Learning Starts With an Inquiry

This class is packed with great information and “new” ways of learning and teaching. I say new because to a lot of us in the MAT program, it may be new to us, but a lot of it has been around for quite some time. There are teaching techniques that continue on but are adjusted and tweaked and elements are added to make them relevant to the subject at hand or to accommodate the situation. One concept here for a teacher is flexibility and an innovator. This reminds me of Scott Christian’s lesson on inquiry-based learning.

I thought it was an interesting way to include all of the kids and a lot of the community, from what it sounded like, into a book project. The book Away From Almost Everything Else: An Interdisciplinary Study of Nikiski was a project and a collaboration that many kids and community members will remember for a long time. To me, it makes sense to include many disciplines into the learning process and teaching method because it is how things happen in real life. Things are connected and overlap. The Interdisaplanry wheel, as used in Scott’s lesson, shows how an approach with many areas of study can fit around a common theme or central focus.

I enjoyed reading about the process and trials it took to gather the information for the book of Nikiski and the steps it took to produce it. I also like how the lesson focused outward into the community and brought them into the circle for all angles. I hope to incorporate something similar when I teach in the school.

One of the goals that I would like to accomplish is to work with students to produce a school paper of sorts that would expand out into the community, state or beyond. I have worked as a photojournalist for ten years and hope to bring some of that background, mixed with the “new” methods that I learn from this MAT program back to the students. I am excited to be a part of a teaching program that models great teaching strategies. Inquiry-based learning is one new method that I will carry with me to the front line of education. I will also expect to be flexible as Scott was when faced with some of the challenges of creating a book for a small village in Alaska. Learning starts with an inquiry and an open mind.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally Responsive Teaching

(I was out of town for this lesson)

There are two huge resources that we as teachers have at our grasp. The first is the culturally knowledgeable members of the community who speak on behalf of the perspective and wisdom of the Alaska Native people. The second is our natural environment, where content meets context and teachers are able to lead their students to the application of learning through hands-on experience. I believe a great teacher uses both in abundance, unconstrained by the walls of the classroom. This removes the barrios of interdisciplinary subjects, different cultures, and creates a community where every student is included.

Lessons in our environment can bridge the gap between history and present day, technologies of the past, and new science of today. Having students perform experiments outside of the classroom gives them a context for learning they might not have. This also builds intrinsic motivation for students to learn-the environment in which we live is a part of all our cultures. One example of using our natural environment would be studying water qualities of different streams in Juneau. Water and the sources from which we receive this water are all relevant to our lives.

Culturally Responsive Teaching – Determination

Michelle’s presentation had a few tips that we could use in teaching culturally responsive. Splitting the class in groups where she chose the person that would facilitate the discussion and the person that reflects on the small group discussion, showed that she knew her students. As a teacher you know the students that are active and participate in class, but this strategy gave the opportunity to students whose voices are not heard to be part of the discussion. As facilitator, the student ensures that all the members are provided with opportunities to be engaged, and helps individuals expand on their ideas or perspectives.

The reflector provides the final summary of what the group accomplished, and shares it with the whole class.

Michelle also shared with us that at the end of the class she would vote with bodies for her lesson essential question. I’ve seen this before in a Social Study class and students responded to it very well. The students that were in the same group shared their opinions and then listen to their peers’ opinions.

Scott’s presentation was the perfect example of bringing different subjects together and engaging your students in a project that is place based. Students don’t always know a lot about the place they live, and Scott’s exercise gave them the chance to dig deeper while bringing also the community in the project.

Ernestine Hayes’s reading from her book “The Blonde indian” was very emotional. Neither fully Native American or Euro-American, she encounters a feeling of alienation from both her Native culture and the Western culture. She realized early in life that she could never be” a blue bird” and she would just be “ a seagull”, like her elementary teacher told her. Ernestine’s message to us was to believe that every child is brilliant, and to engage them into critical thinking. She tells her students that the recipe to succeed is: “ 1% what you know, 2% who you know, and 97% DETERMINATION”. As teachers, we need to realize that we are not only changing a child’s life, but a generation.


  1. Culturally responsive teaching takes the culture of the students into account when teaching and uses it to help engage the students using relatable material.
  2. Being a science teacher I could integrate history into many lessons such as sustainability and fishing. I could go into how changing laws and regulations have affected the salmon and forests of southeast Alaska.

Reflection on Scott’s Discussion

When Scott came in, I didn’t know what to expect. After reading the pages we were asked to read, I was curious about how he was going to include an activity or what the discussion was going to be about. I was also wondering how to incorporate the lessons he will teach into different content areas.

We were asked to write down a few answers to simple open-ended questions with no right answer. As I wrote down my answers I kept looking for the way he would turn this into a lesson or attach it to his points. The group-sharing was, like normal, relaxing and thoughtful. I remembered things about myself and my home. It was a good activity that did eventually tie into what he was presenting.

Each student will learn differently and will find different subject matter interesting. One student might enjoy writing poetry while another student would rather write findings to a scientific research study. It is important to leave the subject matter open-ended, like the questions, to allow all of the students to become interested.

I have been struggling to find potential field trips for an english class or project that will keep the students moving around. Which brings me to another point that Scott made. Students sit for hours on end in multiple different classrooms. They will get antsy and squirrely and will need a break from sitting. So it brought up the question, how will I get students to move around the classroom? Honestly, I have thought of multiple ways to get students moving, but none of them are field trips. That is okay, because most students just want to move around, create something they are interested in, and have something to show for the work that they contributed.

It was nice to hear Scott talk, and I look forward to his class in the second half of this semester.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

When I think of culturally responsive teaching, I think of the words grounded, rooted, and integrated. Grounded in culture, rooted in culture, and fully integrated culturally. A culturally responsive lesson does not just showcase or highlight an aspect of the regional culture in which students are studying – it digs its roots deep into those ways of knowing. It is reflective, interactive, and responsive (as it says in the name!), not a mere snapshot or a “heroes and holidays” approach.

All of the lessons we observed and participated in this past week allowed us (and the culture camp students) to learn about and actively engage culture. Something I liked about each lesson was that all of them required students to think critically and make meaning. Actively engaging culture, thinking critically about culture, and making meaning from cultural knowledge are three hugely important features of culturally responsive teaching, as was evidenced in each lesson presented in class last week.

Observing the culture camp was an enlightening experience. From observing the students, you could tell that they were engaged and excited about what they were learning; I think that this was due to the hands-on nature of the camp – the fact that they could actively participate in the exploration and acquisition of knowledge. They could make the knowledge their own by doing, not just by listening. I heard several students say that attending camp was a transformative experience for them. Having the chance to be an active learner can be truly empowering. The evidence is in the students’ reactions.

I was so impressed by how immersive, interactive, and interweaved the learning process was at the Goldbelt Heritage Institute culture camp. Whether the students were fluent in Tlingit or only knew a few words, they could all participate on their own level and learn more about their language. When Lyle spoke with his students, he said everything in Tlingit and then in English – an immersive and bilingual approach to learning. This meant that the use and practice of language was prominent in every lesson the students learned, whether that lesson was about dance, native plants, or learning how to process a seal. The students learned about the native plants and animals in the field, in the natural landscape. Learning about the land on the land is much more powerful than learning about it in a textbook or a laboratory. They learned valuable life skills rooted in culture and the environment: how to forage, eat, live, survive, and thrive off the land. They learned how to process, prepare, and smoke seal and salmon. They learned how to de-quill a porcupine and prepare it for cooking. They learned about edible plants like the rice that grows at the roots of the chocolate lily. They learned about dance and storytelling. One of the lessons that really intrigued me was Jasper’s lesson about porcupine bile. Jasper taught the students about the medicinal uses of porcupine bile, and he created a science experiment to test its antibacterial qualities. He had the students place some porcupine bile (collected from the porcupine earlier prepared for food) into petri dishes that contained bacteria samples and then test to see if the introduction of the bile caused a decrease in the number of bacteria in the petri dishes. This was a great example of a culturally responsive lesson that allowed the students to engage with science, nature, and native medicinal techniques.

Back in the classroom, we had the chance to observe and participate in three culturally responsive math and science lessons. These three lessons embraced, engaged, and integrated aspects such as history, the natural environment, and Native Ways of Knowing. In Tina’s math trail, we got to experience place-based learning by engaging our natural environment. The math trail integrated some of the history of the area around UAS by including questions incorporating the raven and eagle totem poles, as well as pieces of native art located on campus. The math trail pushed us to interact with our environment by observing, measuring, and estimating the size of objects located in the place in which we were learning.

In Paula’s science lesson, we learned about a series of data collection projects her elementary science students completed. The students participated in a jellyfish investigation, a mussel investigation, a berry picking investigation, and a historical places investigation. These activities are examples of place-based investigation. In each investigation, the students were given the freedom to design their collection methods and style of analysis. In this manner, they were allowed to research and gather information according to their own learning styles and embrace their creativity rather than be limited to one way of thinking. This lesson demonstrates culturally responsive methods because it allows the students to draw on their prior cultural knowledge and embrace their personal creativity. By not enforcing a specific method of collecting data, Paula allowed the students to explore according to their own learning styles and inspiration. This is a great way to make science accessible to more students! By having the students present their findings from their investigations to the community, Paula made this a community-engaged lesson, connecting the students with the other residents of their locale. By conducting the investigations out in nature, the students were given the chance to interact directly with their environment. I wish that I had had more science lessons like this as a child! Learning would have been much more engaging.

In Angie’s lesson, we engaged our natural environment, local history, and Native Ways of Knowing. We learned about the medicinal properties of sphagnum moss, a type of moss that grows locally in the boggy areas around Juneau. This lesson was particularly engaging because it integrated history, medical techniques, and native plants. We learned about the absorbency and antibacterial qualities of the moss through reading and through experiencing it ourselves. Our task was to test the relative absorbency of sphagnum moss vs. modern diapers using whatever data collection methods inspired us. This opportunity for creativity, exploration, and innovation in the science classroom made the experiment riveting and immediately relevant. We discovered firsthand that the sphagnum moss was significantly more absorbent! This experiment was an excellent example of place-based learning, and it connected us with the natural landscape in a meaningful way because we got to be part of a hands-on experience.

Each of these lessons involved observation, critical thinking, analysis, creativity, and freedom to explore – all important aspects that both engage the student and forge a deeper connection with place.

As a music teacher, I plan on incorporating culturally responsive teaching techniques into the classroom by integrating traditional music selections and place-based learning into the curriculum. I can offer a broader, more diverse, and more inclusive music education by presenting diverse styles and histories of music rather than solely focusing on western classical music (as has been the status quo in American music education for ages). In tandem with teaching classical music, I can teach songs, melodies, and pieces from Tlingit, Yup’ik, Inupiaq, Athabascan, and Aleutian culture, as well as other traditional musics from around the world. I could have my students conduct world musical investigations by researching the music of a specific place and then bringing in recordings and sources to share their new knowledge with the class. This would be a great way to get the students involved in self-guided musical explorations and expose them to the diversity of music in the world. Another way I could have students engage with music in an interactive way would be to have them explore the sounds of their surroundings. I would plan a field trip day where the students could go out into the environment and explore and record the sounds of their local surroundings. Then, they could come back to the classroom with those recorded sounds and use them to weave their own piece of music.


Updated Thoughts on CRT:

After this week’s presentations on more examples of culturally responsive teaching, I feel like I better understand more approaches to creating culturally responsive lessons.  With the diversity of lessons and ideas presented, we were shown that there are endless ways to create culturally responsive lessons and encourage students to think critically about culture, history, and social dynamics.  I feel like I now have more tools in my toolbox for implementing a wide array of culturally responsive lessons in the classroom.  I learned that culturally responsive teaching can be both a way to preserve and honor culture and a way to challenge the status quo.

Michelle’s lesson allowed students to uncover information and make inferences about Alaskan World War II history on the islands of Attu and Kiska.  Her approach let students take ownership over their learning process by letting them discover the knowledge through exploration.  This approach allowed the students to form their own impressions and uncover answers about the war’s impact in the Aleutian Islands.  I like that Michelle’s lesson gave students the opportunity to learn about an aspect of American history that is rarely covered in the history books.  Her lesson helps to expose students to the injustices that occurred in the Aleutian Islands during the war.

Alberta’s presentation provided great perspective on inviting and integrating Elders into the classroom.  She gave an in-depth look at all of the aspects a teacher needs to consider when reaching out to an Elder.  This was very enlightening for me, as I am a newcomer to Alaska.  After listening to Alberta’s talk, I feel that I have more insight on how to ask an Elder if they would be willing to share their wisdom in the classroom, and this process does not feel as daunting anymore.  I am glad that Alberta was able to share some of these procedures and protocols with us.

Scott presented an interesting take on place-based learning, one which I would be interested in implementing in the classroom.  In Scott’s lesson, he had his students explore their locale by documenting the people and places around them and compiling that information creatively to make a book.  He took the idea of “What do you know about the history of your place?” and let students both explore and draw upon their prior knowledge in order to uncover and synthesize information about place.  I was very inspired by Scott’s innovative project-based learning approach, and I could definitely see myself employing a similar idea in the music classroom.  I would be interested in having my students do a place-based exploration where they document sounds, people, and events to capture a musical landscape and history of a place.

In Kathy’s lesson on multicultural storybooks, we learned how to apply storybooks in the secondary classroom as a way of broaching larger concepts and social justice issues.  We experienced multicultural literature as a vehicle for addressing and challenging power structures.  I was moved to realize that story can be a truly powerful tool to address social inequalities and can help students to gain awareness and take action on those issues.

Of the five culturally responsive experiences we explored, I think that Ernestine’s words were the most impactful for me.  She is such an advocate for students and for radical change in our education system.  Her words hold such incredible power and implore us to be agents of positive change as educators: “You’re not going to save them.  You’re going to believe in them.  And they’re going to save themselves.”  “If you’re not combatting colonialism, you’re continuing to ingrain it.”

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

Culturally responsive teaching is a style of teaching that that will include some aspect of a student’s culture in order to help benefit their own learning styles. Culture can be something that will help a lesson imprint itself on a student. We were able to view a number of culturally responsive teaching tactics while at the Goldbelt Heritage Institute Culture Camp. The most prominent to me was the different science and biology lessons that went into preparing and harvesting different kinds of animals. The one that stuck out to me was the preparation of the porcupine (partially because I helped the kids prepare it). It seemed like they were all enthused to learn about this creature. Questions they posed were: Why are they so spiny? Can we eat porcupine? What will you do with the hide? What would be done with the quills? Can we have a quill? Each of these were answered by Jasper Nelson, the resident science teacher. He posed a lesson based off of a Tlingit story where porcupine women would rub their bile on a mans face in order to heal it. Jasper would harvest the contents of the stomach and conduct a science experiment with the students, introducing the bile in the stomach to bad bacteria. The students would pose their own hypotheses about what they think would happen.

It seemed that when students were introduced to something that they found intriguing, but also culturally relevant, that they really committed the knowledge to their longterm memory faster. They were also more enthusiastic about the learning process. This could be said about other curriculums as well. Our job as culturally responsive teachers is to include the culture of students, not just as a single lesson, but in a daily fashion.


Thinking on the second round of CRT strategies has really opened an eye to me on what a culturally responsible classroom look like. When master-teacher Kathy Nielsen came into the classroom to discuss the use for children’s books in a secondary classroom, I didn’t think that I could utilize the method. After discussion, we talked about introducing them to a topic (maybe a historical or difficult one) in order to start a lesson plan or unit. I have even utilized this method in my lesson plan. I’m using this idea to start the lesson as my “spark” to introduce the students to the variety of traditional stories.

Something really stuck with me in Ernestine’s book reading (not necessarily the sections that she chose to read to the class, but what she said in the few minutes after her snippets). She said something like, “You don’t need to lift students up. You as a teacher need to be there to support them and they will lift themselves up.” That is such a beautiful concept when it comes to teaching. Students don’t necessarily need to be lifted up to be successful, they just need the support of the teacher and they’ll do the job on their own. That makes me think of the Beyond Heroes and Holidays reading. There was a section about a teacher raising the expectations of the class. The teacher says that the students are a real hardworking bunch of people. After enough of the teacher saying that, they start to believe it.