Stories from the Field:

Experiences and Advice from the

Rekindling Traditions Team

Written by

Glen Aikenhead

Project Facilitator/Coordinator

College of Education

University of Saskatchewan

Saskatoon, SK, S7N 0X1




Gloria Belcourt, Minahik Waskahigan School, Pinehouse Lake. Unit: Wild Rice

Morris Brizinski, Valley View School, Beauval. Unit: Nature's Hidden Gifts

David Gold, Rossignol School, Île-à-la-Crosse. Unit: Snowshoes

Keith Lemaigre, La Loche Community School, La Loche. Unit: Trapping

Shaun Nagy, La Loche Community School, La Loche. Unit: The Night Sky

Earl Stobbe, Timber Bay School, Timber Bay. Unit: Survival in Our Land


Glen Aikenhead, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan


Henry Sanderson, La Ronge

Ann Lafleur, Beauval

Alec Campbell, Beauval





Challenges in the Community

Challenges within a Science Teacher

Advice to Science Teachers

Working with Elders

Working with the Community



Appendix: Advice from Greg Cajete and Gloria Snively


Each community across northern Saskatchewan has a unique culture. A Rekindling Traditions unit is linked to a community's unique culture in a way that makes the unit meaningful to the students who live there. For instance, the unit Wild Rice was developed with the help of harvesters (their stories and photographs) who live in Pinehouse Lake. If the unit were to be taught in La Loche, it will require a modified content to link it to the community of La Loche. People in La Loche would need to modify Wild Rice to suit their community's unique culture. This process for producing science units has many advantages, as we discovered. It may also pose some challenges for the community and the science teacher the first time you go through the process. But the positive rewards of seeing your students genuinely involved in science classes makes these initial challenges easier to work through.

This document, Stories from the Field, is organized into three parts. Each part serves one of the following purposes:

1. to summarize the advantages of modifying a unit to suit the community's unique culture,

2. to point out the challenges that arise when you do this, and

3. to offer advice (concerning these advantages and challenges) to science teachers who are thinking of implementing any of our units, or who want to develop one of their own.

Our advice stems from our experiences of what worked well for us, and from what we have learned from the situations that did not work as well for us.

The Rekindling Traditions team decided that this document should respect the anonymity of the communities and teachers who developed the six Rekindling Traditions units. Consequently, our practical ideas are expressed in general terms rather than in specific instances. The content, however, remains very personal.


Several advantages accrue for students when community people are involved in developing the content of the school's science program. When the science content is relevant to students' lives, students tend to make personal meaning out of that content, rather than simply memorize it. These two approaches to learning lead to two very different motivations for students to succeed.

Significant learning is directly related to the degree of personal relevance the student perceives in the educational material being presented. The basis for such a premise stems from the idea that motivation toward any pursuit is energized by one's own constellation of personal and socio-cultural values. ... Understanding and utilizing this cultural constellation of values is a key to motivating learning in Native American education. ... This sense of identification with tribal roots can provide a prime source of motivation to learn about science as it relates to an individual's heritage. (Cajete, 1999, pp. 88-80)

In one of our units, for example, two students from highly traditional Aboriginal families became extremely interested in the synthetic materials used in the manufacture of modern snowshoes (information found on the internet), after the class had studied the heritage of snowshoe technology in the local community. Pride in their culture gave these students a point from which to begin a study of synthetic materials. The cross-cultural instruction experienced by the two had touched their cultural identities, and intense meaningful learning ensued. Another group of students in our project was overheard to say, "This isn't science; it's too much fun."

Greg Cajete (1999, p. 30) wrote about the statistical evidence that showed "that the use of cultural content in science was not only plausible, but that it enhanced the learning of Native American students in a measurable way." Students' understanding of Western science improved when it was sensitively integrated with Aboriginal science. The same advantage was documented for Aboriginal students in New Zealand and Australia (Baker, 1998, p 888; Ritchie & Butler, 1990). These research results validate a cultural approach to teaching school science.

Similar wisdom is found in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996): "Cultural approaches start from the belief that if youth are solidly grounded in their Aboriginal identity and cultural knowledge, they will have strong personal resources to develop intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually" (p. 478). In a modest way, our Rekindling Traditions units support the initiative of strengthening a student's cultural identity and self-esteem while at the same time, providing students with an access to Western science and technology. We observed these positive outcomes on the faces of our students as they discovered a connection between the lesson and their everyday life. These attitudes were reflected in the quality of science projects they handed in.

Not only are students advantaged by linking local knowledge to school science, but advantages accrue to the Aboriginal community itself. In Alberta, Tracey Friedel (1999) showed how the vitality and self-reliance of a community improves when the voices of parents and the community are heard and when the school program reflects their values. If you are going to teach a Rekindling Traditions unit, you need to listen to the people who hold the knowledge, and you need to make their stories a respected part of your school science content. For instance, families are a rich source of knowledge about the healing power of local plants. In an assignment in the unit Nature's Hidden Gifts, this local knowledge is shared at home with students who bring it to their science class (with permission from the person holding the knowledge). At the end of the unit, students are assessed on their comprehension of this local knowledge, as well as their ability to use Western science in the context of their community. With these and other units, parents were genuinely glad to have their child participate in such a school program. Several mentioned they had never thought there was so much knowledge in their community about plants, snowshoes, the heavens, etc. Parents were also impressed to hear that their child had volunteered to stay after school to help make rose hip jelly, or cook wild rice dishes, or work on a project, especially when their child was a boy. Parents appreciated the new rapport forged with their child through their mutual participation in the science unit.

We have witnessed parents dropping into the school to ask what is going on today, where previously they avoided conversations when they picked up their children at school. This stronger bond between parents and the school not only supports student achievement, but it is one avenue for community members to feel less alienated and more in control. This feeling is at the root of Marie Battiste's (2000) book, Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, in which Aboriginal writers describe how Aboriginal peoples can rebuild their communities into productive "postcolonial" societies.

As described in our Teacher Guide to Rekindling Traditions (Aikenhead, 2000), each unit begins by establishing an Aboriginal framework about the unit's theme. The framework reflects local knowledge. In a later lesson in the unit, Western science and technology from the Saskatchewan science curriculum is introduced to students as useful knowledge from another culture (the culture of Western science). The introductory Aboriginal content takes the form of practical action relevant to a community, for example, going on a snowshoe hike, finding indigenous plants that heal, listening to an Elder, interviewing people in the community, or assisting in a local wild rice harvest. An introduction seems to be most successful when students feel a direct connection to Mother Earth. Students develop a sense of place. Their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual connection to Mother Earth helps ensure respect for the community's Aboriginal knowledge. The introduction to a Rekindling Traditions unit constitutes an Aboriginal framework for the whole unit. Throughout the unit, students will return to this familiar framework as needed. In this way, the voices and visions of an Aboriginal people become an authentic part of a Rekindling Traditions unit. Not only are Elders' stories honoured, the stories are included in the curriculum along with stories from Western scientists (science content). Linda Goulet (2000) concludes that such respect helps a community advance beyond a mind set of colonization, to reaffirming the community's cultural identity as a tribe or nation, a positive process she and Marie Battiste (2000) call "decolonization."

One of the Rekindling Traditions teachers had students conduct research in their community to record its history. This served as part of the introductory framework for the unit under development. When an Elder was asked to comment on the validity of the students' work, the Elder was almost overwhelmed by the healthy positive images conveyed in that history. The students' recording of historical facts reflected a decolonizing mind set, in marked contrast to the negative images that had conventionally characterized the people. The unit by itself did not alter the community's outlook, but the unit did provide one way for students to reaffirm cultural sovereignty and to build a postcolonial community.


Innovations that address important issues, such as decolonization or deciding what is worth learning in school science, can bring some challenges. We believe we need to be forthright about these challenges as we experienced them, so if you recognize one that you face, you will not feel alone as you work through the initial challenge. These challenges we itemize will be discussed in a later section, "Advice to Science Teachers." We do not assume that we experienced every kind of challenge. For instance, we did not experience racism in our Rekindling Traditions project. Thus, we recognize that our advice will not necessarily cover every challenge you may face in your school or community.

A major challenge for many of us was to establish a connection with local people in the community who had knowledge we sought. The challenge has two components: the community and the science teacher. Each component is considered separately.

Challenges in the Community

Teachers have rarely involved the local community in determining what is worth learning at school. For example, teachers do not normally ask people in the community, "What should be the content of school science?" Our point here is not to review the reasons for this state of affairs. Our point is simply this: Rekindling Traditions units require a change in the status quo because some parents, Elders, and other community people are asked to become involved with the school in ways that depart from conventional practice. Change can create challenges for people, but patience and respect help everyone get through the initial uncertainties.

You will be familiar with the community's pervasive negative feelings towards schools in general. These feelings are most often rooted in the oppressive treatment that characterized some residential schools, feelings that come from either personal experience or the stories of others. Negative feelings also arise from past experiences in local schools, experiences largely defined by a failure to succeed in a Euro-Canadian academic world. Failure and alienation do not encourage people to have future contact with schools. That is human nature. It is an obstacle to involving community people in a school program. But when these people see one or two community members involved in a science unit, their feelings often soften.

Negative feelings also emerge in reaction to the view that the school continues to be a colonizing force within the community (Perley, 1993). One reaction to this "cultural invasion" is passive resistance (Friedel, 1999). A science teacher can face powerful passive resistance in the community. Unfortunately for the community itself, passive resistance maintains the status quo (i.e. further cultural invasion). To move beyond passive resistance, people require meaningful social change, as Tracy Friedel showed in her work with Aboriginal parents at their Alberta school. The extent to which your community's parents view your new science unit as creating meaningful social change (such as the community's authentic participation in your science curriculum), is the extent to which they might feel comfortable about moving beyond passive resistance to assisting your school initiative. According to Tracy Friedel, it is your responsibility as a teacher to demonstrate a degree of social change in your science classroom, but is it the parents' responsibility to turn their passive resistance into a dedication to make changes in their school.

Most science teachers find that students and their families often do not value the community's Aboriginal science and technology as legitimate knowledge for studying at school. Again the reasons for their devaluing ancestral knowledge are beyond the focus of this document. A challenge for the community is to alter its viewpoint on the worth of this knowledge. Finding that the knowledge is honoured in the science classroom will certainly help. Meaningful inclusion, rather than tokenism, is most effective.

Ancestral knowledge is located in the collective memories of the community's Elders. Elders have traditionally given advice to children before they reach adolescence. For more mature adolescents, however, some Elders respect this maturity by letting them learn on their own, and not telling them what to learn. Accordingly, adolescents are expected to take full responsibility for what they learn. This tradition (and other customs discussed in the next paragraph) makes some Elders feel uncomfortable about coming into high school classrooms to give knowledge to adolescents who did not personally request it. However, many schools have already resolved this challenge so help is usually nearby.

Part of the holistic character of Aboriginal knowledge is the context in which that knowledge is shared. For instance, the physical sounds that words make contribute to that context (Peat, 1994). Thus, ancestral knowledge should ideally be shared in an Aboriginal language. Most science teachers do not converse in an Aboriginal language, and so an Elder must be willing to compensate for our deficiency by sharing his/her knowledge in English. Another aspect of context is place. Do not assume that your classroom is the natural place for an Elder to talk to your students. It is not. It represents yet another compromise on the part of an Elder. Elders conventionally talk with one person or a few people at a time, at the Elder's home or on the land. It can be foreign to them to be placed in front of a classroom of 25 students. Coming into classrooms to talk can be a challenge for some Elders. Thus, it may be helpful to invite an Elder with some experience talking in schools.

Challenges within a Science Teacher

The discussion above lays out some key community-based challenges you may at first face as you initiate a Rekindling Traditions unit. Collectively, we experienced some personal challenges associated with ourselves as science teachers. We would like to share these with you.

Most science teachers (non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal) are outsiders to the community in which they teach and do not have personal histories that connect them to people who hold knowledge. When you go out on a limb and contact a stranger, you risk contravening local protocol, particularly when that person is an Elder. You also risk a misunderstanding in a community in which you are working hard to gain acceptance. These psychological risks can even be greater for Aboriginal science teachers who are more aware of the possibilities of not following protocol. Our advice (in a section below) will help you navigate these initial risks.

For Aboriginal science teachers who are ancestral members of a community, the challenge can be a different one. By involving a community person in producing a science unit, the teacher ceases to act as a fellow community member (sharing values such as alienation to schools or passive resistance to academics), but instead begins to act like an outsider (expressing school values). For example, to take photographs of someone's craft for use in a science unit is to act differently than conventional expectations of a fellow community member. The science teacher must resolve this conflict of roles. This situation is challenging, but with time, patience, and practice, a comfort level is certainly achievable.

Some schools have established procedures and protocols for you to follow whenever you want to involve an Elder in the school. This often means turning over to a committee, or to one person, the responsibility of bringing an Elder into your classroom. The procedure systematizes respect for Elders, but it creates uncertainties in your mind over what to expect the first time you do it. The procedure's formality can also distance you from the Elder, rather than forming a closer more personal relationship. Relationships are highly valued in Aboriginal cultures. This is a challenging situation for most science teachers, but it is easy to resolve the challenge with the help of experienced colleagues.

A Rekindling Traditions unit will likely be a new kind of instructional experience for you. This unfamiliarity brings several kinds of challenges. Some relate to ideas and values, while others relate to practices and routines. The following discussion identifies these challenges.

In a Rekindling Traditions unit, Western scientific knowledge is put into a different perspective than it was in your university science courses. Textbooks and university science courses present scientific knowledge in a Eurocentric way that (1) conveys a universality of truth, and (2) privileges one form of rationality and one set of values over all others. A Rekindling Traditions unit presents a different perspective, one characterized by a cross-cultural approach to science teaching. This approach is described in detail in our Teacher Guide to Rekindling Traditions. The following is a quick summary of a cross-cultural approach to science teaching embodied in a Rekindling Traditions unit.

A cross-cultural perspective on science education is founded on several assumptions. Western science is assumed to be a cultural knowledge system in itself, one of many subcultures of Euro-American society (Pickering, 1992). In a sense this means that Newtonian physics is ethnophysics because it emerged from a powerful subculture within Euro-American society (Euro-ethnicity). Another assumption involves the idea that students live and coexist within many subcultures identified by, for example, nation, language, gender, social class, religion, and geographic location; and that students move from one subculture to another, a process called "cultural border crossing." Student's core cultural identities may be at odds with the culture of Western science to varying degrees, and therefore, students experience a change in culture when they move from their everyday worlds into the world of school science. This makes learning science a cross-cultural event for these students. It is further assumed that students are more successful if they receive help negotiating their cultural border crossings. This help can come from a teacher who identifies the cultural borders to be crossed, who guides students back and forth across those borders, who gets students to make sense out of cultural conflicts that might arise, and who motivates students by drawing upon the impact Western science and technology have had on students' everyday lives. Such a teacher is called a "culture broker," a role described by First Nations educator Arlene Stairs (1995).

On the other hand, some students have identities and abilities that harmonize so closely with the culture of Western science that border crossing into school science is so smooth that borders do not exist for them. These students have been called "Potential Scientists" (Aikenhead, 1997). Some Aboriginal students fit this description.

The challenge for science teachers is to see science in a new light, one that acknowledges that each major world culture has its own science and that Western science is just one way of knowing about nature, albeit a very powerful way (MacIvor, 1995). For most of us in the Rekindling Traditions project, our understanding of Western science and its cultural roots evolved as we developed our units, and will continue to evolve each time we teach a unit. Border crossing is now one way of thinking about our teaching and about how students learn. We tend to see learning in terms of cultural negotiations through which students negotiate meaning of a natural phenomenon or a technology by appropriating ideas from several sources, for instance, Aboriginal and Western sciences.

Another major challenge to science teachers stems from our role as a culture broker for students. This role entails learning local knowledge along with, and sometimes from, our students. When we learn in front of others, especially our students, our egos often play a larger role than normal. Although we expect students to learn from their mistakes, the same expectation of ourselves is a challenge to the egos of most of us. Learning from our mistakes gets easier the more we practise.

Advice to Science Teachers

Our advice comes from successful encounters with our communities and from our reflection on how to do a better job next year. Although our advice addresses all the challenges identified in the previous section, this advice is organized in a different way.

Working with Elders

The designation "Elder" is earned by a person, based on a type of respect that person receives in a community. Not everyone in a community need agree on a person's status as Elder. Thus, it is not always a simple process to locate an Elder. The following advice served us well.

Just as each person in a community has gifts and talents, Elders, too, are known for their gifts and talents. Therefore, if you are going to teach the unit Nature's Hidden Gifts, for example, you might seek the assistance of an Elder knowledgeable in the healing power of plants. School board members and school administrators often have a fairly good idea of which Elders hold which knowledge, and which Elders have helped with school related projects in the past. When trying to locate an appropriate Elder, you might ask several people and see whose name comes up consistently.

Elders are usually very approachable through face-to-face contact outside the school. When approached with the intention of showing respect, they are very forgiving of people making an honest "mistake" in protocol. The important thing for them is to see you learn the protocol and to see you respect their values. For a science teacher eager to learn Aboriginal ways, there will be no problem approaching an Elder. Telephone conversations can supplement face-to-face contacts.

The protocol of gift giving reflects key values in Aboriginal cultures. It is not our purpose here to explain these values, but we suggest one idea to consider. In most Aboriginal communities, knowledge is given to another person based on the relationship between the two people. Knowledge is not an object to be passed around, it is related to human connections and to the interconnectedness of all things. A gift offered to an Elder signifies this relationship and connectedness. By offering a gift, you acknowledge your wish to enter into a relationship.

Gifts can take many forms. We used jams, jellies, and teas placed in baskets made of natural woods (not plastic). We have also offered published books and things produced by students (e.g. rose hip jelly made at school and student-produced booklets about a topic in the unit). Tobacco and blankets may be appropriate for some Elders, particularly the further south you live in Saskatchewan. The protocol of gift giving can change dramatically from community to community.

There are at least two ways to learn what protocol you should follow. One way is to begin by asking an acquaintance about who would know the proper protocol for your community. This may lead you to a friend of a friend's friend, someone you may not know. When this person appreciates the reason for your asking an Elder to share knowledge with you (and thus, the motivation for offering a gift), the person will provide good advice. You will be prepared for your first meeting with the Elder.

Gifts are offered, not given, to an Elder. By accepting your gift, an Elder signifies that he or she has entered into a relationship with you, based on your request. Thus, your request comes before you offer a gift.

A second way to learn what protocol to follow is a more direct way. Your first meeting with an Elder will be to introduce yourself, to provide information about what you want to accomplish in your science unit, and to make arrangements to return to talk about your request. During this first meeting, you admit that you do not know the protocol (what gift is appropriate) for making such a request, and you simply ask the Elder what gift would be appropriate. You are being forthright and honest with the Elder, expressing your wish to engage in appropriate traditional protocol. We have always received forthright answers in return. You will be prepared for your second meeting with the Elder in which you request the knowledge or assistance you seek, and then offer your gift.

When making a request for the Elder to speak to your students, negotiate with the Elder over the most appropriate place to interact with the children, given the realities of students' lives. Your classroom may very well be the most appropriate place, but the important thing is not to assume ahead of time that your classroom is the only place. This gives an Elder a real say in where and when the talk will occur.

During our units, Elders have been interviewed by students. Elders have reacted very favourably to this. They enjoyed being interviewed by respectful students and being valued by the younger generation.

When Elders come into your classroom to talk to your students, do not expect them to narrowly focus on the topic of your lesson. Our Eurocentric culture values presentations that are logically linear, reductionistic, and focused. Elders value holistic explorations of a topic that show the interrelationship among all things, including how to live your life. Similarly when local business people come into your classroom to talk about their business (wild rice, trapping, etc.), expect them to introduce a wide variety of topics, all related in their culture to the topic you asked them to address. These people are not getting off topic. Instead, you are learning about the interrelatedness of an Aboriginal worldview.

Working with the Community

If we recognize that most of us cross a cultural border when we interact with an Elder or other knowledgeable people in the community, we can pick up some good advice from Maria Lugones (1987). She revealed a personal account of "travelling" from her own world of a woman of colour to the often hostile world of the White Anglo male. To travel between worlds is to cross cultural borders. Her account helps us appreciate the experiences that many students encounter when they cross borders from their everyday home cultures into the culture of school science. But even more, she gives us good advice about how to deal the school's community. Maria Lugones became accomplished in the Anglo male's world without losing her own way of thinking, because she learned to cross hazardous borders effectively. Her experiences suggest ingredients for successful border crossing. "I affirm this practice as a skilful, creative, rich, enriching and, given certain circumstances, as a loving way of being and living." Maria Lugones used the metaphor "world-travelling" when she wrote about the flexibility and playfulness required of her when she shifted from a mainstream world where she was perceived by the mainstream Anglo male as an outsider, to other situations where she was more or less "at home." She advised flexibility for both the outsider and the privileged insiders ("those who are at ease in the mainstream" p. 3). Flexibility can best be achieved by an attitude she described as "playful." Being playful allows us to be a different person in different worlds without losing ourselves, because we always have memories of us in our personal world. Flexibility and playfulness can reduce the perceived psychological risks associated with participating in another culture, such as the Aboriginal culture of the community in which you teach.

According to Maria Lugones, we may be playful in one world but not another because we feel at ease in the one world but not the other. Feeling at ease can help us be successful at cultural border crossing, though Maria Lugones claims that we can succeed in someone else's world even though we are not at ease in it. Thus, you can successfully work with people in your community without feeling at ease. On the other hand, feeling at ease smooths your cultural border crossings. Ease is defined by Maria Lugones as a cluster of factors of which the presence of only one factor can cause us to feel at ease. The factors are: (1) being a fluent speaker, (2) agreeing with the norms of that culture, (3) being humanly bonded with people in that culture, and (4) having a sense of shared history. She suggests that we should not look for the "holistic I" in each world we visit, but instead accept the "multiple I." To travel between worlds is to shift from being one person in one context to being another person in a different context, without losing our self-identity as the same person we remember in our most familiar world.

Maria Lugones's description of successful border crossings enriches our analysis of our own experiences with an Aboriginal community. Her sense of flexibility, playfulness, and ease, clarifies the human capacity to think differently in different cultures, a capacity that has implications for us learning more knowledge from our Aboriginal community, and for our students' success at crossing their own cultural borders to learn Western science.

We found that students can serve as excellent bridges between a science teacher and the community, as long as students are motivated about the topic and are trained in appropriate protocol and interviewing skills. It can often be beneficial to have students interview their grandparents and bring the information into class. (In many communities, the parents of your students belong to the generation that missed an Aboriginal education, so grandparents need to be interviewed.) The students can teach you what they have learned from community people. Then you can verify the information with knowledgeable people in the community, people identified by students perhaps. This way you have more concrete information with which to approach "strangers" in the community. The work by students actually smooths your border crossing into the Aboriginal culture by providing you with ideas to be verified by Elders or others.

If you plan to teach a Rekindling Traditions unit, be prepared to learn many new things. Some of what you learn will come from your students. They will be better than you at some things, such as the local language. One of your roles in front of your class will be to model life-long learning. Students learn life-long learning by watching others set an example.

Each community has its unique ways for people to communicate within the community. You need to know these ways so when you involve some community people, you know how to let other community members know about this involvement. In short, it is not enough to do the job well, you need to be seen to do the job well. For instance, a local radio station and a weekly newsletter can be powerful communication vehicles. In the development of one of our units, for example, the teacher wanted to get family members to contribute to the content of the unit. The teacher was familiar with the passive resistance endemic in the students' homes. The teacher first arranged to get Aboriginal stories from a few community people, stories related to the unit's topic. The stories were thoughtfully published in a news item in the local newsletter. The news item described how these community people were contributing to the content of a science class at school. The radio station was also involved. This coverage enhanced the status of those with the specialized Aboriginal knowledge. It also established the acceptability of sharing stories for the purpose of improving school science. When the students began their assignment to record similar types of stories, the whole community was aware of what was happening and cooperated in the students' efforts.

The original stories provided a model and inspiration for students to collect similar stories from a family member. Before students began this activity, however, they were taught the protocol for approaching an Elder in that community, and were primed on how to be a good interviewer. Specific lessons in three of our units are devoted to honing students' interviewing skills. As students collected their story, they made a new emotional connection to their community, and hence their personal identities were strengthened. Their skills at communicating were also enhanced. Meanwhile, we learned this local knowledge ourselves and discussed it informally with people in the community.

We advise you to be sensitive to different factions that may exist within a community over certain topics. Be sure to include all points of view when dealing with a potentially controversial idea. Be sure that students know that their job is to understand the ideas, not necessarily to believe the ideas. Indoctrination is not part of a Rekindling Traditions unit. But students and their families need to be reminded of this.

Keep families informed about what will be happening in your Rekindling Traditions unit. When information comes directly from you (via a class newsletter or a telephone call), it has less chance of being misunderstood than the same information passed along by students or neighbours.

It is also a good idea to involve certain parents in some of the lessons, especially lessons that deal with spirituality. When parents can see for themselves that indoctrination is not occurring, you will avoid misunderstandings. A parent also has the chance to discuss an issue with you in an amiable proactive context, rather than in an adversarial reactive context. Some teachers actively seek out the parent who may be most opposed to studying certain content and purposefully involve that parent in a lesson on that content.

Gift giving need not be restricted to Elders. Other people in the community who help you in some way feel rewarded and valued when they receive a modest gift in a respectful way. Gifts made by students have a particular charm. Some of our units provide specific suggestions and opportunities to involve students in gift-making activities.

Many of our memorably times with students occurred as unpredictable "teachable moments." You need to be flexible enough to follow students' interests within a lesson. As well, you need to be vigilant enough to abstract concepts from that teachable moment and make the concepts explicit to your students. These unpredicted outcomes to a lesson, whether they are about Western science, values, Aboriginal science, etc., should then become content in the closure to your lesson and content to be assessed. Teachable moments tend to arise more frequently the more diverse your students are, and the more they become motivated. In some of our schools, students came from two distinct communities. The students from a community that follows a more traditional way of life can be a great asset in helping teach other students Aboriginal concepts and values. Flexibility and sensitivity are required all the more in this circumstance.

We strongly advise you to connect your students with Mother Earth as early as possible in a unit, and to re-affirm their sense of place. Time and time again, teachers are in awe over how some students' behaviour improves when students are out of doors away from classroom walls. When surrounded by nature, it seems as if many students get in touch with their inner selves and become open to new kinds of learning. The experience is heightened all the more when community people are involved in the event. Elders and others can revitalize students' Aboriginal language and cultural identity. You can anticipate a direct effect on some students' attitudes towards your science course specifically, and towards school academics in general. This is what we saw.

For instance, one of our schools offered one science course in both semesters and its sequel in the second semester. When taking the sequel, a young lady noticed some notes left on the black board from the class an hour earlier. She recognized the notes from the Rekindling Traditions unit she had studied during the first semester. Spontaneously she talked to her teacher about how much the Rekindling Traditions unit had meant to her, much to the amazement of her teacher. Her attitude toward science classes had changed. Often we do not get to hear how our teaching affects our students. Some students are very good at hiding such positive feelings.


We come to our last bit of advice, something so obvious that it hardly needs stating except that it is of such great importance. Our advice is to go ahead and adapt one of the Rekindling Traditions units and learn from your experiences. We learned from our experiences. Is there any other way to learn to teach? When we began this project we had no templates or materials to direct us. Together we developed our own templates, guided by specific values and goals (described in our Teacher Guide to Rekindling Traditions). You at least have some templates and materials to help you along your way. You will learn far more from the experience of teaching a cross-cultural science unit than from reading anything we could write.


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MacIvor, M. (1995). Redefining science education for Aboriginal students. In M. Battiste & J. Barman (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: The circle unfolds (pp. 73-98). Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press.

Peat, D. (1994). Lighting the seventh fire. New York: Carol Publishing Group.

Perley, D.G. (1993). Aboriginal education in Canada as internal colonialism. Canadian Journal of native Education, 20, 118-127.

Pickering, A. (Ed.) (1992). Science as practice and culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ritchie, S., & Butler, J. (1990). Aboriginal studies and the science curriculum: Affective outcomes from a curriculum intervention. Research in Science Education, 20, 249-354.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (1996), Renewal: A twenty-year commitment (vol. 5). Ottawa: Government of Canada.

Snively, G. (1995). Bridging traditional science and western science in the multicultural classroom. In G. Snively & A. MacKinnon (Eds.), Thinking globally about mathematics and science education (pp. 1-24). Vancouver, Canada: Centre for the Study of Curriculum & Instruction, University of British Columbia.

Stairs, A. (1995). Learning processes and teaching roles in Native education: Cultural base and cultural brokerage. In M. Battiste & J. Barman (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: The circle unfolds (pp. 139-153). Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press.


Advice from Greg Cajete and Gloria Snively

Based on years of personal experience and reflection from teaching Western science to Aboriginal students, Greg Cajete (1999) in the US and Gloria Snively (1995) in British Columbia have their own advice to offer. Their advice encompasses topics we have discussed in this document, as well as in our Teacher Guide. If you detect repetition between our advice and theirs, consider it emphasis.

Hopefully you will consider developing your own cross-cultural science unit. We encourage you to develop units on such topics as forestry, fishing, agriculture, gardening, and architecture, as well as topics that extend any of our units. We support Greg Cajete's (1999, p. 150) advice, "When selecting content to use in the delivery of science instruction, always select content in the light of knowledge and understanding of the students and the community." He further advises:

Making science "real" to Native American students involves the conscious manipulation of situations and contexts to illustrate the relationship between Native American culture and the science concept being presented. (p. 174)

Greg Cajete (pp. 125-127) suggests 10 key points to consider when implementing cross-cultural instruction in your classroom. His points are summarized here.

1. Put young people in touch with their cultural selves and their inner sense for learning.

2. Facilitate students' realization of the Earth as the ultimate source of human, plant and animal life.

3. Get students to discover the beauty and complexity of nature.

4. Bring students back in touch with their cultural roots, the land, plants, and animals.

5. Get students to learn how various Aboriginal people made a "living" from the land which students call home.

6. Get students to learn practical skills of Western and Aboriginal sciences in a sustainable relationship to the natural world.

7. Plan for student learning along the following lines: bonding, trust, storyline (relating to an aspect of Western science), sharing and caring, looking inward, and self-reliance.

8. Give students the opportunity to learn Western science in relation to a cultural perspective and a worldview which mediates between the students and their learning Western science:

a. explore cultural roots

b. develop a historical perspective and empathy for the practices of Aboriginal science

c. build upon the inherent strengths of Aboriginal philosophy and environmental knowledge

d. participate in your community's cultural activities where appropriate

e. share traditions when and where appropriate

f. learn and practice tribal arts

g. learn and play Aboriginal games

h. appropriately investigate how students learn science ideas.

9. Expose students to the principles of Western science through exploring and experiencing the world around them:

a. learn how to apply all their senses when learning Western science

b. learn how to connect with the natural world and how to perceive those connections

c. learn to tune into the rhythms of nature

d. learn through the multicultural expressions of Western science.

10. Practical guidelines include:

a. apply the idea that we can learn about nature from many different pathways

b. teach for connecting to a sense of place, a homeland

c. learn to appreciate the land by living on it

d. create an extended family of learners by including community members young and old

e. involve Elders and special community members wherever appropriate

f. work from a cultural context to make meaningful connections between Western science and students' lives

g. teach through authentic (not contrived) learning experiences

h. create a foundation for cross-cultural understanding

i. develop a flexible schedule for learning

j. emphasize sharing and giving voice and vital expression to one's thoughts

k. facilitate personal experience and achievement

l. develop a foundation for being responsible for healthy living

m. give students practice in applying their leadership skills

n. introduce Western and Aboriginal sciences, and cultural and environmental studies, through immersion, observation, appreciation, and exploration with all the senses.

In her chapter "Bridging Traditional Science and Western Science," Gloria Snively (1995) gives emphasis to the environment and what many people call Traditional Ecological Knowledge -- Aboriginal knowledge related to ecology. Here is her advice and 15 key points (pp. 65-67):

When teaching First nations students, teachers could develop lessons around what students experience and talk about in their community. Teachers can show how a common environment can be viewed from both a Traditional science perspective and a Western science perspective, or a combination of perspectives. This will help alleviate the alienation common to those who cannot participate fully in what has become the typical science classroom. When teaching in a Native community, or in classes of mixed Native and non-Native students, the following considerations may be helpful:

1. No one textbook can comprise a viable science program. A variety of resources should be used, each vetted for inappropriate content. (See our Teacher Guide to Rekindling Traditions, particularly the section "Treating Aboriginal Knowledge with Respect," for concrete ideas on what is inappropriate.)

2. Oral traditions must be respected and viewed as a distinctive intellectual tradition, not simply as myths and legends. The oral narratives and heritage of the Native community should become part of the school science experience.

3. The two traditions (Western and Native) should be explored during instruction with the goal to articulate their similarities, differences, strengths, and limitations.

4. Teachers should adapt written and spoken language to avoid disadvantage to those with language difficulties. Teachers should pay attention to the language of science education, and provide more opportunities for students to use language to explore and develop understandings -- using analogies, models, and metaphors.

5. Teachers should acknowledge the history of colonization and how language has been used to legitimate economic and cultural imperialism.

6. Teachers should acknowledge that issues of history, morality, justice, equality, freedom, and even spirituality are inseparable from the proper discussion of science and technology.

7. Instruction should compare traditional categories for plants, animals, habitat, systems, and relationships with Western scientific analogies of the same phenomena.

8. Classes should discuss data to show that there are many interpretations for the same observations, due to the fact that each culture has a different concept for the same phenomenon, and that these different concepts are used to interpret the same observation.

9. Instruction should provide a high percentage of inquiry learning that provides sensory experiences and experiential learning.

10. Instruction should identify local approaches for achieving sustainability, and emphasize that a global problem can be defined as an aggregate of local problems worldwide.

11. References should be made to current events and to present-day home and community, real-life situations, and issues applicable to the Native child.

12. Teachers should design curriculum materials and lessons that use exemplars from a variety of cultures and countries, in order to provide a multicultural view of science and technology.

13. Activities should be designed to help students recognize the likelihood of continual change, conflict, ambiguity, and increasing interdependence worldwide.

14. Students should be given opportunities to identify and articulate their own ideas and beliefs with others in small group situations.

15. Teaching strategies should emphasize solving science and technology problems (from both Native and Western points of view), resource management, and sustainable societies' problems.

First Nations children can help build a sustainable society -- empowering themselves and others with traditional knowledge and wisdom. This will increase the meaningfulness of school and be consistent with traditional values of working for the good of the whole group and community, rather than of the individual.

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