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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

"Masking" the Curriculum


by Irene Bowie
Fairbanks North Star Borough School District


This paper will focus on an integrated curriculum unit utilizing traditional Native masks to provide a focus for activities which will incorporate knowledge and skills across the curricula, including the areas of science, social studies, art, communications, reading and writing. 

The first evening of the 1988 Academy, Willie Hensley's address on "Minority Students and School Achievement" struck a few sensitive chords. There was a sense of "uneasiness" as he mentioned some elements that go to the core of Native existence. "There is a very strong connection to the land. Our ancestors are buried very deep within the land," he said as he stressed the importance of education. "A true test of civilization is whether people can maintain a sense of identity in the adversities of change," he indicated. He emphasized the need to teach for a "brighter" future, underscoring the need to help the students maintain a sense of identity; to teach about their place and role in history; to recognize their roots to the land, to help them prepare for the future; in brief, the challenge of his message was to teach students about their legacy and their destiny.

In an attempt to indeed facilitate and promote a better understanding and acceptance of the self, this unit will borrow a traditional practice and incorporate its application and learning across the curriculum. The primary goal of this unit will be to involve parents, students, faculty and community members in the development and implementation of a particular segment of the curriculum. This segment of the curriculum will relate to the local environment and will attempt to absorb the local knowledge of the topic (see George Olanna' s article, "Community Participation in Rural Education," in Lessons Taught. Lessons Learned, Vol. 1). Borrowing from Rebecca Corwin's article, "Weaving Curriculum Webs: The Structure of Nonlinear Curriculum," this unit will weave in and out of the traditional curriculum to achieve its objective. It will encompass several components of the curriculum, including science, social studies, music, art, communications, reading and writing, computer literacy, photography, journalism and career opportunities.

The subject matter of this unit will allow for the discussion and study of the various subject areas listed above. The resources will primarily come from the classroom or community library, the district resource center, and the state film library. Human resources in the community will be included as experts to discuss and teach several components of the program.

Drawing from the article, "Culture, Community and the Curriculum," this unit will incorporate a process-oriented approach in some of its components. It will attempt to help students "...think, communicate, organize, interact, make decisions, solve problems, and assign priorities..." (Barnhardt). The medium used to achieve this end will be the traditional mask. Traditional mask making has been a part of our school program now for four years. Initially, the program was primarily student oriented, but in the last two years, parents and community members have been integrated into the program. Participation has increased and the quality of "art pieces" has improved with each year. With the knowledge and skills acquired in the RIAII Academy, a plan will be developed to further enhance the implementation and continuation of this program.

The "Traditional Mask" class is supported with monies from the FNSBSD Indian Education Program. Consequently, the program has to be managed within the confines of federal policy and rules. However, opportunities inherent to small school settings may be employed to maximize the benefits of the program. For example, schedules may be more creative when all parties involved agree to change and innovation. Classes may meet at other times, instead of the traditional eight-to-five work day. Participants may commit more time or different times to their classes. Due to the remoteness and uniqueness of rural school settings, teachers often have a latitude of freedom to incorporate new ideas, and because of the small numbers involved in making decisions, the introduction of new ideas can be less cumbersome.

The following outline lists some general goals for the curriculum project on the traditional mask.






research and report on the origin and use of masks; use the computer to write; involve parents and staff in the development of a mask project for the year;


research and study the origin of the materials used in making the mask;


employ measurements and mathematical operations to develop scale models of the mask;


apply the Alaska State Writing Consortium method to reading and writing related to the mask project (limitless possibilities);


using a scale and proper materials, make a mask from beginning to end;


organize, direct and stage an art show or video production on the mask project;


develop familiarity and competency on the computer by using it for all writing and keeping records;


create a photo-journal of the project; learn to take pictures; to develop film; to utilize the dark room properly; learn the elements of photography;


create a quarterly newsletter on mask making; learn the mechanics of journalism; use computer literacy and photography in producing the newsletter;


expose the students to career possibilities in the various fields related to traditional mask making (e.g., working in museums; media productions; journalism; etc.).

For social studies the students can research and develop reports and present them to the class. Reports can focus on the historical role of masks in the Native cultures. All information should be compiled and stored in folders to be used during the reading and writing class. At this time, parents can be involved in developing a plan for the year. By involving them in the development of the project, they will be informed of the school's goals and activities. 

In science, students can study the physical characteristics of the environment and the origin of the materials used for making a traditional mask. They can research how the original materials were treated in order to prepare them for the process of making the mask. Students can keep journals to document their information, which can be used as they work on their publications and newsletters. Students should also research the materials used for painting the mask.

In math, students can study measurements and understand how to make scale drawings of things they want to construct. Students can use mathematical operations as they work on the wood materials to make the mask. They can research the types of measurements used in early mask making.

The reading and writing program will take on a new dimension as the subject matter is incorporated into the daily program. The students can write and publish their local histories and other information. This information can also be used for reading in the classroom. Students can collect the research papers and reports and use that information to compile other types of writings.

The art class should consist of actually making the mask. The students can work under the direction of a Native artist. Using the skills they have developed by making a scale version, they can now make their own mask. They can use models and pictures of masks to serve as a basis for creating their own design. They should learn proper use and care of carving tools and painting supplies.

For communications, the students can organize, direct and stage an art show. They should learn proper techniques for displaying pieces of art. Students can organize the program from the hospitality hour to the actual viewing of the masks by the public. The production can be videotaped and recorded for future use, with the students developing a script for the videotape.

Computer literacy can be improved as the students learn the basic mechanics and operations of the computer. All reports, research, and creative writing should be prepared on the computer. The goal is to help students become competent on the use of computers for basic operations in the classroom.

It is anticipated that with the cooperation and input of all participants, it is possible to develop a program that can be adapted into many facets of the curricula. Capitalizing on the richness of the traditional cultures, you can identify other media which can be incorporated into the curriculum.The program can be evaluated monthly, and the staff should modify the program as indicated by these regular assessments.

 Winter Nights Igloo


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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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