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

Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. I



Roberta Hogue Davis


The purpose of this paper is to present a third-grade curriculum that integrates information about the Pacific Region with existing curriculum goals. This Pacific Region unit will include project-centered activities that will seek to develop in the students skills for acquiring and utilizing knowledge. In this way, the learning unit will serve to incorporate process leaming with the learning of specific facts as they are presented in regular classroom lessons.

The Pacific Region unit will center on three major class projects that will focus on our school's participation in the Sister School Exchange Program and in the Australaska Writing Project. Both programs were developed by the Alaska Department of Education to encourage interaction between students from Alaska and countries of the Pacific Region. With the Sister School Exchange Program, DOE provides initial organizational assistance for Alaskan schools wishing to establish communication exchanges with schools in China. Australaska Writing Project provides a telecommunication network through which students in Alaska can exchange written messages with students in Australia. 

Project One: Producing a Video Documentary 

The first project of this teaching unit consists of the production of a video documentary of our class to be sent to our sister school in Harbin, China and to the class of our Australian pen pals.

By writing and filming the documentary, students will develop skills in speaking and listening, writing and composing as well as in creative thinking. In addition, the students will expand their abilities to communicate and cooperate in small groups. Seeing their thoughts actually recorded on videotape will enhance the students self-esteem. Critical analysis of television programming will be incorporated into the video project. The project also provides an opportunity for involving the community in school-based activities.

Young students using video equipment will need supervision and guidance as they develop independence. The stated purpose of the project, skeleton plot, and exploration questions will be the main pro-organizational components that the teacher will bring into the class discussion. In addition, the teacher will need to introduce the class to various camera techniques and assist the students in editing and videotape. 

Stated Purpose of the Video Project:

  1. To introduce ourselves to our pen pals in China and Australia.
  2. To describe the daily life of a third grader in an American classroom.

Basic Plot: 

The documentary will open by showing the students arriving in front of the school. The following scenes will depict a group of students walking into the school building and into their classrooms. Each student and the teacher will be introduced by name, age, and special characteristics. Then, the documentary will present scenes from a typical school day. These scenes will be accompanied by students' comments. The production will close with a shot of the students holding up signs with written messages of farewell.

Discussion Questions:

The following discussion questions should help the students to determine what they wish to include in each scene of the documentary. After discussing these questions, the students could develop story boards to assist the production crews in filming the various scenes.

Story boards tell the film plot with pencil sketches of the scenes, instructions for the camera crew, and written dialogues for the actors. Third graders may find it difficult to produce these complex manuals. Possibly, small-group or teacher-directed activities will facilitate the concept. The teacher-generated discussion questions will address the following topics:

  1. Who should be filmed in the opening scenes?
  2. Should any special school personnel (e.g. principal, office staff, custodians, etc.) be introduced while the students are walking to the classroom?
  3. How should each student be introduced? (Discuss using pixilation as a form of animation that would allow us to introduce several small groups of students at a time.)
  4. What special characteristics of themselves would the actors of the first scenes like to share with the audience?
  5. What activities should be filmed? Should we film class sessions on all subject areas or should we just film scenes from our own classroom and from some special activities?
  6. Should we present the information in the form of a story (e.g., a new student is introduced to classroom routines) or just in the form of several loosely connected scenes?
  7. What should we say?
  8. How can we show the concept of time passing?
  9. What should we film out of doors?
  10. Should we try to sing a special song or show a special game?
  11. Should we refer to the other classes in the school?

Camera Techniques:

The following camera angles will be demonstrated to and practiced by the students: long (whole body), medium (waist up); close-up (face), extreme close-up (e.g. nose, shoe, hand, etc.), panning (moving the camera slowly), over the shoulder (the camera is positioned behind the subject), zoom (lens is used to go from a long shot to a closer shot), low angle (camera is place below the subject), high angle (camera is placed above the subject). While practicing with the video camera, the students will be asked to view television shows for camera angles and other techniques. In class, students will discuss the reality or fantasy of television programming. This process should contribute to developing in the students the analytical skills that will allow them to view television programs more critically.

Community Involvement:

The video project offers various opportunities for interactions between the students and the community. Field trips to a local broadcasting or cable station could be arranged to provide the students with additional background information. Possibly, the local television station (if available) would agree to air the documentary as part of a public service promotional. Parents and other community members could be invited to a special opening night for the production. Students may also want to make copies of the documentary to show to their foends and families. Furthermore, after producing this first documentary, the students may want to explore a community issue in another video project.

Project Two: Learning about the Cultures and the Peoples of China

The second project of this teaching unit on the Pacific Region will be disbursed throughout the school year. In this project, students will learn about various aspects of life in Chinese families and communities. In addition, the students will produce materials to exchange with our sister school in China.

The project will draw upon various community resources to expand the classroom curriculum to include information on China. The following resources could be utilized in classroom activities designed to foster in the students a greater understanding and appreciation of the Chinese culture:

  1. Guest speakers from China (if available);
  2. Chinese high school students who attend a bilingual program at a local school (if available);
  3. China kit developed by the DOE in connection with the sister school program;
  4. Films, kits, and books relating to China and the Pacific Region. 

Throughout the school year, students would participate in a variety of special activities that will be centered around Chinese customs, traditions, holidays, and institutions. For example, after touring a local China restaurant, the students could cook a Chinese meal, using spices that have been imported from China. The third graders could also read Chinese children's stories or play Chinese children's games. These materials could be made available to the students at classroom centers that focus on various aspects of the social and cultural life of China. In addition, in urban schools classroom space could be set aside for the Chinese bilingual teacher to work with individual students. At times, the bilingual teacher could also teach the entire class to familiarize the students with his or her presence in the classroom. At other occasions, the bilingual teacher and the regular classroom teacher could team teach the whole class.

A second component of this project would consist of producing various items to be sent to our sister school in China. To develop the students' pride in their own work, a box could be set up and labeled, "Our Best Work." As the school year progresses, students could fill the container with samples of their assignments and projects. These items could be sent to our sister school in Harbin in exchange for materials from our Chinese friends for the third graders to explore and display in their classroom.

Skin Boat with Harpoon and Paddles by Amos Hawley Jr.

Project Three: Applying Computer Skills

The third project of the learning unit on the Pacific Region will focus on the computer as a communication tool and as a medium for learning. Students will apply their word processing skills when writing narratives to be sent to China and Australia. In addition, the students will learn to master graphics software to produce a newsletter that will be distributed throughout the school and to the foreign pen pals.

The students will use word processors to send letters to their Australian pen pals via the telecommunications network. After the students have developed relationships with their pen pals, they will start to exchange information about specific topics, such as my family, my town, things I like to eat, slang words, and hobbies and games.

Through these activities, the students will improve their reading and writing skills. In addition, they will learn how to write and responu to personal letters and how to write clearly and precisely about a specific topic.

Evaluating Curriculum Materials and Student Progress

How successful will this teaching unit actually be in blending information on the Pacific Region with existing curriculum content and in promoting in the students an interest in these areas of the world'? How will the students' progress be evaluated? These questions must be addressed before the innovative techniques can be incorporated into instruction.

The Sister School Exchange Program and the Australaska Writing Project focus on the direct exchange of current information on cultural habits, values and beliefs between students in Alaska and students in China and Australia. This exchange will contribute to decreasing egocentric, ethnocentric, and stereotypical perceptions of the students.

Initially, the students will focus on themselves as they produce the video documentary. They will become more aware of other nations as they write to their pen pals in Australia and exchange materials with our sister school in China. Class discussions comparing and contrasting the lives of people in Alaska, China and Australia will increasingly enable the students to empathize with others and to assume a positive attitude toward cultural diversity around the world. The third graders will be encouraged to draw upon their experiences with their pen pals to evaluate trends of change around the world. The students will observe change as they compare the information they obtain from encyclopedias, textbooks, films, etc. with the information they acquire through their interactions with their peers in China and Australia. The students will have to deal with ambiguous situations while producing the video documentary. Prior to and during the filming of the documentary, the third graders will discuss various ways of viewing ideas. These discussions will enable the students to react more constructively to situations of conflict and ambiguity.

The students' progress will be evaluated through examinations of work samples and in conference between individual students and the teacher. These conferences will focus on determining how the interactions with students in China and Australia affect each child. Special attention will be given to the level of a student's enthusiasm about and to the degree of his or her involvement in the project. In addition, the conferences will address the students' progress in improving their writing skills. 


For additional resources and information regarding the Sister School Exchange Program, contact Annie Calkins at the Alaska Department of Education or Bill Parrett the the UAF Department of Education.



J. Kelly Tonsmiere


Ray Barnhardt

Section I

Some Thoughts on Village Schooling
"Appropriate Schools in Rural Alaska"
Todd Bergman, New Stuyahok

"Learning Through Experience"
Judy Hoeldt, Kaltag

"The Medium Is The Message For Village Schools"
Steve Byrd, Wainwright

"Multiple Intelligences: A Community Learning Campaign"
Raymond Stein, Sitka

"Obstacles To A Community-Based Curriculum"
Jim Vait, Eek

"Building the Dream House"
Mary Moses-Marks, McGrath

"Community Participation in Rural Education"
George Olana, Shishmaref

"Secondary Education in Rural Alaska"
Pennee Reinhart, Kiana

"Reflections on Teaching in the Kuskokwim Delta"
Christine Anderson, Kasigluk

"Some Thoughts on Curriculum"
Marilyn Harmon, Kotzebue

Section II

Some Suggestions for the Curriculum
"Rabbit Snaring and Language Arts"
Judy Hoeldt, Kaltag

"A Senior Research Project for Rural High Schools"
Dave Ringle, St. Mary's

"Curriculum Projects for the Pacific Region,"
Roberta Hogue Davis, College

"Resources for Exploring Japan's Cultural Heritage"
Raymond Stein, Sitka

"Alaskans Experience Japanese Culture Through Music"
Rosemary Branham, Kenai

Section III

Some Alternative Perspectives
"The Axe Handle Academy: A Proposal for a Bioregional, Thematic Humanities Education"
Ron and Suzanne Scollon

"Culture, Community and the Curriculum"
Ray Barnhardt

"The Development of an Integrated Bilingual and Cross-Cultural Curriculum in an Arctic School District"
Helen Roberts

"Weaving Curriculum Webs: The Structure of Nonlinear Curriculum"
Rebecca Corwin, George E. Hem and Diane Levin

Artists' Credits



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Last modified August 14, 2006