to count squares that are less than one-half included.

3. Ask the students what they think it is that makes you sink into the snow. (Elicit weight, pressure, quality of the snow--packed or loose). What relationship can students think of between weight and sinking in snow?

4. Measure weight in kilograms of all students individually. Use the same scale for everyone (nurse's office, airline office).

5. Can students think of a numerical relationship (ratio) between the area of their boot and their weight? Call it pounds per square centimeter (psi) or "sink in the snow factor." Ask all students to find their own sinking factor (division required!)

6. Then ask students to find the square centimeters covered by a moose print (provide track outline). And the sinking factor of a cow moose that weights 800 pounds.

7. Students then do similar exercise finding the area in square centimeters of a pair of snowshoes.

To figure the psi of a snowshoe, you would estimate the area of the snowshoe:

a) area of a rectangle = length X width = sq. in.

b) area of a triangle = 1/2 (base X height) = sq.

c) area of second triangle = 1/2 (base X height) = _

d) area of the snowshoe = a + b + c = sq. in.

8. Find sinking factor of snowshoe hare, lynx or ptarmigan prints (provide track outline) and find sinking factor of each.

9. Have students compare boot to moose print, snowshoe to hare, lynx or ptarmigan to see which kind of animal can move efficiently through snow. What characteristic about snowshoes and large feet might cause users to stay on top of the snow better?

10. Can you think of any other modes of transportation that use this same idea of psi? Or any other areas of daily life? (skis? snow machines? dog sleds? See Alan Dick's Village Science, p 192)


11. Calculate the psi of a stiletto style high heel and compare to the psi of your boot.

What conclusion can you draw about the relationship between surface area and psi?


Describe in your own words or pictures the relationship between weight and surface area and force, and how psi changes as you increase or decrease the surface area.


Performance Event : Wood Hauling (for Lesson 6)

Science Standard: D-1

Math Standard: A-2, A-4

Background: Students will have completed performance task on area/psi, comparisons of area and different psi, and class discussion.

Student Directions: Use your experience measuring psi and comparing the "sinking factor" of various animal tracks to solve the following problem:

A. You have been out in the woods all day cutting firewood. At the end of the day, you have a big stack of logs to get back to the village.

l. What do you think would be the most efficient way (means of transportation) to carry your logs home? Tell why you chose the method you picked.

2. Tell how you could find the psi of the load of wood if the size of the pile is one meter by two meters by one meter high and it weighs 250 kilograms.

3. If you have a sled that is rated with a psi of 100, how many trips will you have to make to get the logs back to the village?


B. Here's a picture/graph of the relationship between weight and snowshoe area. Put yourself on the graph to show your psi.

Lesson 7 - Improvised Survival Snowshoes

Learning Goal: Students will use materials at hand (natural materials: spruce boughs, willow, etc.) and collected materials (recycled cardboard, plastic or other tubing, etc.) to make survival snowshoes. Students will summarize in journals and make a presentation to interested family members regarding what they learned about snowshoes.

Materials: cardboard, tubing, boughs, willow wands, traditional snowshoes, KWL chart from first activity, journals



l) Students collect natural and recycled material useful for making survival snowshoes.

2) They then construct a pair of snowshoes from the materials.

3) Test out the snowshoes by holding races with the improvised snowshoes. Include traditionally made snowshoes if desired for comparison.

4) Judge the snowshoes in two categories: a) traditional, b) improvised. Have elders and peers judge effectiveness.

5) Students with teacher complete the KWL chart that was started at the beginning of the unit. Students make presentation to parents and/or community members about their findings and experiences.

Snowshoe softball?




Students who meet cultural and science/math standards are able to:

l. Acquire in-depth cultural knowledge through active participation and meaningful interaction with Elder(s).

2. State how to choose snowshoes for different uses, and how to care for them.

3. Exhibit their records, data collection and analysis for account on how snowshoes proved helpful to someone in terrain areas.

4. Demonstrate weaving techniques.

5. Demonstrate ways to stay above the snow.



Make snowshoes in the traditional method for area:

-- Select tree for frame, fell, steam and shape frame

-- Make babiche

-- Weave using traditional method and materials, rhyme


Demonstrate results of psi survey/experiences.

Design snowshoes on the computer.

Create a snowshoe song/dance.




Dart, Joe. Alaskan's How to Handbook, Interior Alaska Trappers Association,

Dick, Alan, "Selecting a Birch Tree," "Steaming," and "Snowshoe and Birch Tree Uses" in Village Science, , 1997

Jones, Eliza and Anderson, Katherine, The Birch Tree, Roots of Northern Athabascan Life, compiled by Deborah Niedermeyer through Tanana Chiefs Village Arts Program, no date.

Viereck and Little, Alaskan Trees and Shrubs, USDA Forest Service Agricultural Handbook

No. 410, Washington, D.C, 1972.


Knowledgeable Elders

Catherine Attla, Huslia

Eliza Jones

Katherine Anderson

Effie Kokrine



* For weaving practice or spirit catchers: brass O rings, craft beads and feathers, dental floss or string, rawhide or gut, scissors

* For miniature snowshoes: miniature snowshoes from craft store or willow wands, string or dental floss, yarn, rawhide or gut, scissors

* For survival snowshoes: spruce boughs, birch and willow wands, wire, duct tape, PVC pipe or hose, string, babiche, cutting tools

* For traditional snowshoes: birch trees, saw, axe, babiche, babiche needles, instructions

* For survey: paper, pencils, clipboards, tags, computer (optional)

* For comparisons: different models of snowshoes, boots, skis, sporting equipment catalogues

* For psi activities: centimeter graph paper, students' boots, snowshoes (at least one pair), life size tracks of moose, lynx, ptarmigan copied onto centimeter graph paper

* For writing activities: student journals, large paper


More Snowshoe Ideas - by Amy




The Land of Snowshoes


Creating Cultural Awareness


Materials Needed for a Pair of Snowshoes


Hear legends about snowshoes


Walk into the woods with a knowledgeable parent and identify trees


Interview people


Birch trees


Collect personal stories


Parents help students to identify their interest and strengths


Keep a daily journal




Conduct a survey


Look at amps of local areas


Reflect on resource people, material availability, and cultural activities involved




Collect stories from community members - hear, tell or sing a song about snowshoes


Talk about respect for trees


Sharing of models, materials, resources, ideas, thoughts, criticisms, discoveries, problems and or shortcuts with everyone




Research snowshoe's original introduction


Find out old time celebrations and plan one for the whole classroom


Play snowshoe baseball


Babiche needle


Make a display of models


Listen for how to take care of snowshoes




Experienced builder or instructional book


Define/demonstrate uses of models


How to plan for owning a pair


Create a database of resourceful people in local area



Gather resources on what is a snowshoe i.e. videos, pictures of family members using them or building them


How to dress your feet before using snowshoes


Study area weather and snow conditions for walking



Determine time periods snowshoes are used


How to dress the rest of your body for snowshoe travel


Make a relay game



Look at long time ago photos together



Grow, grow, grow



Native made vs. commercially manufactured



Have fun


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 August 18, 2006