Sidewalk Chalk G
MEHS Alaska Studies sidwalk art.

It has been a full few weeks of learning’s and adventures at MEHS.  I am blown away each and every day by the stories and perspectives shared by my students, fellow staff and through my surroundings here in Sitka.

It is hard for me to think of how a teacher possibly wouldn’t use a place-based educational model here at MEHS.  The school is literally situated right next to the water- with a view of the town of Sitka and the harbor across the way.  Looking out my classroom window I see boats passing, float-planes landing, sea lions and otters floating by….  Not only is it a picturesque setting, but situated in a culturally, historically and industry  rich area brimming with cool things to explore and learn!  And students are, in general, coming in from other corners of the state.  So why not use where we are- as a base to expand our learning and connect it to our selves and where we are from?!

So far I have witnessed, at the school, many moments of place-based learning.  Everything from a science class snorkeling up a local river to learn about salmon spawning, to students collecting water and beach samples to test for contamination, to in one of my classes, covering local news and events around campus and town.  In this specific news class, we even had the opportunity to take a boat ride to watch whales migrating south!  Closer to campus, one of my classes had an assignment to as accurately as possible, in a group, draw the state of Alaska.  Once they had accomplished this task, they had some specific southeast additions they needed to add (like where we are- MEHS in Sitka) and then were free to create the map-art that they wanted.  It was a neat project that created some very educational but different results!  I see room for additional place-based learning in my Alaska Studies classes for next semester and hopefully it will become more prevalent in the remainder of this fall semester as we move into other units of the class.


Connecting With the Inward

“The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community (kula) that learning, and living, require.” -Parker J. Palmer

As a student, this resonates with my desire to own more of my learning.  To have teachers who create a space in which my learning can actually mean something to me- and allow me to feel connected to material and find purpose in what new knowledge I am acquiring.

As a student through high school, I spent most of my time getting descent grades, doing what was needed and saying (or not saying) what I thought the teacher wanted to hear, but never really feeling connected to most subject matter.  I went to class to get an ‘A’.   I joined clubs because it ‘would look good to get into college.’  I was taught not to make ripples, not to stand out and definitely not to disagree.  I didn’t question most teachers, because I didn’t want to get in trouble.  This type of experience is similar to that of some of my peers.  We have been talking about topics such as this for the past few weeks.  It is why I think I have embraced since high school alternative ways that we, as students, are educated; in the classroom much of the time I was bored and didn’t see any relevance of how school related to real life.

did have some amazing teachers that taught me many amazing life skills, introduced me to important information and just got me excited about learning and being at school. My middle school choir teacher helped with my creativity and confidence, my high school world history teacher taught me time management skills and my geology teacher blew my mind in terms of getting me excited about rocks and cool science stuff- a subject I usually didn’t like.  These teachers are partly why I am here today.  It is the classes that I found fascinating that I remember.  It is the teachers that left a positive imprint on me that I, as an educator, want to hold on to for ‘lessons learned’ and ‘best practices.’

“… what we teach will never “take” unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students’ lives, with our students’ inward teachers.”  -P.J.P.

Another former amazing teacher of mine I want to acknowledge.  Mr. Dye, a middle school history teacher changed my life.  Not only was he an amazing teacher, but he gave me actual skills that I could carry with me after our year together was over.  He taught me how to take multiple choice tests.  He offered ‘how to take tests’ classes at lunch.  This skill helped me get through middle school, high school, college,… EMT certifications,… and even Praxis tests.  The time he spent gifting me this skill made me want to work that much harder in his classes- and do that much better on his tests.  The content of the class was great, but the life-skill was just as important in my educational experiences thus far.


ED680 Final Reflections


How does understanding culture and power impact your teaching?

The more experience we gain as educators, the more we will see that cultural differences do exist in the classroom, that power dynamics accompany these differences, and that these differences as well as similarities amongst our students impact each of their educational experiences.

What three words stood out to me on the classroom created word wall?

  1. Awareness.  Continually striving to become aware of what’s around us while recognizing that we are never fully aware of everything around us.  We all come to the classroom with our own biases, lenses we view the world through, various forms of privilege and differing ideas.  Thus, it’s a constant job- working on being aware.  Through this class we focused on the need and sometimes difficult task of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  What is the background that someone is bringing with them into the classroom? What cultural norms does one hold? What are the power dynamics at play within a classroom? Who’s voice (or presence) is not being heard? Who is not being seen? Are we aware of our own biases, privileges and world views?  As David Katzeek so eloquently stated- how do we use this awareness to lift each student up and help them see their place in the world? This class was a wonderful reminder of how important in life, as well as in the classroom, it is to try to bring a deep awareness into each day, situation, lesson, assignment and activity.
  2. Place-Based Education.  I feel it is an effective educational tool to use the community you are in as the base for learning to grow and expand from.  One of the biggest learning’s of this class for me was how important and relevant place-based education is.  If a student in Anchorage, Alaska studies World War II, for example, but never learns about how WWII impacted Alaska, an opportunity to deepen one’s educational experience has been lost.  If a math teacher only uses word problems standard for students across the United States, and doesn’t incorporate the local community and surroundings into these word problems, a deeper learning has been lost.  It is important to connect one’s own backyard in history with the world at large.  And how amazing was our ED680 math lesson that incorporated totem poles, humpback whales and Tlingit art? Think global and act local.
  3. Critical Thinking.  Having the ability to view what is being taught with a critical eye and question its’ relevance to one’s own culture and life is important.  I hope to help my student’s recognize the need to critically think about what we are learning in the classroom.

My plan for this upcoming year:

I look forward to my learning and growth as an educator in the upcoming year.  The phrase that comes to my mind is ‘the more you learn, the less you know.’  As a student teacher, I should have ample time to observe, listen and get to know my students.  With this, I hope to learn more about their backgrounds and what influences (including culture) have shaped where they are today.  This will help me become more aware of what they are bringing to the classroom and to better facilitate their educational experiences.  I also look forward to using my community as a classroom- starting from our school, moving out to the community and then connecting what we see to the larger picture of ‘how this relates to our homes as well as the world.’ Lastly, I hope to introduce topics from different lenses, to allow students to look at subjects with a critical lens and begin seeing the importance of looking at multiple perspectives on a subject instead of taking something they read or hear at face value.

ALST 600 Final Reflection



Project-Based Learning: What did the teacher in me learn?

What a wild and quick three weeks it has been. Probably the biggest learning I had from this class was the gentle reminder that I don’t have to be an expert in the material I am teaching to effectively facilitate student learning. I will not ever be an expert in everything- and that is O.K.  The beauty about project-based learning that Peter so vividly showed us is it is about empowering students to do the learning on their own. They are the one’s that are doing the research, exploring what interests them, using their creativity and compiling their results into a final product. It allows the teacher to look at the bigger picture and facilitate the environment in which students are learning, but allows the students themselves to own what knowledge they will take away from the project.  It is important to remember that I don’t have to be an expert on everything that is introduced into a classroom.  It is also important to remember that learning should go much deeper than that what the teacher thinks is important to learn.  Project-based learning allows for this.

In this class, we were broken into groups of five or six people.  Therefore, the project required us to work together in groups- another very important life skill.  We had to not only deal with different communication and learning styles, but we had to together produce and complete a product that we were all in agreement on.  For our particular group this was not difficult.  For some groups, there were some intergroup dynamics that had to be addressed.  Working with others is not always easy.  Introducing this fact to students, and also introducing them to ways in which they can more effectively work in a group, could be a very powerful tool for the future.  Showing students that the norms that a classroom might create, as well as the purpose, goals and objectives of a particular lesson or unit, are also helpful to utilize and set within a group during a group project.

This was a condensed course and project, therefore, one thing it was lacking was adequate time. If the goal of the project is to have students learn about each others work, then in the future I will need to give the time to have them do this. In this course, we sort of ran out of the time to truly learn about ‘Alaska’, rather, I learned a bit about my section of Alaska that I researched- as well as the section that I edited for a different group.  I learned much, but a ‘teacher learning’ to take home is that amount of time a project like this may require.

Overall, I really enjoyed the project.  I learned many interesting new online sources, technologies and ways of going about research.   We were shown many tools to make the classroom more interactive, fun and technologically creative.  Thank you, Peter, for doing such a wonderful job.  I really enjoyed everything that you brought to Juneau with you.



Why Do We Move? -Lesson Plan

Here is my lesson Plan in PDF form:

Why Do We Move? -Social Studies Lesson

And here is a the lesson as seen in iBook.  Although unable to use the links or features, this allows you to view the  pictures and see the lesson in a different look/format:

UAS Erin ibook Lesson Plan:


Alaska in 1867- photo credit attached to lesson plan.

The overview of this lesson is as follows:

Students will investigate the forced relocation of peoples from the Aleutian Islands to Southeast Alaska during World War 2.  This lesson will fit within a larger unit of WWII or an Alaska History class- deepening awareness of the history of movement of people and present day movements of people.  Migration, globalization, war, subsistence lifestyle, civil rights and social justice issues are amongst the many lessons that in a larger unit can be obtained.

Reflecting on the creation and completion of this particular lesson (which is really a few days of a much larger unit), it is a good start to a much larger unit required in order for me to get what I hope to accomplish– accomplished.  To be honest, I don’t love the final piece- and ‘wish I had more time.’  But I think that is part of the learning process… I do like the Cultural Standards I believe that this lesson hopes to embed within it.  I think that it is most closely aligned with pieces of Alaska Cultural Standards ‘B’, ‘D’ and ‘E.’

B2: “provides students with an understanding of the dynamics of cultural systems as they change over time, and as they are impacted by external forces.” 

A key piece of the lesson is looking at the impact of WWII on the people of the Aleutians- being forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps for some years in Southeast Alaska.  And then upon their return home, what had changed and how that change has impacted the peoples of the Aleutians.  This lesson looks at how a culture is impacted by an external force.. and how that force has changed the culture.

D1: “draws parallels between knowledge derived from oral tradition and that derived from books.”

Some of the lesson is student research based– looking at books and reading online written materials.  Some of the lesson is listening to Elder stories, both recorded and in person.  The assessment of knowledge gained comes in the form of both sharing (both written and orally) with the class ‘things learned’ from the written materials as well as ‘things learned’ from the oral tradition.

E: “A culturally-responsive curriculum situates local knowledge and actions in a global context.”

At the very beginning of this lesson, we look at, to see trends of years and places around the world where populations have changed.  We also create a word wall of ‘why people move’- on a global scale.  But this lesson also looks inward and utilizes students’ local knowledge.  A key piece of this lesson is the creation of maps by the students.  For this activity, they are to look at change/movement in their own lives as well as that of their ancestors and communities.  In this way, we are connecting local to global.

I look forward to looking at other student lesson plans and then adapting mine for use in the future.


Alaska Culturally Responsive Curriculum- Section A


My group in class focused our attention on Standard A of the Alaska Culturally Responsive Curriculum.  Although our poster may have been less intricate than some, that was part of the beauty of it.  We focused a lot on our conversation in class– and really, our poster was perfect for our Standard A; in many cultural traditions, a beautiful aspect is the deepness- rather than amount- of content and a ‘less is more’ attitude around words, actions and time.

Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard A: A culturally-responsive curriculum reinforces the integrity of the cultural knowledge that students bring with them.

  1. recognizes that all knowledge is embedded in a larger system of cultural beliefs, values and practices, each with its own integrity and interconnectedness;
  2. insures that students acquire not only the surface knowledge of their culture, but are also well grounded in the deeper aspects of the associated beliefs and practices;
  3. incorporates contemporary adaptations along with the historical and traditional aspects of the local culture;
  4. respects and validates knowledge that has been derived from a variety of cultural traditions;
  5. provides opportunities for students to study all subjects starting from a base in the local knowledge system.”

As a Social Studies teacher, and this seemingly being the most broad of Standards, its’ implementation would come through allowing students space, in any lesson, for reflection, processing and also giving options for different methods of participation.  A lesson that is place-based, such as the Math-map class that we performed on campus last week,would be a good example.  As a Social Studies teacher, I would create some sort of History-geography map activity for my class to get to know first the school and then branch out into the larger community.

Seabird in the Forest



When given the task today to pick up a children’s book– and figure out how I would use it in a classroom, I chose Seabird in a Forest by Joan Dunning.  In general, it is a story in response to the mystery of a small seabird called the marbled murrelet.  It took a long time for scientists to figure out where they nested.  When they finally realized that the nests were far from the sea, and rather in the middle of old-growth forests inland, these scientists were fascinated.  Why do the birds do this? Why do they raise their chicks high up in trees far from the ocean?  Why do the adults go to the ocean each day for fish, and bring the food back inland to their young?

As a social studies teacher,  I immediately thought of using the same types of questions raised in the story, but in talking about people.  Throughout history, what are trends of why people move and where they are moving?  I would hope students would think about things such as hunter and gatherer lifestyles, herdsman, subsistence.  I would also want students to think of things such as globalization, economics and climate change.  Why have people chosen to live places? Why was where we are decided upon as a town?

Although this story fits much easier into a science class,  I could draw parallels from it into a social studies class.