Place-based & Culturally Responsive Curriculum at Dzantik’i heení

Blog #1: What are examples of place-based and culturally responsive curriculum/instruction at your school?

There are a number of place-based and culturally responsive curriculum/instruction happening at my school. In my own science and social studies classroom my host teachers have been mindful to include Tlingit language and place names in the landforms and mapping units. I was invited to develop and teach a lesson on Maps from around the World, which included different world views, and approaches to mapping by indigenous peoples.

Tlingit language is in the 6th grade exploratory rotation so that all incoming sixth graders have the opportunity take Tlingit language.

There are also several math classes which focus on place-based and culturally relevant math approaches.  One of the 6th grade teachers is currently teaching the Math in a Cultural Context kayak unit with their extreme class.

The Stikine house also visited Sealaska Heritage Institute this week to listen to Elders David Katzeek and Paul Marks on the meaning and importance of Aa.toow as a part of their Archeology unit.

Multicultural Education – Final Reflections

  1. How does understanding culture and power impact your teaching?

It is essential for us as teachers to understand our own culture, background and learned biases. Acknowledging these and understanding ourselves allows us, as human beings, to be aware of the lens through which we view the world, our community and students. It is only through this self-reflection and awareness can we be mindful of how we interact with students, families and co-workers. Being willing to learn about and connect with students of differing cultures and backgrounds than our own is vitally important. To respect what students bring to the classroom and empower them through starting with what they know and building upon it is powerful.

  1. The three terms that resonate with me from the Multicultural Education word wall were:

Transformative, Advocacy and Empowerment. I feel these three overlap and build upon each other.  We must begin with transformative learning within ourselves, forming a conviction to revise belief systems and behaviors within ourselves and our schools.

It is our responsibility as mindful teachers to advocate for our students, to be the bridge builder for those who may come into our classrooms without the background knowledge expected and required to meet standards. As well as to mediate between staff and students who come from different backgrounds.

It is also our role as advocates to empower our students through the acknowledgment of the rich culture, knowledge and perspectives they bring to the classroom. To value them as individuals who, as David Katzeek reiterated to us many times, “Have it within them”. There such power in building confidence within students.

  1. 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

As a culturally responsive teacher I will strive to acknowledge the values and experiences of students in my classroom and the community we live within. We have a curriculum that guides us, but as teachers how we teach it is up to us. I hope to engage students to be critical thinkers, to question everything, to make observations, and use primary resources as evidence. As a science teacher I feel the connection to place and community is a natural and obvious fit and hope to not only bring in local experts (cultural bearers, fish and game, forest service etc.) but also to get out into our community as often as possible.

We learned a wealth of culturally responsive and place based strategies throughout this course. I especially enjoyed the concrete examples share by our guest teachers: David Katzeek, Selina Everson, Linda Berardi, Paula Savikko, Tina Pasteris, Alberta Jones, Kathy Neilson, Scott Christian and Ernestine Hayes.

I am excited to put their strategies in to motion in my own classroom including: community engagement, scientific research in our own community, creating authentic audiences, math-trails that beautifully weave in the history and culture of our community, inviting elders into the classroom, using children’s books as the leaping of point for lessons, and most of all loving my students enough to see them.  To acknowledge their diverse backgrounds and empowering them to be confident in my classroom and take ownership of their own education through the opportunity of choice in their own education.

ALST 600 – Project-Base Learning reflection

Honestly I struggled with the technological learning curve for our ALST 600 Alaska Studies. The tech heavy project-based learning approach was way out of my comfort zone. Having never used a mac, done blog posts or worked with software like iBooks author, the technology was a serious barrier to being able to adequately and confidently present the information required for the iBook in the condensed time frame of this course. I also struggled with the amount of group work the iBook required. After some reflection I am thankful for the community this group project-based learning built within our cohort, small groups and later in the peer review.  As these smaller groups created space to have real discussion and get to know our classmates in a more intimate and safer setting than the whole class discussion.

The project-based learning approach does have a lot to offer. We were given the freedom of picking a region and a topic, which created ownership and hopefully the opportunity to choose a topic of study that truly interested us. I feel that choice can be a strong motivator and way to engage student, as opposed to spoon feeding information through lectures.

Perhaps if we had more time and  there was an opportunity to establish more of a base knowledge in our topic of research, Alaska Studies, I would have felt better about this experience. Especially since this was the introduction to Alaska for a whole cohort of future Educators within Alaska.

The Prince and the Salmon People

Using Multicultural literature in the Secondary Classroom with Kathy Neilson was a fantastic session. I love the invitation to use picture books as a spark for secondary classrooms.

The Prince and the Salmon People

I chose book The Prince and the Salmon People written by Claire Rudolf Murphy and illustrated by Duane Pasco. This Tsimshian narrative is familiar to me, but is a different version than the Tlingit version Aak’wtaatseen.

Based on the rubric for evaluating multicultural literature I felt the quality of the literature was well-developed plot, setting and characters, point of view and dialogue interwoven in interesting story. The illustrations were also of high quality.


While this book was not written by a Tsimshian person, it was obviously deeply researched and reflective of oral narratives and a deep understanding cultural behaviors. I especially enjoyed that photos of artwork, clothing and aat.oow and information that the illustrator based his illustrations off of.


The characters are not exaggerated in relation to their culture. Diversity of physical characteristics of characters within the cultural group portrayed. The author did not shy away from addressing status or cultural hierarchies and did not mythicize the shaman character, even providing the research and acknowledgement of shamans as holy people or scientists.

The setting was authentic, drifting between our world and the salmon people’s world and back. I enjoyed how the author also included a map and photographs of the story’s setting.


Th theme is universal and applied correctly to the culture portrayed. The Prince and the Salmon People provide opportunities to consider multiple perspectives, as many oral narratives do, providing views the treatment of animals and fish as beings deserving and requiring respect. The cultural values were clearly expressed and beautifully illustrated and blended with the anthropological research and artifacts representative of a rich and living culture.


As a science teacher I could see using this book for the introduction of a number of lessons regarding salmon life cycles, the 5 salmon species and the timing of their migrations, salmon food preservation and bentwood boxes.

Salmon Subsistence Management

I chose to do a lesson on salmon subsistence management as a piece of a much larger topic and hopefully someday full unit that addresses a number of math and science standards through salmon. From salmon life cycles, stream ecology, the physics of setting a gill net to the math and science that goes into subsistence management.

The goal of this lesson is to increase knowledge of Salmon fisheries, specifically subsistence, stakeholders in Southeast Alaska and how they are an integral part of the fisheries management systems with a variety of governmental agencies.

The Essential Questions I focus on are:

“How do people have an impact on the diversity and stability of ecosystems?” and “Who should regulate subsistence fishing?

While I feel this lesson addresses several Alaska math and science and cultural curriculum standards the standard most embedded within this lesson is Science F: Cultural, Social, Personal Perspectives and Science which states: A student should understand the dynamic relationships among scientific, cultural, social, and personal perspectives. A student who meets the content standard should:

1) develop an understanding of the interrelationships among individuals, cultures, societies, science, and technology;

2) develop an understanding that some individuals, cultures, and societies use other beliefs and methods in addition to scientific methods to describe and understand the world; and

3) develop an understanding of the importance of recording and validating cultural knowledge.

My full lesson plan can be viewed here: SalmonSubsistenceManagement-JasmineJames-3

An additional handout to guide the stakeholder profile and position statement group research is here: Alaska Salmon Fisheries Stakeholder Profile and Position Statement

Cultural Curriculum Standard A – Integrity and Ownership

I love that we had an opportunity to dig into the Alaska Cultural Curriculum Standards as a cohort. My group discussed Alaska Cultural Curriculum Standard A:

A culturally-responsive curriculum reinforces the integrity of the cultural knowledge that students bring with them. A curriculum that meets this cultural standard:

  1. recognizes that all knowledge is imbedded 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.

We chose to represent this first, all encompassing, standard visually with Northwest coast formline design ovoids. As the Ovoid in the center is imbedded in a larger system of cultural beliefs, Values and practices, each with its own integrity  and interconnectedness.

The hope is through approaching education and curriculum in this way we could be sure that students receive not only the surface knowledge or Concrete representations of culture, but the deeper beliefs, and cultural behaviors, as well connections to the symbolic level of cultures through culturally responsive curriculum and teaching.

Formline is a beautifully analogy also for incorporating contemporary adaptations along with historical and traditional aspects of the local culture. As formline has, as of late become, more contemporary and mainstream in some areas. The best formline however, just like the best cultural knowledge in the classroom, is always firmly rooted in the traditional design and acknowledges the ownership of the local knowledge systems it is derived from.

For those that may not know about formline or ovids. Heres is a fantastic introduction to the Northwest Coast Formline Design: the Ovoid by X’unei Lance Twitchell.

“Critical Optimism”

“Critical Optimism”

My small group discussed the Beyond Holidays and Heroes article, Educating for Critical Practice, by Margo Okazaw-rey in which Okazaw-rey describes a mandatory two semester course for social workers on racism, oppression and social work practice with people of color. Issues that stood out to our group were those of:

Macro Perspective, seeing racism at the Macro perspective: institutional, political, sociological and “big picture”. This approach counters the dominate ideological perspectives that these issues are individual or psychological issues, thus dismissing or covering up racism and other forms of oppression as an individual problem.

“Contract with America” – as a part of the course students were asked to reimagine and “build a truly egalitarian, economically and socially just society”. This proved very difficult and demonstrated our tendency to be reactive to, or constantly trying to negotiate a “contract with America”, instead of being proactive and creating new systems outside of the individualistic/capitalistic framework. Some may feel this is “pie in the sky” thinking, but articulating and creating new framework for society can only be done with critical optimism.

“Acknowledgement and awareness of racism is the ideology of White supremacy embedded in every institution in this country…” Margo Okazawy-rey doesn’t hold back and encourages others to call things what they are and talk about them from the micro to macro level so that we see, acknowledge and address attitudes, beliefs and actions which lead to policies of oppression. We talked in our group about not backing away or buttering over uncomfortable topics and having courageous conversations.

Opening and having honest dialogue leads to another topic our group discussed from the reading on building alliances. Bridging the gap between students and the classroom, or the classroom and the community.

Over all I really enjoyed the structure of our classroom review of the Beyond Holidays and Heroes and other texts. It helped us review a ton of reading in a one class period and gave us the opportunity to hear and learn from one another. I really appreciate that these classroom strategies are share with intention, building our tools of the trade. As a quiet person I both enjoyed and was stretched by “The Final Word” strategy. I appreciated the built in scaffolding, and safety, of being able to review the text on my own and then share with a small group with defined amounts of time (3:1) to both share and hear others responses before sharing with the whole group. The balance and built in ability to first listen then respond in “the last word” echoed the format of the Elders panel allowing all voices to be heard and acknowledged.