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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Alaska Science Camps, Fairs & Experiments

ANKN is a resource for compiling and exchanging information related to Alaska Native knowledge systems and ways of knowing. We are pleased to create and distribute a variety of publications that assist Native people, government agencies, educators and the general public in gaining access to the knowledge base that Alaska Natives have acquired through cumulative experience over millennia.


Contact the ANKN offices at 907-474-1902 or email

CampfireChill of the


The Question Arises

The boat ride or snowmachine ride has been cold. We shiver as we try to convince our fingers to hold and strike the match to get a fire going. They are slow and don't function they way they usually do. We stand by the fire, turning slowly like a barbecue to warm all of our body, front, back and sides. It feels so good to stand by the fire.

Finally, after the remains of the teapot or coffee pot have been poured into the thermos bottle, we walk away from the fire, back to the boat or snowmachine.

We feel colder walking away than when we approached the fire. We ask, "How can this be? I just warmed myself to the point of roasting."

A science question is formed.


The best way to answer this is to do the following experiment.

CampfirePut a pan of cold water on the right, a pan of very warm water on the left, and a pan of room temperature water in the middle.

Put your left hand in the warm water. Put your right hand in the cold water. Leave both hands there for one to two minutes. Then, put both hands in the room temperature water.

How does the left hand feel?
How does the right hand feel?

Explain this.

Once you can explain this, apply the understanding to the effect of walking away from the campfire.


How are signals sent to the brain from the extremities? Are "cold" and "hot" signals sent to the brain through the same channels?

How does the body adapt to excessive heat and cold, particularly in the extremities (hands and feet)? 

Further experimentation

Switch the bowls of hot and cold water. Now the right hand is in the warm water, and the left hand is in the cold. Do the above experiment again. Does the same effect occur with the opposite hands?

Try different temperatures of water, from ice water to lukewarm, from lukewarm to "dishwater hot." Is the effect more obvious with the greater temperature differences? Or, does this happen about the same with all temperature differences?

Put your hands in the bowls of hot and cold water for one to two minutes. This time, plunge them into the opposite bowl. Don't use the middle bowl of lukewarm water. Is the effect greater? When the extremes of temperature are greater, does hot sometimes feel like cold and does cold feel like hot? How do you explain this?

Try the above experiments, but keep your hands in the water for only 30 seconds rather than one to two minutes. Does the difference in time change the outcome at all?

Let three to four different people do the same experiments. Is the outcome different for different people. Is there any difference in young, middle age and older people? Is any age group more sensitive than another?

What conclusions can you draw from the above experiments?

Why do we feel cold when we walk away from a campfire?

Ask the Elders in your area if they experienced feeling cold when walking away from a campfire. Is there a way to avoid the chill that accompanies walking away from a campfire?

Finding and Developing a Science Fair Project

Examples of "Observe and Think" Projects

200+ Ideas for Science Fairs!

Traditional Lighting


Traditional Firemaking


Fishing with Lures

Rabbit Snares

Spearing Fish and the Refraction of Light

Chill of the Campfire

Solution vs Suspension

Seals & Beaver, Floating & Sinking


Selecting a Birch Tree

Spruce & Other Roots

Spruce Gum

Spear Throwing

Berry Pickers

Drum Frames


Book Cover

© 2004 Alaska Native Knowledge Network. All rights reserved.

A partner with the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0086194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Camps as an Environment for Science & Culture

Culturally Relevant Science Fairs



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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 April 12, 2011