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Native Pathways to Education
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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.

Working with Willows


BSSD Unit on SURVIVAL-Edible Plants

Theme: Willows

lesson three

Title: Getting the Green Out

A Study of Willow Growth


Authors: Jenna Anasogak, Jolene Katchatag, Mike Kimber, John Sinnok, Nita Towarak, Cheryl Pratt

Grade Level: 5-8 (can be adapted for lower or higher grade levels)

Subjects: Science

Context: Fall, Winter or Spring

Region: NW Alaska

Materials: willow seeds (see overview below), containers for planting seedlings ( small pots, cups or egg cartons), rulers, soil, pens, paper towels, large jar


*Alaska Science Standards: B- A student should possess and understand the skills of scientific inquiry.

Skills and Knowledge: B-1- Use the processes of science: these processes include observing, classifying, measuring, interpreting data, inferring, communicating, controlling variables, developing models and theories, hypothesizing, predicting, and experimenting.

 *Cultural Standards: E- Culturally-knowledgeable students demonstrate an awareness and appreciation of the relationships and processes of interaction of all elements in the world around them.

Skills and Knowledge: E-2- Understand the ecology and geography of the bioregion they inhabit.



I. Overview: John Zasada, Jul 76:96 - from Alaska Science Nuggets, Neil Davis, pg 128

Growing Willows From Seed

Like an unwelcome summer snow, fluffy cotton from willows, aspen and balsam poplar floats through the air and coats the ground in mid- and late summer. These puffs contain tiny green willow seeds, white balsam poplar seeds and tan to pink aspen seeds. Several million to the pound, the separated seeds remind one of salt and pepper grains.

These seeds usually die within a few days, but if they land on a suitable soil environment they may germinate within 4 hours. Several species of Alaskan willow disperse their seeds in September or October. Unlike the seeds of midsummer, these spend the winter under the snow and germinate in early spring. Seeds of all species can be stored if collected at the time they are dispersed and frozen within several days. Keep them frozen until planting time and then spread them on wet soil or paper towels. Within on one or two days, you will have many little trees and shrubs which can be used for a variety of landscaping purposes.

 II. Background and Discussion: adapted from Project Learning Tree (PLT) - How Plants Grow

A plant is a biological system with these basic requirements for functioning and growing: sunlight, water, air, soil, and space.

Green plants get their energy from the sun. In a process called photosynthesis, sunlight activates the chlorophyll in leaves to convert raw materials from soil and air into carbohydrates (starches and sugar), which are the plant's food. Plant leaves draw carbon dioxide from air and combine it with water to make carbohydrates.

Research and discuss why water is important for willows. What functions does water contribute? (photosynthesis, protoplasm, basic plant material and helps transport nutrients from soil to roots)

Research and discuss why soil is needed to sustain and support willows. What types of soil does a willow need in able to grow?

How much space does a willow need to grow? What do plants compete for in an area of space?

Why should we learn about plants? What do plants provide us with? What do willows provide us with?

 III. Getting Ready: PLT

Approximately three weeks before beginning the activity, place about 50 willow seeds in a clear jar on a layer of damp paper towels and put the jar near a window. Monitor the seeds daily, and keep the paper towels moist. Discuss with students what seeds need to sprout and develop. Seedlings will be ready for experimentation when they have developed leaves and roots.

 IV. Doing the Activity: PLT

A. Divide the students into five research teams. Ask what factors they think are necessary for plants to grow. Invite the teams to devise experiments to test whether or not plants really need those elements to grow. Help teams to think through each step of their experiment and to predict what might happen; then, help them conduct their experiment. Alternatively, have teams use the following experiment model.
1. Control: Plant four seedlings in four separate containers of potting soil. Label these containers "Control." Place them near a window or other light source. Water as needed.

2. Test for light: Plant four seedlings in four separate containers of potting soil. Label the containers "No Light." Place them in a dark cupboard or closet. Water as needed.

3. Test for water: Plant four seedlings in four separate containers of potting soil. Do not water. Label the containers "No Water." Place them near a window or other light source.

4. Test for soil: Plant four seedlings in four separate containers on a wet paper towel. Label the containers "No Soil." Place them near a window or other light source. Add water to keep the towel wet.

B. As the plants begin to grow, graph their heights. Older students can measure the plants' heights with rulers and transfer the measurements to graph paper. Younger students can use construction paper strips to find the height of the plant and can glue the strips onto poster board to make a bar graph. Graph the plants weekly.

C. Discuss these questions:

*Which plants grew the most? Which plants grew the least?

*What other differences did you observe among the plants?

*What does a plant need to grow? How do plants get their needs?

*What happens if a plant doesn't get enough sunlight? Water? Soil?

*Which parts of the plants seemed most affected by lack of sunlight? Water? Soil?

*If you were going to plant a willow on the school grounds, where might you plant it? Why? (Look for a place with the right conditions: sunlight, air, water, soil, room to grow.)

*If you were to plant a willow on the school grounds, how might you benefit from it? (It looks nice, attracts animals, provides food, blocks wind, and provides oxygen.)



You might ask the students to draw a series of pictures showing the development of a seedling under different environmental conditions. Below each picture, have students use symbols to show what the plant has or lacks in each situation.


  • Project Learning Tree - American Forest Foundation
  • Alaska Science Nuggets - Neil Davis

Lesson One - Where's My Willow - a game to play in the willows

Lesson Two - Journey with Journals - journal construction and activities

Lesson Three - Getting the Green Out - a study of willow growth

Lesson Four - Watching the Willows - a study in plant phenology

Lesson Five - Wind in the Willows - a penpal project

Lesson Six - What's in a Willow - nutritional value and edible plant parts

Lesson Seven - Whipping up Willows - gathering, preparing, preserving and sharing


This thematic unit is part of a larger unit on Survival being developed by members of the Bering Strait School District's Materials Development Team. This sections deals mainly with edible plants in the NW Alaska Region.

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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
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Last modified August 14, 2006