Project-Based Learning

(Clip art: Girl Hanging Upside Down)

You just experienced project-based learning.
What did the teacher in you learn?

I learned many transformative things through project-based learning:

  1. I learned about the power of a flipped classroom. We spent our time in class wisely, learning important teaching strategies that finally put a lot of things together in my head. I learned so much about making teaching about the students not the teacher.
  2. I learned about the power of uncovering information for myself. Researching through books, videos, the internet and talking to people made me grasp the information on a much deeper level.
  3. I learned about the importance of a real audience. The iBook is to be published, and for that reason I cared so much about the sources, the perspectives, the words and the tone because all I thought about throughout the process was the people who may read the book.
  4. My last and probably most transformative lesson about project-based learning was about the power of social learning. I was completely blown away by amount that each of us learned through editing and revising our work together.

Final Reflections: Ed 680

(Anger during protest. Source: WikiMedia Commons)

How does understanding culture and power impact your teaching?

A understanding of culture and power greatly impacts my teaching. The biggest way it impacts my teaching is by ensuring that I critically look at myself and the way that I communicate with children, parents and the community. It is also about knowing to listen and honor each of my students experiences. An understanding of culture and power means recognizing that everybody has a unique culture that extends beyond ethnicity; while being aware of the existing white dominance and privilege. For that reason, it is all the more important that I get to know and understand each of my students; and that I believe in each student’s endless potential.

Pick three terms that resonate with you from the Multicultural Education word wall. Define the terms and discuss why you chose these three terms.

I chose these three terms because these are the terms that I regrettably know the least about, and one of the most important things that I have learned about being a teacher, is to always look for ways to expand my knowledge.

Fragmentation: At the most basic level, it seems that fragmentation is the breaking down of the traditional senses of a culture. In the education system, fragmentation could be caused by a lack of a connection between a certain group of students and the school system. This lack of connection, or gap may cause poor interrelationships amongst the school and parents. At its core fragmentation is about structural equality, in that systems provide  something for one group of people that they do not provide for another.

White Fragility: White fragility is about a state in which white people may reach when faced with even a small amount of racial stress. White fragility may include acting defensive, angry, full of guilt or other actions including, leaving the conversation in a high stress situation or causing an argument.

Meritocracy: Boy am I ever glad that I looked into this word. Because it is something that I feel very passionate against. Meritocracy means that in society those  with natural (or predisposed) ability are rewarded.

Describe your plan to teach in a culturally responsive way in the coming year. Include teaching strategies you might employ as well as content/units you will implement.

It is necessary that  acknowledge and understand my own cultural values, so that I may understand how it impacts my teaching practices. It is so important that I recognize my cultural identity and then reflect on how I can go about reaching and valuing each and every child. A teaching strategy that is so important to me is bringing my students’ stories and words into my personal preparation, lesson planning and curriculum. This is only possibly by building lasting relationships with all my students and creating environments where students feel safe enough to indulge in taking risks and making mistakes in order to build richer and deeper understandings.

Cultural Standard E

In my group we discussed cultural standard E

A curriculum that meets this Cultural Standard E:

  1. encourages students to consider the inter-relationship between their local circumstances and the global community;
  2. conveys to students that every culture and community contributes to, at the same time that it receives from the global knowledge base;
  3. prepares students to “think globally, act locally.”

On our poster we drew a world and many hands to represent all of our students. The saying, “Think globally, act locally” is something that I hold close to my heart. It was actually up on a poster at a bakery that I used to work at. One thing that immediately came to mind when thinking about this standard was the recent global issue of cutting the arts in schools. Looking at it from a local perspective we can celebrate and teach Alaska Native arts as an important part of community and daily life. This makes the importance of the arts relevant when we look at it through a global lens.


Lesson: Yup’ik Song, Dance and Story

My lesson, Yup’ik Song, Dance and Story, looks specifically at Alaska Cultural Standard E. Making local knowledge relevant on a global scale is truly where my interest in music education lies. In my lesson plan, students take a modern approach to passing on cultural knowledge by creating digital soundtracks to characters of the quliraq (Yup’ik legend) the Hungry Giant of the Tundra. Through indigenous ways of teaching and learning such as; group work, indirect teaching and storytelling, students will develop the skills and techniques needed to create their own way of sharing a Yup’ik legend with younger students. In short, the project is designed for high school students to make a music resource for elementary school classrooms. At the deepest level, this lesson is about song and dance which are universal human activities that express emotions and tell stories.

I have attached a pdf teacher version in the UdB unit format and a pdf version of my student oriented chapter:

Teacher Version

Pdf of Student iBook Version


Children’s Story: The Woman Who Married the Bear

Lots of things bring tears to my eyes. The school that I student-taught at had a talent show; it made me cry three times. I feel sorry for my future children. Point being, children’s books also bring tears to my eyes. With giant pictures and so few words, that mean so much, picture books are something that my mother and I share a great love for.

The first book which I gravitated towards was a neatly illustrated book entitled, Tundra Mouse: A Storyknife Tale by Megan McDonald. The book is a Christmas story that incorporates many aspects of Yup’ik culture including the language, local food and the use of a story knife. I carefully evaluated the book through the lens of the Multicultural Rubric. The characters of the book are highly developed and the illustrations are delightful. However, I could not help but question the authority and authenticity of both the characters and the setting. Author Megan McDonald is a non-native writer from Pennsylvania. It turns out she is quite a well known author; McDonald wrote a series that I loved as a child, the Judy Moody Series! What a strange connection. Although a talented author, McDonald holds no connection to the Yup’ik people. Also, the book’s theme, Christmas, brings religious overtones. I will only mention that my opinion on the use of religion in this context is not valid.

Another book that caught my eye was, The Woman Who Married the Bear. I have a special relationship with this story. I have only hung out with my father’s mother, a Cree woman, a handful of times as she passed on when I was quite young. One of the times we went blueberry picking and she told me the story of the ‘woman who married a bear.’ The way my grandmother told it, in the beginning of the story a young women disrespected bear poo, instead of walking around it she kicked it. I spent my childhood, thinking that the ‘woman who married a bear’ was about not stepping in poo. Later in life I developed a more sophisticated grasp about the story revolving around tolerance, acceptance and a beauty-and-the-beast idea of valuing whats on the inside.

Last summer at the Juneau Basic Arts Institute, when I had completely forgotten about ‘the woman who married a bear’ I was told the story from a Tlingit teacher. From the telling I drew a brand new realization (for me – I’m sure that I am not the only person who has drawn this idea from the story). It changed (sorry corny!) my life. I wrote in my notebook:

When we are only looking for what is different in others we do not find that which we have in common. 

Throughout the year this notion has impacted my relationships with others in and out of the school. Due to my long standing connection with the story of the ‘woman who married a bear,’ and its abundance of Alaska Native values I would love to bring it into the music classroom.

This specific version of The Woman Who Married the Bear, translated by Elizabeth James is stunning and powerful. The story is directly translated from elders of the Pacific Coast of BC, Canada. Furthermore, the theme and cultural values are highlighted in a way that would allow students to consider multiple perspectives. Finally, I am so happy that the story makes use of song. When the woman returns to her people she mourns the loss of her husband through song. She also uses song to teach her people about respecting the bears. What a great example of music healing and being used to pass down knowledge!

One idea, that I had about using this book in the music room would be in songwriting. I would scaffold the experience so that by the time I read, The Woman Who Married the Bear to the class would have already gained background knowledge and experience with Alaska Native values. I would ensure that students understand song forms of many cultures on a local and worldwide scale. I would also try to collaborate with an elder or cultural bearer to introduce traditional instruments and their significance.

One way to teach songwriting is by starting with the lyrics. For the Woman Who Married the Bear, the students lyrics would be based entirely on their background knowledge and interpretation of the book. In small groups students will come up with a chorus, which is the central idea of the song. I will not go too much into detail, however, one way that I have taught songwriting is through providing a flexible formula and options of chords and song parts. I like to have students working in small groups for social learning aspects and efficiency. Songwriting is a great opportunity to take a constructivist approach where the students lead the process. I am very interested in the values and morals that students may draw from the story of the ‘woman who married a bear!’


James, Elizabeth. The Woman Who Married the Bear. Simply Read Books: 2015.

McDonald, Megan. Tundra Mouse: A Storyknife Tale. Orchard Books: 1997

Beyond Heros and Holidays: words, thoughts and late night research

“It is uncomfortable”… began the last group on their presentation of the chapter, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, “but we have to do it.” The group, of four white females, went on to acknowledge their privilege.

In the chapter Mclntoch states, “I have noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged.” Replace the word ‘men’ with white people and ‘women’ with non-white people and the statement is true to the nature of white privilege.

Although Mclntoch’s article may be known as groundbreaking, it is important to keep in mind that Mclntoch was not the first person to write about white privilege. She was however, the first white person to do so.

Before presenting, we got the opportunity to discuss small sections of our Beyond Heroes and Holidays text using a formula called “Save the Last Word for Me.” Each person presented, each person reflected and there was space for silence, for thoughts, and for growth.. each of us bringing different perspectives to the table. There were times when I could taste a lack of knowledge, understanding and perspective at the tip of my tongue as I spoke. I listened and thought of my students from last year.  Did I leave them silence to ponder on? Did I give them their 3 minutes without interruption?

For a week straight I wrote on my hand in permanent marker:

Every student- the most important person in the world

But did I really allow for each of their voices to be heard?

Later, I overhear a conversation about the term “institutionalized racism.” Does institutionalized racism infer that there is such a thing as non-institutionalized racism? Might I venture to draw parallels to the term “consensual sex” as if there is such a thing as non-consensual sex (rape)? Similar but different? I stay up late thinking (as I often do)..thinking about the words that I use, what they infer.

I stay up even later researching.

A quick google search comes up with the following:

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 7.31.53 PM
Screen Shot 2016-06-21

Earlier in the day, at the Alaska State Museum I read:

“I_____, a native born Alaska Indian, solemnly swear that I do now and for all time renounce all tribal customs and relationships, or so help me god.”

…written on a certificate of Citizenship because Alaska Natives were excluded from citizenship until 1924! In 1945 Alaska Native groups succeeded in passing Alaska’s first anti-discrimination law.

It is only 60 years later, and I just read from a google search that white privilege is a “joke.” This is no joke. I am not laughing. The lack of awareness is frightening. Seared to my mind are Ernestine Hayes‘s memories of herself as a little girl in a world where she felt “timid and alone”and the white music teacher with heels and red lips. I jot down in my notebook: I want this for no child. No student, future, past or present. 

I am chilled right to the spine at the thought Ernestine’s childhood music teacher. What do I do to ensure that no student of mine ever feels as though they do not belong? I decide to make a list of everything I must do.

No two lists… the other list will include everything that could make a student feel as though I do not believe in them, so that I will never forget what not to do.

I spend another two days deciding if I should post this or not. Do I even know what I am talking about? I decided to go ahead; sometimes things need to feel dangerous.

Visiting Culture Camp

Huckleberries Collected at Camp

“For the seal we had to hang it over here…. And cut it open and take everything out until it was completely open. Then we turned the stomach inside out….” Explains a 14 year old participant at a Juneau-based culture camp. For two weeks of their summer,  these high school aged students will spend their time in a intensive cultural camp. Not only will they earn high school credit but they will also gain essential skills and powerful lessons from Tlingit educators, advisers and elders.

“It is important,” explains another participant, “because I want to do more of this stuff later in life. Like cutting fish and sewing. I’m afraid I am going to forget how. Like when we speak Tlingit…every morning we speak Tlingit and usually I forget but I understand a little bit more everyday.”

Then the girls walk me over to the smoke house and explain how they cut strips of fish and lay it across long sticks with strings above the smoke. We talk about their favourite parts of the camp. Everyone agrees that the food is one of the best parts. But cooking at camp is also a lot of work; the participants are responsible for preparing meals for the entire camp.

They also learned to make jam, to can fish and to preserve seal oil.

Canned Fish
Canned Fish

As we wander back from the smoke house the participants begin telling me about their future plans. They all agree that they want to come back to camp next year, and in the future, as counsellors. One participant exclaims she would like to go to vet school. Another discusses being an English teacher, or a photographer, or a journalist.

The program director, Lyle calls the group over in Tlingit. Loud and proud he announces: ” What we are going to do is, we are going to do a song and dance!”

Everyone cries out with joy, “Yesssssssssssssss!”

As a music teacher, I am also bursting with joy. Imagine if my class have this response to every musical activity I present! In fact that is what culturally responsive teaching does. Last year when I began incorporating Tlingit songs and traditional instruments into my classroom, with the help of the cultural specialist, my class came to life. I started using Tlingit songs as warm ups and the engagement and confidence that I saw in my students was wonderful.

I am yet again blown away by the power of music to unite and empower. All of the MAT students join in dancing while the camp participants, leaders and elders sing and dance with great pride and energy. I am overwhelmed by the confidence; their singing and dancing clearing comes from the bottom of their hearts. I cannot wipe the giant smile off my face. It is such a pleasure to see young people so uplifted. The songs and dances at the cultural camp quickly become the highlight of my week.

Salmon Berries
                                 Salmon Berries