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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Science Across the Curriculum in Rural Alaska


by Alice Porter
Bering Strait School District


In this unit on tundra life I will use a science process model, describing distinct and successive stages in learning as well as the recursiveness of the process. 

It is appropriate for my school because it fosters cross-curriculum learning and allows for various learning styles. The group I work with includes three types of special education students who will benefit from the multi-media, multi-sensory, active and concrete experiences. The interrelatedness of the various disciplines (language arts, art, math, social studies and science) will reinforce the learning.

After reading Lessons Taught. Lessons Learned. I have become more aware of the need to bring the Inupiaq language into the classroom. This will contribute to the students' sense of identity and self-esteem and help relate school to home.

Both of these ideas will impact classroom experience. The science process model will provide an outline by which we will sequence and expand activities. The Inupiaq language will be used in identifying specimens and phenomenon and perhaps in other areas as well.

Here is a brief description of the science process model with a list of techniques and skills that each component will include. Through the "gear up" stage, the topic is introduced and interest generated. The teacher finds out what it is that the students already know about the topic. The "exploring" stage consists of activities with enough structure to guide the students toward discovery of concepts, relationships and generalizations as defined by the lesson objectives. The "generalize" stage leads students to formulate the underlying concepts of the previous exploration. "Testing" is a structured exploration stage in which students design experiments that answer testable questions. "Interpret" is the analysis stage. The usefulness and meaning of acquired data is determined. "Communication" is both a distinct step and an ongoing process. It is a continuous exchange of observations, ideas, and questions as well as the sharing of records and analyses with an audience. Potential learning components of each stage are as follows:

  • Gear up: brainstorming, mapping, sharing, reading, watching a film, guided imagery
  • Explore: following directions, observation, recording, use of tools, measuring, informal communication, classification
  • Generalize: recalling, comparing/contrasting, discovery of patterns and relationships, inferring from observations, formulation of concepts, formulation of questions
  • Test: forming questions and hypothesis, identifying and controlling relevant variables, distinguishing useful from extraneous data, creating experimental designs
  • Interpret: processing raw data, constructing tables and graphs, describing and interpreting patterns, making and explaining inferences, synthesizing information
  • Communicate: written or spoken word, graphing, chart making, mapping, diagraming


Science-on-the-Tundra Lesson Plan

Day 1: Students brainstorm what is already known about the tundra. Show this as a bubble map on the chalkboard. Ask what lives there, how it lives, and what changes occur. Watch a movie of tundra life.

Day 2: Students cut out Tundra Field Trip Notebook from printed page, read it, and get directions for its use. Discuss field trip expectations. Form four groups of three students. Brainstorm descriptive Inupiat words for vegetation and soil, and what animal signs and evidence of death and decay might be found. Go out on tundra to an area where berries are known to be found to collect data and specimens. Materials to take: hula hoop (orrope), trowel, notebook, thermometer mounted on ruler, bag for specimens, blindfold, and pencil (one set for each group). Each group will observe a section of tundra within its hoop. Students will count the number and kind of plants. Measure at least one of each kind of plant for diameter and height. Take air and soil temperatures (mount thermometers one inch from top of rulers, to protect the bulbs). Record all findings. Fill in five senses chart. Sit blindfolded for three to four minutes, listening. Use hand lenses forcareful viewing.

Day 3: Share booklets. Discuss questions that were raised in the previous session. Write a description of what was observed, using guided imagery to stimulate recall.

Day 4: Use reference materials to identify and classify specimens. Use both English and Inupiaq names or invented names if unknown. Mount and label for display.

Day 5: Using data collected in field books, make graphs showing proportion of each type of plant. Make another graph showing heights of plants. Compare graphs. Then make fractions from the graphs and use in sentences.

Day 6: Interview the bicultural teachers/aides about traditional use of tundra plants, medicinal uses or recipes. Record this on a tape recorder, then transcribe from the recording, stopping the tape as needed to accommodate slow writers.

Day 7: Make berry stains on paper and label. Try smashing berries and painting designs with the juice.

Day 8: Sketch or trace leaves on graph paper. Estimate surface area of the leaf. Try two others. Find the average. Record. Try with another kind of leaf. Repeat, finding the perimeter of the leaves.

Day 9: Make books in which to mount field notebook, traditional uses of the tundra plants, plant rubbings, graph pictures, berry juice art and any other work. 

Cross-Curriculum Summary of Tundra Project Skills

  • Math: counting, fractions, measuring (linear, temperature), charting, graphing
  • Social Studies: local names, traditional uses, legends
  • Science: classifying, science process, inferring, generalizing
  • Language Arts: describing, recording, bookmaking, legends and stories, use of references, reporting, communicating
  • Art: sketching, use of dye, mounting

Thia unit is one way to relate school to home, building students' self-esteem as they learn beyond the confines of the classroom.

 Life in the Bay


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
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Last modified August 18, 2006