Teacher Guide to

Rekindling Traditions:

Cross-Cultural Science & Technology Units



Glen Aikenhead
College of Education
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, SK, S7N 0X1



June 2000







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



Cameco Access Program for Engineering and Science (CAPES)

Stirling McDowell Foundation

Northern Lights School Division

Île-à-la-Crosse School Division

Saskatchewan Education (Northern Division)

College of Education (University of Saskatchewan)








The Units





Western Science Versus Aboriginal Knowledge of Nature

A Cross-Cultural Approach to Teaching and Learning

Cultural Border Crossings

Coming to Knowing

Culture Brokering

Different Relationships Between Western and Aboriginal Sciences

Resolving Cultural Conflicts Between Aboriginal and Western Science

Collateral Learning

Translation is Not Enough

Treating Aboriginal Knowledge with Respect

Standards of Education for Aboriginal Students



Wild Rice

Nature’s Hidden Gifts

Survival in Our Land



The Night Sky



Principles of Assessment

Written Tests

Assessment Rubrics









An important feature of our project Rekindling Traditions is the community’s involvement in helping decide what is worth learning in school science. An Aboriginal way of knowing, defined by the community itself, forms the foundation for each unit. Elders and other knowledgeable people in the community teach local content to students and to you, who in turn record this knowledge appropriately. The process teaches students the proper protocol for gaining access to their community’s knowledge and wisdom, and it teaches them to value and respect their Aboriginal heritage.

When you introduce students to the science content in a unit (from the provincial curriculum), you do it with sensitivity to the authentic knowledge shared by the community. Consequently, students learn Western science without feeling the need to discredit the Aboriginal knowledge they have learned. If any conflicts do arise between the two ways of knowing (Western and Aboriginal), the students are encouraged to resolve the conflict. Their Aboriginal self-identities tend to be strengthened. At the same time, students become better prepared for, and sometimes more interested in, next year’s science course. This interest follows from the fact that students find the Western science content more meaningful, rather than approach it as content to be memorized.

To accomplish this more meaningful learning, we investigated a cross-cultural approach to science teaching by developing six Rekindling Traditions units. They illustrate our cross-cultural approach. Each lesson in a unit includes specific directions and background information to help you achieve your own cross-cultural approach.

To be a successful cross-cultural science teacher, you may need to rework some of your ideas that guide your day-to-day teaching. These ideas are the practical principles and values that determine what you do in your classroom. We know that teachers construct these practical ideas from experience and from thinking about their practice (when planning a lesson, or when reflecting on what happened, after the lesson). This is where our Teacher Guide to Rekindling Traditions can help. It contains practical principles and values to think about when you teach any of our units or when you develop one of your own units. We do not tell you what principles and values to adopt, but we do suggest topics you should resolve in your mind as you teach in a cross-cultural way. Thus, consider this Teacher Guide as professional guidance that you’d expect from an in-service experience given by other teachers. The Teacher Guide is supplemented by a sister document, Stories for the Field: Experiences and Advice from the Rekindling Traditions Team, in which we convey our experiences and advice related to the challenges of contacting community people to learn their knowledge, involving them with the school, and gaining support from the community at large.

There is nothing more practical than a principle that works well. Practical principles found in this Teacher Guide come from personal experiences and from research systematically crafted to give the greatest transferability to your classroom.

Each section in the Teacher Guide is designed to be read independently. Thus, with one exception, you can begin reading where ever you wish. The exception is Chapter 7, "An Overview of the Units." Our overview has been written to illustrate some of the ideas in Chapters 5 and 6, "Background" and "Integration of Western and Aboriginal Sciences." The more familiar your are with the ideas in those two chapters, the more you’ll appreciate our overview of the units, the more at ease you’ll feel with our concrete suggestions found in each unit’s lesson plans, and the more fun and flexibility you’ll have implementing any of the units.


The Units

Here are a few facts you might expect to read at the beginning of a teacher guide. Rekindling Traditions units deal with a theme significant to the community. These themes are suggested by the units’ titles. The titles are listed here (alphabetically in English) along with the teacher-authors. (When you read the cover page of each unit, the authentic name is shown first.)

Nature’s Hidden Gifts, Iyiniw Maskikiy, in Cree, Y dialect: Morris Brizinski

Snowshoes, Asâmak in Michif or Cree, Y dialect: David Gold

Survival in Our Land, Kipimâcihowininaw ôta Kitaskînahk in Cree, Y dialect Earl Stobbe

The Night Sky, Tth´ën in Dëne, S dialect Shaun Nagy

Trapping, Ilts´usi Thëlai in Dëne, S dialect Keith Lemaigre

Wild Rice, Mânomin in Algonkin or Cree: Gloria Belcourt

The units are copyrighted in such a way as to invite you to copy, modify, and use them in any manner you wish. The only limitation is that no profit be made from selling a unit. To enhance their flexibility, the units are available on CD (in Microsoft Word, 97 or 95) and on the internet (http://capes.usask.ca/ccstu).

It is anticipated that you’ll print out a unit that interests you and take it to some people in your community who know the topic well. You’ll then ask, "How could we modify this unit so it fits our community?" These local advisory people become a major resource for you in modifying the unit (or developing a new one). Perhaps they may interact with your students in school or on a field trip. See Stories from the Field for more information on how to locate and involve these local advisory people.

Each unit is organized the same way, as shown on the left-hand side in the table below. In each lesson plan (right-hand side), the "Lesson Outline" section details how to teach the lesson. The "Teacher Notes" section includes practical hints as well as background information applicable to that one lesson.

Structure of Each Unit

Structure of Each Lesson Plan

Curriculum Connection







Aboriginal (or Scientific) Value to be Conveyed


Instructional Strategies

Background Information

Lesson Outline


CELs / Subject Integration

Lesson Plans



Teacher Notes

The units are available (as of September 2000) on CD from:

Northern Lights School Division

Teacher Resource Department

Bag Service 6500

La Ronge, SK, S0J 1L0


They may also be down loaded from the internet (as PDF files) at the Rekindling Traditions web site (http://capes.usask.ca/ccstu). This web site has details about the Rekindling Traditions project not found in this Teacher Guide.





It is the policy of Saskatchewan Education that all curricula include First Nations and Métis content to be taught to all students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. How does a teacher put this policy into practice in science classrooms?

The project Rekindling Traditions: Cross-Cultural Science & Technology Units illustrates one modest way of meeting this challenge. The Aboriginal knowledge found in each of our units creates a context for instruction that most Aboriginal students relate to. It is also a context into which Western science instruction logically fits. In other words, Western science content is taught in the context of the local community’s Aboriginal knowledge of nature, a context that creates an Aboriginal framework for the unit. Aboriginal content is central to each unit, it is not merely a token addition.

In our cross-cultural approach (described in a later Chapter), Aboriginal knowledge and languages are treated as an asset in the science classroom. Rather than adopting a deficit model (i.e. an Aboriginal background puts a student at a disadvantage in school science), we recognize the advantages that accrue to Aboriginal students who can see the world from two different perspectives (Aboriginal and Western), and who can choose the one that better fulfills their goals at any given moment. The flexibility to move back and forth between cultures is a definite asset in Canadian society today. Some educators call this flexibility "empowerment," others call it walking along two different paths.

The Saskatchewan Science Curriculum itself is composed of seven Dimensions of Scientific Literacy (DSLs) — a balanced approach to scientific literacy for citizens living in cultures increasingly influenced by Western science and technology. Two of these dimensions embrace canonical science content ("key science concepts" and "processes of science"). Three other dimensions to the science curriculum are: "the nature of science" (the human, philosophical, historical, and social aspects of science), "values that underlie science" (paradigm, communal, and personal values that guide scientific decisions in the community of scientists), and "STSE interrelationships" (interactions between science and technology, between science and other social institutions, and between science/technology and the environment). Much of the content of these last three Dimensions of Scientific Literacy can be taught to students by comparing Western science/technology with Aboriginal science/technology, which we do in our Rekindling Traditions units. In addition, as expected of all Saskatchewan courses, the units explicitly enhance students’ development in the Common Essential Learnings.

In short, our units support teachers in their instruction of the Saskatchewan Science Curriculum in a way that implements Saskatchewan Education’s policy to include Aboriginal knowledge in the science curriculum. At the same time, our units make Western science content accessible to Aboriginal students in ways recommended by respected Aboriginal educators such as Greg Cajete (1999), Eber Hampton (1995), Oscar Kawagley (1995), and Madeleine MacIvor (1995); ways that differ from the conventional approaches of the past.





The goal of conventional science teaching has been to transmit to students the knowledge, skills, and values of the scientific community. This content conveys a Western worldview due to the fact that science is a subculture that evolved within Western culture (Pickering, 1992; Rashed, 1997). This worldview is often quite different from the conventional worldview of Aboriginal peoples. (A comparison between the two is found in Chapter 5, "Background.") Thus, whenever Aboriginal students study Western science they can experience it as a cross-cultural event (Aikenhead, 1997). As a result, school science seems culturally foreign to most students and only a few study it seriously in high school and university. No wonder so few First Nations and Métis people are employed in jobs and careers related to science and engineering.

This under-representation of Aboriginal peoples in science related positions in society creates a social issue for Canada: How can Aboriginal students master and critique a Western scientific way of knowing about nature without losing something valuable from their own cultural way of knowing?

To First Nations science educator Madeleine MacIvor (1995), the answer to this question is clear: "The need for the development of scientific and technical skills among our people is pressing. ... Reasserting authority in areas of economic development and health care requires community expertise in science and technology" (p. 74). "Conventional science must be presented as a way, not the way, of contemplating the universe" (p. 88). In Australia and New Zealand this is called "two-way" learning, while in the U.S. it is often called "bi-cultural" instruction (Cajete, 1986, 1999; Kawagley, 1995). This non-assimilative approach to teaching science is illustrated in Snively’s (1990) case study of Luke, an Aboriginal boy in grade 6 who had studied the Canadian seashore:

Clearly, after instruction, Luke continued to have many ideas and beliefs about seashore relationships consistent with a spiritual [Aboriginal] view of the seashore and many ideas and beliefs consistent with an ecological view of the seashore [gained from science instruction]. ... It is possible to increase a student’s knowledge of science concepts without altering substantially his or her preferred orientation [worldview]. (pp. 53-54)

In other words, First Nations and Métis students can learn Western science without being assimilated into Western culture, that is, without losing their cultural identity as Aboriginals. But to make this happen, the curriculum and instruction must be cross-cultural in nature, as it was for Luke. Central to this cross-cultural approach is the tenet that Aboriginal children are advantaged by their own cultural identity and language, not disadvantaged in some deficit sense. Aboriginal students have the potential of seeing the world from at least two very different points of view, rather than just one, as many of their Euro-Canadian counterparts do.

Based on the idea that learning school science is a cross-cultural experience for many students, Aikenhead and Huntley (1997) conducted research into northern Saskatchewan science teachers’ views on: (1) the connection between the culture of science and the culture of Aboriginal students, (2) the possible assimilation of these students into a Western way of relating to nature, and (3) the degree to which teachers saw themselves as culture brokers — people who help students move back and forth more smoothly between their community’s culture and the culture of school. The teachers who were interviewed in the study were both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and taught Aboriginal students in grades 7 to 12. The research identified barriers to student participation in science and technology. While the science teachers tended to blame various inadequacies (a lack of this and a lack of that), no teacher shared the views of Canadian Aboriginal educators who pointed to the vast differences between Aboriginal culture and the culture of Western science, differences that make science a foreign world to most students (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students alike). Thus, a major barrier is a conceptual one — to think of science instruction as being similar to French instruction (i.e. a cross-cultural experience). One participant, who identified the major barrier as a lack of relevance of the curriculum for students (perhaps expressing the barrier of cultural differences), complained that the extensive practice of note taking in classrooms squelched any connection between school science and the student’s personal world (Aikenhead and Huntley, 1997). On the other hand, all teachers agreed that there was a lack of suitable materials for teaching Aboriginal content in science classes.

The research study also found a great diversity in cultures from community to community across the north. Thus, instructional techniques and teaching materials developed in one community can not necessarily be directly transferred to another community. Unless the teaching materials provide a meaningful context to students (defined by the local community), many students find the science curriculum inaccessible.

If teachers are going to teach science in a meaningful way to students — in the context of the school’s community — teachers need continuous support. Aikenhead and Huntley (1997) recommended that teachers be provided with appropriate units of study and, equally important, a way of engaging their community in modifying the units to suit their local culture. Such units of study would illustrate cross-cultural (bi-cultural) science teaching. The adaptation process would involve community people who have valid knowledge to contribute.





The Northern Lights School Division (Dr. Bruce Decoux, Deputy Director) and the Île-à-la-Crosse School Division (Dr. Bill Duffee, Director), along with the University of Saskatchewan (Dr. Glen Aikenhead), proposed to conduct action research by developing some cross-cultural science units applicable to grades 6 to 11 in northern Saskatchewan. Their proposal was based on the needs of Aboriginal students and the research recommendations, both summarized in Chapter 3. They were guided by the new directions for science education proposed by Aboriginal educators. Six teachers volunteered to participate in this R&D project: Gloria Belcourt, Pinehouse Lake; Morris Brizinski, Beauval; David Gold, Île-à-la-Crosse; Keith Lemaigre, La Loche; Shaun Nagy, La Loche; and Earl Stobbe, Timber Bay. All had a personal interest in developing their bi-cultural science teaching further.

The teachers formed a working network in January 1999, facilitated by Glen Aikenhead and other community resource people. The network was called the "Cross-Cultural Science & Technology Units" (CCSTU) project. Funding came from the Cameco Access Program for Engineering and Science (CAPES) and from the McDowell Foundation. Financial support was also provided by Northern Lights School Division, Île-à-la-Crosse School Division, Saskatchewan Education (Northern Division), and the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan. As a result of this funding, teachers received a modicum of release time for research and writing (up to eight days) and for attending work meetings (seven two-day meetings, one during the summer). As the project evolved, the focus of these meetings changed from identifying themes to finding resources, to editing manuscripts, and then to planning in-service workshops. Instructional support materials were purchased, draft versions of units underwent field trials, and a web site was constructed (http://capes.usask.ca/ccstu). Minutes of each of our work meetings are posted on the web site. We constantly sought the wisdom of one Elder (Henry Sanderson of La Ronge), although different Elders have helped the team at different times. The R&D project produced six cross-cultural science and technology units: Wild Rice, Nature’s Hidden Gifts, Snowshoes, The Night Sky, Trapping, and Survival in Our Land. These are described in Chapter 7, "An Overview of the Units."

During its 18 months of research and development, the action research team was guided by educators such as Greg Cajete (1986, 1999), who had written about their experiences, knowledge, and insights. These experiences, knowledge, and insights are summarized in the next chapter.





Several topics are presented here in order to describe the general ideas that informed Rekindling Traditions, ideas that should help you implement any of the units, or help you develop your own cross-cultural science and technology unit. Chapter 5 has a number of references so you can investigate any of the topics on your own.


Western Science Versus Aboriginal Knowledge of Nature

The word "science" has different meanings for different people. It also has different meanings in different contexts for the same person. Hence, the phrase "Aboriginal science" can make sense to some people, but not to others. In this Teacher Guide, the basic notion of "science" is: a rational empirical way of making sense of nature. This "definition" conforms with international perspectives on science education (Ogawa, 1995) by recognizing that each culture has its own rationality which has proven itself over the years by developing dependable knowledge about nature. Cajete (1986) talked about science in much the same way: "There is no word in any traditional Native American language which can be translated to mean ‘science’ as it is viewed in modern Western society" (p. 129). "From the Native American perspective, science, traditionally speaking, is an abstract, symbolic and metaphoric way of perceiving and understanding the world" (p. 207).

In Western industrialized societies, we often distinguish between science and technology, but in First Nations societies the two are intertwined so closely that technological artifacts are often an expression of the rational abstract knowledge of nature held by an Aboriginal community. Thus, the subtitle of our project contains both words — science and technology.

In 1997, Glen Aikenhead summarized the literature comparing and contrasting Western and Aboriginal sciences. This summary is condensed here. Lillian Dyck (1998) also has written on this topic.

Aboriginal knowledge about the natural world contrasts with Western scientific knowledge in a number of ways. Aboriginal and scientific knowledge differ in their social goals: survival of a people versus the luxury of gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge and for power over nature and other people (Peat, 1994). They differ in intellectual goals: to co-exist with mystery in nature by celebrating mystery versus to eradicate mystery by explaining it away (Ermine, 1995). They differ in their association with human action: intimately and subjectively interrelated versus formally and objectively decontextualized (Pomeroy, 1992). They differ in other ways as well: holistic First Nations perspectives with their gentle, accommodating, intuitive, and spiritual wisdom, versus reductionist Western science with its aggressive, manipulative, mechanistic, and analytical explanations (Knudtson and Suzuki, 1992; Peat, 1994). "The Western world has capitulated to a dogmatic fixation on power and control at the expense of authentic insights into the nature and origin of knowledge as truth" (Ermine, 1995, p. 102). They even differ in their basic concepts of time: circular for Aboriginals, rectilinear for scientists.

Aboriginal and scientific knowledge differ in epistemology. Pomeroy (1992) summarizes the difference succinctly:

Both seek knowledge, the Westerner as revealed by the power of reason applied to natural observations, the Native as revealed by the power of nature through observation of consistent and richly interweaving patterns and by attending to nature’s voices. (p. 263)

Ermine (1995) contrasts the exploration of the inner world of all existence by his people with a scientist exploring only the outer world of physical existence. He concludes:

Those who seek to understand the reality of existence and harmony with the environment by turning inward have a different, incorporeal knowledge paradigm that might be termed Aboriginal epistemology. (p. 103)

Battiste (1986) describes an Aboriginal epistemology further by giving detail to what Pomeroy called "nature’s voices":

A fundamental element in tribal epistemology [lies] in two traditional knowledge sources:
1. from the immediate world of personal and tribal experiences, that is, one’s perceptions, thoughts, and memories which include one’s shared experiences with others; and

2. from the spiritual world evidenced through dreams, visions, and signs which [are] often interpreted with the aid of medicine men or elders. (p. 24)

On the one hand, the culture of science is guided by the fact that the physical universe is knowable through rational empirical means, albeit Western rationality and culture-laden observations (Ogawa, 1995); while on the other hand, Aboriginal science celebrates the fact that the physical universe is mysterious but can be survived if one uses rational empirical means, albeit Aboriginal rationality and culture-laden observations (Pomeroy, 1992). For example, when encountering the spectacular northern lights, Western scientists ask, "How do they work?" while the Waswanipi Cree ask, "Who did this?" and "Why?" (Knudtson and Suzuki, 1992, p. 57). Aboriginal knowledge is not static, but evolves dynamically with new observations, new insights, and new spiritual messages (Hampton, 1995; Kawagley, 1995).

The language, norms, values, beliefs, knowledge, technology, expectations, and conventional actions of First Nations peoples contrast dramatically with those of Western science. Western science has been characterized as (but not entirely) mechanistic, materialistic, reductionist, empirical, rational, decontextualized, mathematically idealized, communal, ideological, masculine, elitist, competitive, exploitive, impersonal, and violent (Kelly, Carlsen, and Cunningham, 1993; Pickering, 1992; Rose, 1994; Snow, 1987; Stanley and Brickhouse, 1994). By comparison, Aboriginal knowledge of nature tends to be thematic, survival-oriented, holistic, empirical, rational, contextualized, specific, communal, ideological, spiritual, inclusive, cooperative, coexistent, personal, and peaceful. Based on these two lists, Western and Aboriginal sciences share some common features (empirical, rational, communal, and ideological). Consequently, it is not surprising that efforts are underway to combine the two knowledge systems into one field called "traditional ecological knowledge" (Corsiglia and Snively, 1995). While a romanticized version of a First Nations peaceful coexistence with the environment should be avoided, Knudtson and Suzuki (1992) document the extent to which environmental responsibility is globally endemic to First Nations cultures, a quality that led Simonelli (1994) to define "sustainable Western science" in terms of First Nations cultures. Simonelli (1994) quoted a Lakota ceremonalist’s view of science and technology: "This is not a scientific or technologic world. The world is first a world of spirituality. We must all come back to that spirituality. Then, after we have understood the role of spirituality in the world, maybe we can see what science and technology have to say" (p. 11). Deloria (1992), also of the Lakota nation, challenged the objective validity claimed by Western science when he spoke about improving the subculture of science by getting science to adopt a First Nations sense of contextualized purpose. He said:

The next generation of American Indians could radically transform scientific knowledge by grounding themselves in traditional knowledge about the world and demonstrating how everything is connected to everything else. Advocacy of this idea would involve showing how personality and a sense of purpose must become part of the knowledge which science confronts and understands. The present posture of most Western scientists is to deny any sense of purpose and direction to the world around us, believing that to do so would be to introduce mysticism and superstition. Yet what could be more superstitious than to believe that the world in which we live and where we have our most intimate personal experiences is not really trustworthy and that another mathematical world exists that represents a true reality? (p. 40, emphasis added)

Both knowledge systems tend to be viewed as superstitious by members of the opposite group.

This brief characterization of Aboriginal and Western sciences hints at the intellectual and emotional challenges faced by many First Nations students who attempt to cross the cultural border from their everyday world into the world of Western science in school classrooms. These challenges are clarified further in the next section.


A Cross-Cultural Approach to Teaching and Learning

Several aspects of cross-cultural teaching and learning are summarized here. This summary reveals the difficult and hazardous cultural negotiations that students must win if they are to succeed in school science.


Cultural Border Crossings

Within First Nations cultures, subgroups exist that are commonly identified by nation, tribe, language, location, religion, gender, occupation, etc. Within Western cultures, subgroups are often defined by race, language, ethnicity, gender, social class, occupation, etc. A person can belong to several subgroups at the same time; for example, a female Cree middle-class research scientist or a Euro-Canadian male working-class technician. Each of these groups has its own subculture. When we move from one group to another, we move between two subcultures, that is, we cross a cultural border. Cultural border crossings are natural social occurrences we often take for granted. In our everyday lives we exhibit changes in behaviour as we move from one social setting to another; for instance, from interacting with our professional colleagues at work to our families at home. As we move from the one subculture to the other, we intuitively and subconsciously alter our language, and we modify certain beliefs, expectations, and conventions. In other words, we effortlessly negotiate the cultural border between professional and family settings.

Two scenarios illustrate the type of difficulties that First Nations students can encounter when they try to negotiate the transitions between two diverse subcultures. (These scenarios are taken from Aikenhead, 1997.) In each scenario a misunderstanding arises because at least one of the players does not recognize that a cultural border has been crossed.

1. Two Aboriginal students in Susan Chandler’s 10th grade science class again did not follow her lab instructions. When she reviewed her instructions for these lab partners, her frustration peaked as she demanded, "Look me in the eye when I’m speaking to you!" Susan had failed to realize the deep respect the two students thought they were showing her by not making eye contact when she explained what they had done wrong.

2. University physics student Coddy Mercredi disobeyed his faculty advisor by avoiding geology courses throughout his university career. Coddy did not want to spoil his aesthetic understanding of nature’s beauty by "polluting" his mind with mechanistic explanations of Mother Earth’s landscapes. He understood science all too well and chose not to cross one of its borders. His advisor thought he was lazy and not worthy of a science scholarship.

These scenarios alert us to the potential obstacles that students face when they travel from their home culture to the culture of a science classroom. Coddy Mercredi, for instance, feared he would be assimilated by geology, and therefore border crossing for him was a problem. For him cultural border crossing into geology was more than hazardous, it was impossible. Hennessy (1993, p. 9) summarized a wealth of research worldwide when she concluded, "Crossing over from one domain of meaning to another is exceedingly hard." (Science classroom research into the varying degrees of difficulty for different students is discussed in the next section, "Coming to Knowing.")

The idea that Aboriginal students cross cultural borders into school science was adopted by Greg Cajete in his 1999 book, Igniting the Sparkle: An Indigenous Science Education Model.

As Native American students grow up they intuitively develop a facility to cross the everyday worlds of peers, family and community into sub-cultures of schools. This natural tendency of students’ negotiating cultural borders can also be applied to the learning of school science. In facilitating this kind of cultural border crossing students and teachers interact in a creative expression of cultural adaptation. In the creative expression students act as explorers and teachers as guides in a metaphoric journey through the cultural landscape of Western science. (p. 97)

We need to treat the process of learning science as a process for enriching students’ cultural identities, a process that engages students in who they are and where they are going in their lives. In other words, we need to engage them in cultural negotiations (Stairs, 1993/94).


Coming to Knowing

Cultural negotiations best occur in an atmosphere where learning is experienced as "coming to knowing," a phrase used by Saskatchewan First Nations educator Willie Ermine (1998). Coming to knowing is reflected in John Dewey’s participatory learning: "If the living, experiencing being is an intimate participant in the activities of the world to which it belongs, then knowledge is a mode of participation" (Dewey, 1916, p. 393). The world in which most Aboriginal students participate is not a world of Western science, but another world increasingly influenced by Western science and technology.

Coming to knowing engages Aboriginal students in their own cultural negotiations among several sciences that could be found within their school science. Four such sciences were identified by Ogawa (1995). First, students reflect on their own understanding of the physical and biological world. Second, students learn some of the Aboriginal common sense held by their community. This creates a direct connection between school content and the student’s local environment. Third, students may encounter ways of knowing of another culture, including other First Nations peoples. Fourth, students are introduced to the language, norms, values, beliefs, knowledge, technology, expectations, and conventional actions of Western science — the culture of Western science. Negotiating among various sciences in school science is known in Japan as "multi-science education" (Ogawa, 1995). Cross-cultural (bi-cultural) teaching facilitates these negotiations. Coming to knowing is about developing cultural identity and self-esteem.

As mentioned above, studying Western science for most (but not necessarily all) Aboriginal students is a cross-cultural event. Students move from their everyday cultures associated with their home and friends to the culture of Western science. These transitions, or border crossings, are smooth for students who Vikki Costa (1995) calls "Potential Scientists" (students who want to be encultured into Western science). Most science teachers belong to this group. Their border crossings into school science were so smooth that borders did not exist. For them, learning science was not a cross-cultural event. However, for "Other Smart Kids" (students who are very bright at school work in general, but have no personal interest in science, even though they get very high marks in school science), the border crossings are manageable cross-cultural events. On the other hand, the border crossings are most often hazardous or impossible for everyone else — the vast majority of students (Aikenhead, 2000; Costa, 1995). The two children in Susan Chandler’s 10th grade class and Coddy Mercredi (in the scenarios above) are examples of hazardous and impossible border crossings, respectively. Success at coming to knowing the science of another culture depends, in part, on how smoothly one crosses cultural borders. Cajete (1999) described the situation this way:

The reality of student-teacher interaction with regard to science learning is wrought with difficulty. Negotiating meaning from one domain of meaning to another can be complicated. Students generally get very little help doing this kind of border crossing. Few teachers are inclined to assist students, and if they are, they have few resources for being trained in this kind of cross-cultural negotiation. (p. 97)

Too often students are left to negotiate border crossings on their own. Most students require assistance from a teacher, similar to a tourist in a foreign land requiring the help of a tour guide. According to Aboriginal educator Arlene Stairs (1995), a science teacher needs to play the role of a culture broker.


Culture Brokering

A culture-brokering science teacher understands that Western science is a sub-culture itself. Scientists generally work within an identifiable set of attributes: language, norms, values, beliefs, knowledge, technology, expectations, and conventional actions. These attributes define a culture. For Western science, these attributes are identified as "Western" because the culture of Western science evolved within Euro-American cultural settings (Pickering, 1992; Rashed, 1997). The culture of Western science today exists within many nations, wherever Western science takes place.

A culture-brokering science teacher makes border crossings explicit for Aboriginal students by acknowledging students’ personal and Aboriginal worldviews that have a purpose in, or connection to, students’ everyday culture (Jegede and Aikenhead, 1999). A culture broker identifies the culture in which students’ personal ideas find meaning, and then introduces another cultural point of view, for instance the culture of Western science, in the context of Aboriginal knowledge. (This strategy is illustrated in Chapter 7 "An Overview of the Units.") At the same time, a culture broker must let students know what culture he or she is talking in at any given moment (e.g. Aboriginal science or Western science), because as teachers talk they can unconsciously switch between cultures, much to the confusion of many students.

To facilitate students’ border crossings, teachers and students both need to be flexible and playful, and to feel at ease in the less familiar culture (Lugones, 1987). This will be accomplished differently in different classrooms. It has a lot to do with the social environment of the science classroom, the social interactions between a teacher and students, and the social interactions among students themselves. A teacher who engages in culture brokering promotes conversations among students in a way that gives students opportunities to engage in the following three types of activities (Aikenhead, 1997). First, students should have opportunities for talking within their own life-world cultural framework without sanctions for being "unscientific." Second, students should have opportunities to be immersed in either, their everyday Aboriginal culture or the culture of Western science, as students engage in some activity (e.g. problem solving or decision making in an authentic or simulated event). Finally, students should be consciously aware of which culture they are participating in at any given moment.

Effective culture brokers build on the validity of students’ personally and culturally constructed ways of knowing. Sometimes bridges can be built in various ways between cultures, other times ideas from one culture can be seen as fitting within the ideas from another culture. Whenever apparent conflict between cultures arises, it is dealt with openly and with respect. (See the section below called "Collateral Learning" for more ideas on this point.)

It may be helpful if a culture broker addresses Western science’s social, political, military, colonial, and economic roles in history. Smooth border crossings cannot occur if a student feels that he or she is associating with "the enemy" (Cobern, 1996). By acknowledging Western science’s historical roles in the colonization of Aboriginal peoples, a teacher can address Aboriginal students’ conflicting feelings toward the culture of Western science, thus making a student feel more at ease with learning (appropriating) that subculture’s content without accepting its values and ideologies. Appropriating Western science to serve one’s own needs is a key aspect of coming to knowing, and therefore, it is a goal for cross-cultural (bi-cultural) teaching (Aikenhead, 1997).

The sections that follow provide specific ideas to help a culture broker be flexible and playful, and to feel at ease when attempting to smooth the cultural border crossings for Aboriginal students.


Different Relationships Between Western and Aboriginal Sciences

June George (1999) has studied cross-cultural science for a long time in her native Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. She discovered that ideas from her country’s indigenous culture can relate to ideas in Western science in four identifiably different ways.

1. "The indigenous practice can be explained in conventional science terms. For example, the indigenous practice of using a mixture of lime juice and salt to remove rust stains from clothes, can be explained in conventional science in terms of acid/oxide reactions" (George, 1999, p. 85). In northern Saskatchewan, for example, the "force" of an animal trap is measured scientifically as "momentum."

2. "A conventional science explanation for the indigenous knowledge seems likely, but is not yet available" (p. 85). For example in northern Saskatchewan, a brew made from the tamarack tree has healing properties (see the unit Nature’s Hidden Gifts). This tree is considered in conventional science circles to have pharmacological properties, but appropriate usage has not been verified by scientists.

3. "A conventional science link can be established with the indigenous knowledge, but the underlying principles are different" (p. 85). For example, in northern Saskatchewan the beaver is considered to be central to the interrelationships among many animals. In Western science, the beaver has recently been recognized as playing the role of "key species" in ecology.

4. "The indigenous knowledge cannot be explained in conventional science terms" (p. 85). For example, the belief that gazing into the northern lights affects the function of one’s brain.

By finding examples that fit categories 1 and 3, a teacher can highlight the apparent similarities between the two knowledge systems. Examples that fit category 2, on the other hand, demonstrate to students that there is much more scientific knowledge to be discovered. However, category 4 content will present a challenge for teachers. These challenges are discussed in the next section "Resolving Cultural Conflicts Between Aboriginal and Western Sciences."

June George cautions teachers against stereotyping Aboriginal peoples:

All aspects of indigenous knowledge may not be held sacrosanct by all members of the community. I have found that young people in the village, who generally have had far greater exposure to school science than their parents, display some ambivalence to the indigenous knowledge. The young people were aware of many of the beliefs and practices, disputed some, and held on to others. It is interesting to note that, at times, the young people’s decision to embrace the indigenous knowledge was based on their personal experiences and/or a respect for the authority of elders. (p. 82)

Some indigenous knowledge is embedded in the technologies and practices of a community used over a long period of time. Other expressions of Aboriginal science can often be found in art, dance, songs, Elders’ stories, and other cultural conventions (Cajete, 1999).


Resolving Cultural Conflicts Between Aboriginal and Western Sciences

Waldrip and Taylor (1999) found that Melanesian high school students in a small South Pacific country were aware of conflicting ideas between school science and the indigenous ideas of their village life. These students coped with discrepancies by employing a process Waldrip and Taylor called the "compartmentalization" of school knowledge. Because of students’ compartmentalization of school science, Waldrip and Taylor "obtained disturbingly little evidence of the influence of the Western school view of science on young people’s traditional world views." Students and Elders alike felt that school knowledge was not useful to village life (except for reading and writing). The researchers’ negative view of compartmentalization was challenged by Lowe (1995). Based on his Solomon Islands research, he concluded, "To compartmentalize the world into domains, each with an interpretive framework [Western science versus magic], is not a perversity but an effective survival technique" (p. 665).

The effectiveness of the technique of compartmentalization is supported by Maria Lugones’ (1987) account of how she, a woman of colour, survived in the world of the American White Anglo male by being a different person in different domains without losing her self-identity in any of the domains. Her effectiveness is mirrored in the Japanese experience of wearing a Western business suit but maintaining a bamboo heart.

Lowe (1995), in his Solomon Island study, argued for a sophisticated view of learning that went beyond the simple dichotomy of "science versus traditional knowledge." He concluded that learning should empower students for life in the 21st century:

Students of science are in fact able to retain much of their traditional worldview while still appreciating the new view that science offers. They see science as opening up new horizons without losing sight of the old ones, and develop strategies to deal with apparently incompatible visions. (pp. 665-666, emphasis added)

Lowe did not elaborate on what these strategies might be. Luckily another science educator, this time from Nigeria, explored a variety of strategies, a topic to which we now turn.


Collateral Learning

Whenever integration of Western and Aboriginal science occurs, conceptual conflicts are bound to arise. These conflicts can be resolved in more ways than compartmentalization. Olugbemiro Jegede (1995) recognized several strategies with which people seemed to resolve conceptual cultural conflicts. He referred to these strategies as "collateral learning." In general, collateral learning involves two conflicting, culturally based ideas held simultaneously in long-term memory. A simple example of collateral learning is illustrated by students learning the cause of a rainbow. In the culture of Western science, students learn that the refraction of light rays by droplets of water causes rainbows; while in some African communities, a rainbow signifies a python crossing a river or the death of an important chief. Thus for African students, learning about rainbows in school science means constructing a potentially conflicting idea in their long-term memory. Not only are the concepts different (refraction of light versus pythons crossing rivers), but the type of knowledge also differs ("causes" versus "signifies").


Jegede, who originally learned Western science in his native Nigeria, recognized variations in the degree to which conflicting ideas interacted with each other in his mind, and the degree to which he resolved those conflicts in his mind. He identified four types of collateral learning: parallel, simultaneous, dependent, and secured. These four types of collateral learning are not separate categories but points along a spectrum depicting degrees of interaction and resolution. (For more information on how collateral learning is identified in science classrooms, please refer to the article by Aikenhead and Jegede; 1999.)

At one end of the spectrum, the conflicting schemata do not interact at all. This is parallel collateral learning, the compartmentalization technique. Students will access one idea or the other depending upon the context. For example, students use a scientific concept of energy only in school, never in their everyday world where commonsense concepts of energy prevail (Solomon, 1983). Many teachers the world over complain that their students leave their science knowledge at the school door.

At the opposite end of the collateral learning spectrum, conflicting schemata consciously interact and the conflict is resolved in some manner. This is secured collateral learning. The person will have developed a satisfactory reason for holding on to both ideas even though the ideas may appear to conflict; or else the person will have encompassed both ideas holistically, with one idea reinforcing the other, resulting in a new conception in long-term memory.

Between these two extremes of parallel and secured collateral learning lies dependent collateral learning. It occurs when an idea from one culture challenges an idea from a different culture, to an extent that permits the student to modify an existing idea without radically restructuring their existing worldview. A characteristic of dependent collateral learning is that students are not usually conscious of the conflicting domains of knowledge. Students are not aware that they move from one domain to another (unlike students who have achieved secured collateral learning).

A fourth type of collateral learning is simultaneous collateral learning. This fits in-between parallel and dependent collateral learning on the spectrum described above. A unique situation can occur in which learning a concept in one culture can facilitate the learning of a similar or related concept in another culture. It does not happen often but when it does, it is usually co-incidental. For instance, suppose a Nigerian student is studying photosynthesis in school and comes across terms such as "chlorophyll," "denaturing," and "chloroplast." Initially he or she may likely have problems comprehending these concepts. But suppose that after encountering the concepts in school, he or she finds something that makes the school science vivid while helping mother in the kitchen. In Nigeria, people often blanch green vegetables before adding them to soup. During this preparation the vegetables are left for some minutes to soak in boiling water, and the vegetables lose some of their green colouration (chlorophyll). When people drain the water, all they see is green colour. In that situation, a student might simultaneously learn more about the school concepts of chlorophyll, denaturing, and chloroplast while learning to prepare soup with green vegetables at home. In these two settings (home and school), learning about a concept is not usually planned, but arises spontaneously and simultaneously. By reflecting on the two settings and their concomitant concepts (e.g. green blanched water and chlorophyll), a student may easily cross the cultural border between home and school science. The two ideas, established in long-term memory by simultaneous collateral learning, may over time: (1) become further compartmentalized, leading to parallel collateral learning, or (2) interact and be resolved in some way, resulting in either dependent or secured collateral learning, depending on the manner in which the conflict is resolved.

If you can understand how different students perceive and resolve cultural conflict differently (described in terms of collateral learning), then perhaps you can be more effective in helping your students perceive and resolve their own cultural conflicts that might arise in your science classroom. It is important for us to be cognizant of our own preferred type of collateral learning, otherwise we tend to assume that everyone else resolves cultural conflicts the same way we do.


Translation is Not Enough

A different type of conflict arises when we translate from one language to another. With the aid of a dictionary or knowledgeable friend, we can translate an English word into, for instance, a Cree word. But we must be mindful that the thing we are actually referring to can change dramatically from one context to the next. For example, in both Western and Aboriginal sciences, people rely on observations. The process "to observe" in English might be translated into "wapahtam" in Cree (Y dialect). But wapahtam signifies two things not conveyed by the English verb "to observe." First, wapahtam suggests only one of five senses (sight) is being used. English is full of words (super-ordinates) that abstract general categories from more specific ones (observing generalizes seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling). The Cree language abstracts ideas quite differently, often through the use of other complex verb forms. Therefore, strictly speaking there is no accurate translation of "to observe." Secondly, there is an unstated assumption with "wapahtam" that the person doing the observing and the thing being observed are related in some way. There is no objective distancing as there is in the Western scientific "to observe." Therefore, a fundamental relationship changes between "to observe" and "wapahtam," a change not readily apparent on the surface. Each verb is embedded in cultural meanings that differ dramatically.

Another example of what gets lost in translation is illustrated when we identity an animal as a "wolf." In the culture of Western science one asks, "What is a wolf?" — Canis lupis. The convention in the culture of Western science is to categorize animals according to a Linnean worldview. As our unit Trapping points out, this worldview is useless in the context of survival based on trapping. For trappers, the relevant knowledge is not Linnean classification, but instead, animal behaviour. (Animal behavior has no significance to a Linnean worldview.) Knowledge of a wolf’s behavior is embedded in many stories and legends about mahihkan (Cree, Y dialect) or about nojië (Dëne, S dialect). Did you notice in the last two sentences that as we shifted from Western science to Aboriginal science, so did our language? Our language should give a clear hint about which culture we are speaking in at any given moment.

In some Aboriginal cultures, the important question to ask is, "Who is mahihkan?" This is clearly a different question from the one posed by Western science (How is a wolf classified?). Only superficially does "Canis lupis" translate into "mahihkan." For an Aboriginal student familiar with mahihkan, the myriad of images and concepts associated with the word "mahihkan" is very different from the images and concepts science teachers want students to associate with "Canis lupis." Crossing the culture border between Western science and Aboriginal communities involves more than simple translation. A culture brokering teacher must be sensitive to the culturally embedded meanings of words in both cultures (e.g. Canis lupis and mahihkan).


Treating Aboriginal Knowledge with Respect

Understandably it is quite easy, at first, to misunderstand culturally embedded meanings when we do not fully share the other person’s culture. Culturally sensitive instruction consciously acknowledges the potential for misunderstandings. Wise science teachers are vigilant, flexible, and open-minded. Showing respect for Aboriginal knowledge was discussed at several meetings held by the Rekindling Traditions R&D team. We formulated nine principles to guide our work when we incorporated Aboriginal knowledge into our units. Elder Henry Sanderson found them to be satisfactory. They are repeated here.

1. Let us learn from the story of the people in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) who attempted to translate Project Wild into a First Nations context. The people quickly realized that the worldview of Western science was hidden within Project Wild. (This concealed worldview is like a Trojan Horse — when an ancient Greek army fought the city state of Troy by hiding Greek soldiers in a huge wooden horse, and then leaving the horse outside the gates of Troy where the curious Troy people brought it into their fortification and were subsequently overtaken by the hidden soldiers.) The worldview of Western science implicit in Project Wild was at odds with a worldview of First Nations science. The FSIN people felt that the worldview of Western science was going to distort the meaning of nature for First Nations children. As a consequence, a new parallel project was developed, Practising the Law of Circular Interaction. Aboriginal knowledge must be taught within an Aboriginal context or framework. The act of "translating" Western science into an Aboriginal context (or visa versa) can unintentionally force a Western worldview onto Aboriginal students. Thus, in spite of our best intentions, we can inadvertently engage in assimilation, rather than empowering students to walk in two worlds. Each of our units should establish an Aboriginal framework of a community, to which Western scientific knowledge can relate without distorting that Aboriginal worldview. Beware of Western Trojan Horses.

2. Always acknowledge diversity within a First Nation or Métis group and among Nations or groups. This can be done, for instance, by associating a group’s name with the knowledge that is described, or by recognizing that others may have a different understanding. Avoid representing Aboriginal peoples as all the same (homogeneous).

3. Let the reader know about the origin of any particular knowledge, and about the permission we have to describe that knowledge. All Aboriginal knowledge found in our units should have gone through a partnership process of involving Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal knowledge found in a unit should contribute to the empowerment of Aboriginal peoples. One way to do this is to make the reader aware of how the representation of the Aboriginal knowledge (found in the text) was obtained and rechecked later by those whom the knowledge represents. This will remind the reader that stories and information that come from Aboriginal peoples belong to that community unless explicit permission is granted to repeat the story or information in one of our units. Avoid appropriating Aboriginal knowledge to suit the purposes of the author. The purposes of the Aboriginal community must be served.

4. Clarify what "traditional" means whenever the word is used. Recognize that culture changes. It is not static. What is traditional knowledge today in a community may not necessarily have been traditional knowledge in the days before contact with Europeans. People in a community must decide what is traditional for them, not an outsider. It may help if we use phrases such as "ways of living three hundred years ago" or "pre-contact technology" instead of "traditional ways of living" or "traditional technology" (respectively). Avoid prescribing what is authentic to a group of people. The people themselves must decide what is authentic.

5. Remember that gaining Aboriginal knowledge is a journey towards wisdom. This process of learning is described by the phrase "coming to knowing." Avoid thinking of Aboriginal knowledge as something to be accumulated and possessed (like money in the bank — a Western European view of knowledge), but instead, as a process of coming to knowing.

6. Ensure that Aboriginal knowledge is acknowledged as being inter-connected with many areas or fields of thought, to remind the reader that Aboriginal knowledge fits into a "wholistic" point of view. Avoid being bound to a narrow context in which the knowledge is described.

7. Think of the content of each unit as being taught to your community’s grandchildren. Chances are very high that, as future parents, our students will pass on to their children (the grandchildren of the community) important ideas they learn from our units. Our vision should be multi-generational. Avoid the short-term perspective on what we write.

8. Incorporate Aboriginal language into the unit’s text (with the appropriate English word in brackets) and continue to use the authentic word or phrase. Avoid tokenism which uses Aboriginal terms just for "window dressing."

9. Pay attention to the verb tense when we write about Aboriginal knowledge. The present tense indicates that the practices and knowledge are useful to some people today in contemporary society. On the other hand, the past tense gives the impression (connotation) that the practices and knowledge have been superseded by "modern" scientific or Western views. Avoid dismissing powerful ideas as being applicable only in the past.

These principles, for instance, guided us through a potential conflict related to spirituality. It is challenging, yet crucial, not to distort local knowledge by making it conform to a Western worldview endemic to school culture. Inadvertent assimilation will take place in a science classroom if the local knowledge is taken out of its cultural context. Disrespect can occur, for instance, if the teacher ignores the unifying spirituality that pervades Aboriginal science (Ermine, 1995). Spirituality, whether pre-contact Traditional, Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Fundamentalist Christian, has force for most Aboriginal students even though it is purposefully absent from science classrooms where an adherence to a Cartesian duality is the cultural convention. It is not the case that the community’s spirituality is integrated into Western science in our units, but it is the case that the community’s spirituality is given voice in the context of Aboriginal knowledge in order to ensure the authenticity of that knowledge. Although content from both cultures is studied for the purpose of understanding it, students are not expected to believe (to personally adopt) that content. The culture-brokering teacher engaged in cross-cultural (bi-cultural) instruction simply identifies spirituality in Aboriginal knowledge and identifies its absence in Western science concepts.


Standards of Education for Aboriginal Students

Eber Hampton’s 12 standards of education for Aboriginal students guided the development of our units. The standards represent a First Nations perspective on education. The degree to which the 12 standards are evident in our actions as science teachers, is the degree to which Aboriginal content is authentic in our cross-cultural science teaching. The following summarizes these standards, using Eber Hampton’s (1995, pp. 19-41) own words as much as possible.

1. Spirituality — At the centre of spirituality is respect for the spiritual relationships that exist between all things.

2. Service to the community — The individual does not form an identity in opposition to the group but recognizes the group as relatives (included in his or her own identity). The second standard is service. Education is to serve the people. Its purpose is not individual advancement or status.

3. Respect for diversity — The respect for diversity embodied in the third standard requires self-knowledge and self-respect without which respect for others is impossible.

4. Culture — Indian cultures have ways of thought, learning, teaching, and communicating that are different than but of equal validity to those of White cultures. These thought-ways stand at the beginning of Indian time and are the foundations of our children’s lives. Their full flower is in what it means to be one of the people.

5. Contemporary tradition — Indian education maintains continuity with tradition. Our traditions define and preserve us. It is important to understand that this continuity with tradition is neither a rejection of the artifacts of other cultures nor an attempt to ‘turn back the clock.’ It is the continuity of a living culture that is important to Indian education, not the preservation of a frozen museum specimen.

6. Personal respect — The individual Indian’s sense of personal power and autonomy is a strength that lies behind the apparent weakness of disunity. Indian education demands relationships of personal respect.

7. Sense of history — Indian education has a sense of history and does not avoid the hard facts of the conquest of America.

8. Relentlessness in championing students — Indian education is relentless in its battle for Indian children. We take pride in our warriors and our teachers are warriors for the life of our children.

9. Vitality — Indian education recognizes and nourishes the powerful pattern of life that lies hidden within personal and tribal suffering and oppression. Suffering begets strength. We have not vanished.

10. Conflict between cultures — Indian education recognizes the conflict, tensions, and struggles between itself and White education.

11. Sense of place — Indian education recognizes the importance of an Indian sense of place, land, and territory.

12. Transformation — The graduates of our schools must not only be able to survive in a White dominated society, they must contribute to the change of that society. Indian education recognizes the need for transformation in the relation between Indian and White as well as in the individual and society.

This last standard expresses the overall goal of the Rekindling Traditions project. The standards will be evident in some of the details in our units.





The integration of Western and Aboriginal sciences in our cross-cultural science and technology units does not follow any particular mode of integration described in the literature (Beane, 1997; Brownlie, 1991). At different times a unit will use multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and multi-cultural approaches to instruction.

A Rekindling Traditions unit brings Western science into the student’s world rather than insisting that students construct a worldview of a Western scientist. In other words, we try to avoid teaching science in a way that makes students feel they are being assimilated into Western science. At the same time, however, students are expected to see the world through the eyes of a Western scientist just as we would expect students to understand another person’s point of view. Understanding does not necessary mean believing, however.

Although each unit integrates Western and Aboriginal sciences differently, the units share common patterns of integration. For instance, each unit deals with a theme significant to the community. These themes are suggested by the units’ titles:

1. Wild Rice (Mânomin in Algonkin or Cree)

2. Nature’s Hidden Gifts (Iyiniw Maskikiy in Cree, Y dialect)

3. Survival in Our Land (Kipimâcihowininaw ôta Kitaskînahk in Cree, Y dialect)

4. Trapping, Ilts´usi Thëlai in Dëne, S dialect)

5. Snowshoes (Asâmak in Michif or Cree, Y dialect)

6. The Night Sky (Tth´ën in Dëne, S dialect)

To be successful, materials must speak to the unique culture of the individual community.

Another common pattern of integration is the Aboriginal framework established at the beginning of each unit. The framework reflects local knowledge. In a later lesson in a 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 each student feels a direct connection to Mother Earth. A physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual connection helps ensure respect for the community’s Aboriginal knowledge and begins to nurture students’ coming to knowing. 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. The actual time to establish an Aboriginal framework can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as several days.

Another aspect of integration common to all the units deals with values, in keeping with Aboriginal ways of teaching. Both scientific and Aboriginal values are made explicit in our units. Each lesson plan specifies either a scientific value (e.g. power and domination over nature) or an Aboriginal value (e.g. harmony with nature) to be conveyed by the lesson. In some cases where both cultures are compared within one lesson, both types of values are identified. Values are particularly salient in Aboriginal cultures (Cajete, 1999). The introduction to a Rekindling Traditions unit clarifies key values that Elders expect students to learn. This practice of making values explicit is then extended to the clarification of values that underlie Western science when scientific content is studied in a unit. This is a requirement of the Saskatchewan science curriculum, defined by one of its seven dimensions of scientific literacy — "values that underlie science." Key scientific values become the topic of discussion where they are expressed and critiqued. As the value structure of Western science becomes more apparent (e.g. the mathematical idealization of the physical world), students are freer to appropriate Western knowledge and technique without embracing Western ways of valuing nature. This appropriation has been called "autonomous acculturation" (Aikenhead, 1997). It provides an alternative method to assimilating Aboriginal students into Western science.

Having established an Aboriginal framework and having identified key values as contexts for integration, the next mode of integration in a unit is a border crossing event into Western science, consciously switching:

1. values (e.g. from harmony with nature, to power and domination over nature)

2. language (e.g. from mahihkan to Canis lupis),

3. conceptualizations (e.g. from "Who are these animals?" to "How are they classified?"),

4. assumptions about nature (e.g. from the observer being personally related to what is observed, to the observer being objectively removed), and

5. ways of knowing (e.g. from holism to reductionism).

More examples may be derived from the section in Chapter 5 entitled "Western Science Versus Aboriginal Knowledge of Nature." As described earlier, an effective culture broker clearly identifies the border to be crossed, guides students across that border, and helps students negotiate cultural conflicts that might arise. Each unit has a different place where border crossing first occurs.

Another feature of integration often emerges when a teacher compares Aboriginal and Western science. Sometimes Western science can powerfully clarify one small aspect of Aboriginal science (a variation on June George’s category 1). For instance in the units Snowshoes, Trapping, and Wild Rice, the technologies associated with these topics are originally studied from historical and cultural perspectives of the local community. Then the class takes a closer, in-depth, Western scientific look either at the pressure exerted by snowshoes on snow and by traps on animals, or at the habitat of wild rice. By understanding the scientific stories about force, pressure, energy, and habitat, students learn to predict more accurately the effects of variations in the technology associated with snowshoeing, trapping, or producing wild rice. While the Western science concepts may not improve students’ know-how for snowshoeing, trapping, or growing wild rice, the concepts clarify one small aspect of the overall topic. Western science does not replace Aboriginal science, it enriches a small aspect of it (an example of secured collateral learning).

As various topics in Western science are studied within our units, additional, relevant, Aboriginal content is introduced from time to time. This is easy to do because the unit already has a framework for that content. Aboriginal content is not just tacked on for the sake of creating interest. It frames the unit in a way that nurtures the enculturation of Aboriginal students into their community’s culture (Casebolt, 1972). This differs dramatically from the enculturation of students into Western science, the goal of past Saskatchewan science curricula. Although it is not the goal of Saskatchewan’s current science curriculum, it continues to be the goal for the so-called reform movement in, for example, the US and in the UK (AAAS, 1989; NRC, 1996; Millar and Osborne, 1998).

The conversations among people engaged in Aboriginal knowledge are very different from the conversations of Western scientists. Both are integrated into a Rekindling Traditions unit. As students bring their community’s Aboriginal knowledge and values into the classroom, new relationships between a teacher and a student replace the conventional hierarchy of teachers simply transmitting what they know to students. Teachers learn from students who themselves have just learned valid Aboriginal knowledge from people in the community, teachers demonstrate how an educated adult learns new knowledge (i.e. life-long learning), and teachers share their own knowledge with students. In short, culture-brokering teachers are facilitators, cultural travel guides, and learners.





Let us repeat a few facts about the units before going on to describe the units individually. The organization of each unit follows the same pattern, shown at the left in the Table 1. In each lesson plan (right-hand side), the "Lesson Outline" section details how to teach the lesson. The "Teacher Notes" include practical hints as well as background information applicable to that one lesson.

Table 1. The Structure of Units and their Lesson Plans
Structure of Each Unit

Structure of Each Lesson Plan

Curriculum Connection







Aboriginal (or Scientific) Value to be Conveyed


Instructional Strategies

Background Information

Lesson Outline


CELs / Subject Integration

Lesson Plans



Teacher Notes

The units are copyrighted in such a way as to invite you to copy, modify, and use them in any way you wish. The only limitation is that no profit be made from selling a unit. To enhance their flexibility, the units are available on CD (in Microsoft Word) from Northern Lights School Division (see Chapter 1 for the address), and on the internet (PDF files) at the Rekindling Traditions web site (http://capes.usask.ca/ccstu).

It is anticipated that you’ll print out a unit that interests your and take it to some people in your community who know the topic well. You’ll then ask, "How could we modify this unit so it fits our community?" These local advisory people become a major resource for you in modifying the unit (or developing a new one). Perhaps they may interact with students in the school or on a field trip. See Stories from the Field for more information on how to locate and involve these local advisory people.

Ideas about the integration of Western and Aboriginal sciences (Chapter 6), as well as some ideas discussed in Chapter 5 ("Background"), are illustrated in the following discussion of the six units. Specific teaching information for each unit is found in the units themselves.


Wild Rice (Gloria Belcourt, Pinehouse Lake)

To begin the unit Wild Rice, a local wild rice harvester comes into the class to connect students with the local culture. The harvester conveys the value "the community’s knowledge can be very useful and important." In the next lesson, the teacher follows this up with a systematic overview of the unit that reinforces ideas introduced by the harvester. Then the class studies some local stories that advise us on where to plant wild rice. The class goes to a nearby potential site and plants some seeds. A personal connection to Mother Earth is achieved. The value conveyed here is "respect for traditional knowledge." Border crossing into Western science is initiated in a lesson that follows, called "The Habitat: Western Science Stories about Zizania palustris." Biology content is introduced in accordance with the curriculum expectations for the grade being taught. The scientific values underlying these lessons are, for example, "a naming system should be universal (it should work anywhere on the planet)," "math can make observing more precise," "more observations increase our confidence in a result," and "efficiency improves production." The Western science content (e.g. concepts of habitat, niche, competition, pH, percent germination) enhances and enriches the local knowledge by broadening students’ perspectives, while at the same time, not requiring students to replace their community’s knowledge with scientific knowledge. The differing underlying values of the two knowledge systems reflect different assumptions about nature held by two different cultures.

The unit Wild Rice continues with a field trip to a nearby wild rice stand. Students apply the concepts from both Aboriginal and Western sciences introduced earlier in the unit. The wild rice stand provides an excellent opportunity to teach the value "respect for Mother Earth." In this context, students appropriate knowledge from Western science, consciously guided by a key value of their community, respect for Mother Earth. At the same time, students deepen their understanding of, and attachment to, the local knowledge of nature. Students’ personal cultural identities are clearly given expression and validation.

While visiting the stand, plant and water samples are collected for analysis in subsequent lessons. For example, ecology posters will be designed by students and constructed out of dried plant samples. This strengthens the bridge in students’ minds between the local wild rice industry and Western science. Students will use their own pH analyses of the water samples to learn about the wild rice industry in greater depth. At the same time, pH is extended into the real world of household materials.

Structure and design components of the provincial science curriculum are highlighted in the next lesson, "The Technology of Harvesting." Pride in Saskatchewan is one result of learning about the innovative R&D that produced air-boats for harvesting. The values "cost effectiveness" and "sustainable development" guide the design process; values that often conflict with each other in the real world. The economics and politics of marketing wild rice are part of this technology lesson, making explicit the provincial curriculum’s common essential learnings (CELs) "technological literacy."

Next is a field trip to the wild rice processing plant in La Ronge. Because some schools are too far away from La Ronge to make the trip, we produced a multimedia tour of the processing plant. This is Appendix B in the unit. Students choose between reading or listening to the commentary while they view the photographs that show Western technology and science in action.

In the lesson that follows, students learn the nutritional value of wild rice. The lesson is made concrete by students preparing wild rice dishes and eating their investigations. The unit concludes with review activities, one in the form of a familiar TV game show.

At any moment during any lesson within a Rekindling Traditions unit, students should be able to state which culture they are speaking in (Western science or Aboriginal or local common sense). For instance, students are expected to say "Zizania palustris" or "mânomin" or "wild rice," depending on which one is appropriate to the context of a discussion. By convention, scientists say "Zizania palustris" when they speak Western science, and so should the students when they speak Western science. Bi-cultural teaching in a multi-science classroom makes this explicit. For instance, some teachers use two different black boards; one for Aboriginal science, the other for Western science. One board is used to record ideas expressed in the conversations that capture the community’s Aboriginal knowledge, while the other board is used to express the culture of Western science. By switching from one board to the other (cultural border crossing), students are conscious of switching language and conceptualizations. It is up to the teacher to assess the quality of students’ learning associated with each board, but both boards have a place in the assessment. Cross-cultural teaching helps students gain access to Western science without losing sight of their cultural identity.


Nature’s Hidden Gifts (Morris Brizinski, Beauval)

Nature’s Hidden Gifts is organized into three segments: Introduction, Understanding the Power of Plants, and Knowing Plant Basics. As with all Rekindling Traditions units, the introductory lessons to Nature’s Hidden Gifts establish an Aboriginal framework. These lessons centre around the Circle of Life (Appendix A) and a respect for Mother Earth. An overview of nature’s healing gifts is first conducted. Then border crossing into Western science takes place during the next lesson, an introduction to the scientific concepts "habitat" and "community." The values to be learned in this lesson shift to those that underlie science, for example, "respect for the environment" and "organize information by classifying it."

The next segment of the unit (Understanding the Power of Plants) enriches the Aboriginal perspective introduced earlier by relating stories offered by local experts. While the stories are told in everyday English, students are reminded of the other cultures found in their classroom (a multi-science classroom). For example, a story about the healing power of the tamarack tree introduces the Cree "wâkinâgan" ("nidhe" in Dëne) and introduces the Western science term "Larnix laricina." These stories about local plants provide a model and inspiration for students to collect similar stories from a family member in the community. Before students begin such an activity, however, they are taught the protocol for approaching an Elder in that community, and are primed on how to be a good interviewer. As students collect a story, they make a new emotional connections to their community, and hence their personal identities are strengthened. Their skills at communicating are also enhanced explicitly. Meanwhile, the teacher learns this local knowledge and can discuss it informally when he or she meets people in the community.

In the last lesson of the segment Understanding the Power of Plants, the local perspective on plants is expanded into a more global view by using the internet to tap into similar information on plants world wide.

The authentic role of spirituality in Aboriginal knowledge of nature becomes evident to students as they learn more about the healing power of plants. When we cross the cultural border from Western thinking into Aboriginal science, we come to understand an alternative way of seeing the world. Students become aware of the role of spirituality in First Nations way of knowing, they are not indoctrinated into it. Respect for diversity is paramount. On the other hand, for students whose home culture teaches the spiritual nature of plants, these lessons strengthen the students’ cultural self-identity and enhance students’ coming to knowing the power of plants.

In the unit’s last segment, Knowing Plant Basics, a transition back into the culture of Western science is accomplished by comparing how each culture classifies plants. Several lessons teach the Western scientific way, as each student becomes a "plant expert" playing a role of a Western scientist. Biology content expected by the science curriculum fits here.

As a major outcome of Nature’s Hidden Gifts, the class produces a booklet on plants found in the local community. Library research, stories, and photographs (taken by students themselves) are all involved. Samples of booklet entries are provided in Appendix B to the unit. The student booklet makes an excellent gift for the people in the community. It records part of the community’s knowledge of the healing power of plants, in the words of the community.

One successful teaching strategy has been to use student photography. Recyclable cameras with flash capabilities work well. Photography gives students a new and creative way to communicate with you, especially when English is a second language. Greg Cajete (1999) uses the same creative process with talented art students. Photography allows students to capture an idea and then motivates students to write about the idea captured on film. At the very least, students feel as if they are contributing to the community’s knowledge bank by documenting some of the community’s knowledge. Some teachers also create a photography assignment by getting students to take a picture of X, where X is a concept such as habitat or Western science, and by requiring a written explanation for how the picture does in fact show X. It is another way of constructing the concept X in greater depth, but in the context of a student’s own culture and in the student’s own words. Sometimes it helps when a student takes a self or group portrait to document who did the work. Pictures make excellent poster material or portfolio content. They also brighten up a bulletin board.


Survival in Our Land (Earl Stobbe, Timber Bay)

Similar to other units, Survival in Our Land is designed to enrich students' understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal science and technology, and to encourage students to continue their studies in school science. Building emergency shelters in the "wilderness" strengthens students' Aboriginal cultural identities. The experience motivates students to succeed in all school subjects. Students discover that they can achieve at Western science without setting aside their Aboriginal values. The unit is only one of many school activities that serve to teach students a tradition of living and working together as a team (how to do things cooperatively and in a self-sufficient manner). Other activities include Small School Games, a Regina field trip, and fund-raising events. These activities involve parents in life-long learning at the same time as their children are learning the same habits of working with others as a team.

By getting out of the classroom, you can shed the role of expert, and instead, model the role of a learner — listening and observing to find out local norms, values, and skills, for instance. You have the opportunity to listen and learn from parents and students.

For generations, Aboriginal peoples have been using ingenuity and problem-solving skills to survive in the land with only the resources they find at hand. This knowledge has its own concepts and principles. Aboriginal youth still learn by instruction and demonstration from older people, followed by practice until the standards of the community are met.

Emergency shelters are of interest to everyone. People living in the land build them all the time. The activity of building one invites discussion on local history and invites stories of survival. When an Elder joins you, the unit is even richer.

You will probably find that many of the students already have some very good skills. The shelter they build will allow you to value their local knowledge and skills (Aboriginal science and technology). You can then show them that they already know from their own culture what books are trying to teach about Western science. Reflective discussions help clarify these experiences and help students learn about the similarities and differences between Aboriginal and Western scientific knowledge. The emphasis here is on what June George called category 1 ideas ("indigenous practice can be explained in conventional science terms").

The unit begins with a simulation in the woods near the school. Students have "survived a plane crash" and must build an emergency shelter without any tools. Some people from the community are excellent resources for this simulation. Once built, the shelters serve as objects of instruction (e.g. structure and design concepts, and skills at co-operation) and serve as focal points for community people to relate experiences of survival. The follow-up lesson is a debriefing session in which the events of the first lesson are connected to the curriculum; that is, the earlier events serve as teachable moments. The follow-up lesson also creates the need for careful planning for a one- or two-night survival camp further away from the school (e.g. 15 km, not too far).

For this more extensive survival camp, students will use some tools but a minimum of material. The students plan all the details, even making out a grocery list. They will have to live with the consequences of their co-operative decisions. During this next survival camp, lessons are taught on a need-to-know basis. For instance, the task of building a table (as forest fire fighters invariably do) creates the need to learn axe skills, for both boys and girls. The task also provides teachable moments related to the science curriculum (e.g. tension force, pressure, etc.). The custom of drinking tea requires the use of tea sticks for holding a can of boiling water above the camp fire. From this event, students can learn a variety of Western science stories (content) from levers to thermodynamics.

A principal feature of the survival camp is the visitation by families to the camp to see what their children have done, and to share their own expertise or stories with all the children. The presence of an Elder and/or someone who speaks the indigenous language improves a camp immeasurably.

A follow-up lesson engages students in giving short oral presentations to explain their shelter and to describe what they learned. If an Elder attended a segment of the survival camp, this could be an appropriate time for him or her to talk to the students about what they should learn from their experiences.

The unit ends by applying to new situations concepts that emerged during the unit; for example, structure and design ideas can be used to analyse the architecture of local buildings and other well known structures world wide.


Trapping (Keith Lemaigre, La Loche)

The topic of trapping is introduced to students as a significant part of their community’s heritage. An Elder or trapper comes to class to describe how people trapped before contact with Europeans. A keen and accurate knowledge of nature, plus an ingenuity in designing and making traps, were needed for survival. Students’ cultural identity tends to be strengthened by their pride in the accomplishments of their people years gone by.

Next, several class periods are devoted to students learning about different types of traps, and associating different traps with different animals and their behavior. The value "reverence for animals" is constantly expressed through the attention paid to humane trapping. Structure and design concepts are related directly to the development of humane traps — state-of-the-art technology that renders animals unconscious in less than three minutes. These innovations create the need to know Western science concepts that explain more about how traps function, and therefore, how people might improve upon their design.

Border crossing into Western science is initiated through a demonstration of what a trap does to: a piece of styrofoam, a wiener, a spare rib or chicken bone, and a chuck of soft wood. The indentations made by the jaws of a trap focus students’ attention on two Western science concepts — energy and pressure. A teacher consciously moves into the language of Western science by translating everyday trapper’s words into Western science words (e.g. an animal’s head becomes "object 1," an iron trap jaw becomes "objective 2," and damage inflicted becomes "energy transferred"). Because students naturally focus on the energy of motion of object 2 (the trap jaw), "kinetic energy" is studied first, followed by an investigation into pressure. We do not give much attention to the scientific concept of force because it is very abstract and is rarely experienced by people. In the everyday world, we usually experience the phenomenon scientists call "pressure."

Students practise using the scientific idea of pressure during a rigorous scientific investigation into the pressure exerted by different sizes and different types of traps. Students construct their own pressure measuring devise out of plastic pop bottles, duct tape, and balloons attached to the opening of a bottle. (The larger the balloon inflates, the greater the pressure exerted by the trap on the bottle.) The scientific concept of pressure is applied to other common everyday events. (This activity reinforces some of the activities found in the unit Snowshoes.) The accurate use of mathematics becomes essential to students’ conclusions about the various traps they test. The motivation to do math accurately comes rather naturally under these circumstances.

This plastic bottle/balloon activity leads to the Western science question, "Where does the kinetic energy come from for the trap to snap shut and inflict such pressure on the bottle?" In a story-telling method of instruction, a teacher brings to life a series of related concepts from the culture of

Western science: "forms of energy," "transformation of energy," and the assumption (myth?) called "the conservation of energy." As all Rekindling Traditions units invariably do, the scientific stories are immediately used by students to make meaning out of another activity. Coming to knowing includes retelling scientific stories appropriately, as students engage in hands-on activities. The activities give students the chance to negotiate meaning by talking and arguing with their class mates and teacher. Unlike in conventional science classrooms, scientific stories do not replace the Aboriginal content learned earlier in the unit. Instead, scientific stories enrich students’ local heritage. Students’ negotiate what they will appropriate from the stories from Western science. Students’ commonsense understanding of trapping is reinforced by accurate scientific explanations. At the same time, students are afforded insights into the culture of science, insights that enhance their ability to walk with more ease in either culture. For instance (as mentioned earlier in this Teacher Guide), Western science was preoccupied with animal classification, not animal behavior. Animal classification was not useful to people who trapped for the purpose of survival.

The social, economic, and political aspects of trapping are studied by examining the future outlook for the industry. The unit emphasizes trapping for recreation, rather than trapping to make a living.

Students are now ready to learn from the personal experience of being on a trp line. This local field trip serves as a wrap up to the unit. Students learn that an integration of Western and Aboriginal sciences makes people better problem solvers because they can look at a problem from at least two points of view, rather than just one. Even during a short visit to a trap line, students gain a richer understanding of animal behavior and the interrelationship of all beings.

The unit concludes with numerous suggestions for extending the study into Language Arts and into other fields of Aboriginal science and technology, such as skinning and curing hides.


Snowshoes (David Gold, Île-à-la-Crosse)

A personal connection to nature begins the unit by an afternoon of snowshoeing. The Aboriginal key value "happiness" is given prominence in this lesson. A culturally responsive debriefing to the first lesson establishes for students their community’s snowshoe heritage. Students hear how their community is rich in knowledge about snowshoes, as is the internet and print materials. To gain access to local knowledge about snowshoes, students learn the protocol for approaching people who possess the knowledge, and they learn how to conduct interviews well. Interview questions are composed by the class and then used by groups of students. The local knowledge gained by students is shared and synthesized in class.

Having gained a fairly firm foundation in the topic of snowshoes (e.g. structures, materials, and fabrication), students consciously cross the cultural border into Western science by learning the other culture’s explanation for why snowshoes stay on top of the snow. When teachers are aware of the commonsense preconceptions that students invariably bring to class (e.g. a confusion between difference and proportion when comparing two quantities), teachers can design their lesson to make the border crossing smoother for students. The scientific concept of pressure is contrasted with the commonsense ideas of a "push on the snow." Hands-on activities, problem solving, and calculations, are completed using an assortment of snowshoes and an array of everyday situations.

Students’ personal interests are piqued by researching a topic of interest to them. Meanwhile, students play the role of Western scientist when they design a classic experiment into the ability of various types of snowshoes to handle different snow conditions. Technological problems measuring the responding variable challenge a student’s creativity and ingenuity. The idea of reliable data comes alive. The Western scientific question, "How do you know?" is on more than one student’s tongue. The data collection gets student back into nature, but this time as a Western scientist determining which type of snowshoe is best for which type of snow condition. Controlled and manipulated variables now having concrete significance for students. They can feel at ease playing the role of scientist because they are not required to dismiss their Aboriginal knowledge in the process. Just the opposite is true. Their grasp of local knowledge and language is assessed as part of a student’s total mark for the unit (see examples in Chapter 8, "Culturally Sensitive Student Assessment.")


The Night Sky (Shaun Nagy, La Loche)

A challenging aspect to a unit about astronomy is the apparent chasm between traditional Aboriginal stories of the night sky and today’s high-tech Western knowledge of space. How can the two knowledge systems be integrated meaningfully? A bridge between the two can be established by studying the calendar system of each culture, and by learning what kind of knowledge — what type of stories — does each calendar system embody.

Euro-Canadian history of calendars (summarized in Appendix B of The Night Sky) goes back to the ancient Egyptians and earlier, when the moon signified the passage of time, 13 moons per year. As Egyptian government and administration developed, so did their need for more accurate date keeping. Around 2700 BC, some Egyptian thinkers invented the idea of using the sun as a frame of reference, rather than the moon. Assuming the Egyptian base-12 math system, these thinkers created the 12-month calendar. The rest, as they say, is history.

The cyclic appearance of the moon 13 times a year oriented Aboriginal peoples to key natural events of the year. There was no need to be more precise because within Aboriginal cultures, accurate observers of many signs from Mother Earth gave a tribe precise information on natural events. The 13 moons were only a secondary organization of yearly events.

Moving to modern times, we notice an instance of inadvertent assimilation when the topic "Aboriginal calendars" arises. English/Cree dictionaries, for instance, distort Aboriginal knowledge by forcing the 13 moons into 12 months. Very few documents provide the names of all 13 moons. (Appendix A of The Night Sky does.) Instead, only 12 moons are mentioned, paired with the 12 months of Western cultures. In short, an Aboriginal worldview is forced to conform to a Euro-Canadian point of view.

Aboriginal and Western knowledge is bridged in The Night Sky by using this example of local knowledge being distorted to fit a Western point of view. Students produce a 13-moon calendar for the year they are presently in (it changes from year to year). They can see with their own eyes how the two different systems (13 moons versus 12 months) co-exist side by side and cannot easily be translated from one to the other, as dictionaries and other documents pretend to do. This exercise sensitizes students to the problem of taking information from one knowledge system and placing it into another knowledge system, out of context. Translation is not enough, as discussed earlier in this Teacher Guide.

Students’ heightened sensitivity allows them to appreciate that their local traditional stories of the night sky can co-exist with the scientific stories from astronomy, and we should not even attempt to translate one into the other.

Local traditional stories are often difficult to acquire, we have found. Published stories from other First Nations are not particularly relevant, though they serve to prepare students to look for equivalent stories in their own community. The Night Sky begins by alerting students to the idea that wonderful stories may reside in their own community, and then teaching students the appropriate way to interview older people in the community, being mindful of such things as protocol and who can tell a story. It is in this context that the calendar issue is brought to students’ attention, using the metaphor "13 Moons on a Turtle’s Back" borrowed from other First Nations cultures.

The remainder of the unit is comprised of fascinating stories from astronomy that familiarize students with our solar system, the birth/death cycle of stars, our earth and moon, and phenomena in the night sky. Concrete experiences such as viewing heavenly bodies through a telescope stimulate students’ imagination and open the door to a study of optics to discover how telescopes work. The internet is a vivid source of information with sites that offer, for instance, a virtual tour of the sun (film clips included) and weekly photos from space probes, such as the NEAR space craft exploration of the asteroid Eros.

Meanwhile, local stories begin to be shared by students in class. The topic of northern lights often provides intriguing stories. Students find the Western science explanation of the aurora borealis interesting as well. (We’ve suddenly switched language conventions here because we crossed the cultural border into Western science). Students also discover that matter has four states (solid, liquid, gas, and solar plasma), not just the three they once memorized. Some students are thrilled to hold in their hands a speck of dust from outer space, as they do in the activity "Falling Star Scavenger Hunt."

The night sky comes alive in many students’ minds, in two very different ways. First, their rich cultural heritage connects them with their land. And secondly, astronomy has more questions for them than answers. Either way, the unit will enrich their lives the next time they see something in the night sky and wonder about the phenomenon. Students are coming to knowing the night sky.



This ends our cursory look at each unit. We hope the information has illustrated important features of: cross-cultural science teaching and learning, relationships between Western and Aboriginal sciences, cultural conflicts that can arise, respectful treatment of Aboriginal science, standards of education for Aboriginal students, and the integration of both sciences in a school classroom. More information is found in each unit, but even more can be discovered by implementing a unit in your own community.





"Tests measure what I don't know!" a student complained. Collecting evidence on what students do know is a challenge. Our Rekindling Traditions project team has given this challenge a great deal of thought. Considerable work has also been done in the USA with Native American students in science classes on reserves (Nelson-Barber, Trumbull and Shaw, 1996; Solano-Flores and Nelson-Barber, 1999). The following discussions should help teachers plan assessment techniques for cross-cultural science and technology units.


Principles of Assessment

The first principle of culturally sensitive assessment systems is fairness. Fairness in student assessment is about giving different students an equal chance at expressing what they understand and can do, rather than about treating all students identically by assessing them the same way. This principle corresponds to two of Eber Hampton’s standards of education for Aboriginal students (culture, and relentlessness in championing students).

One way to teach by this fundamental principle of fairness is to employ a variety of assessment techniques over time. To do this, of course, you need to develop a repertoire of assessment techniques. By giving students some choice over which types of assessment better suite the student’s learning or communication style, you involve your students in their own assessment and you let them emphasize what they do know. Giving choices is a way of sharing with your students some of the responsibility for assessment. This leads directly to students assuming more responsibility for their own learning (illustrated below in the section "Portfolios").

The more that instruction and assessment are indistinguishable from each other in your classroom, the more effective the assessment will be, if student learning is the goal. (If sorting and screening students is your goal, you will probably not be reading this Teacher Guide in the first place.) When you foster student learning, you should continuously monitor that learning; for example, asking: what is being learned? in what context? to what depth? by whom? You know you have achieved this principle when a visitor to your classroom cannot tell whether you are assessing students or instructing them. This idea is called "formative assessment." (The opposite idea — the separation of instruction and assessment — is "summative assessment.") Formative assessment focuses on what students do know, what they can do, and how to do it better. For example, a check list can monitor students as they demonstrate certain investigation skills, but it can also give immediate feedback to both students and teachers about how well students are achieving, feedback that students are able to act on.

Another principle of culturally sensitive assessment systems is to treat cultural diversity as a strength. Teachers need to find ways for students to express important skills and ideas learned in their community, and for students to be rewarded by the assessment system for doing so. The Rekindling Traditions units provide ample opportunity for this because the community’s knowledge frames each unit. For instance, some students might be able to be assessed (given class credit) for what they do outside of school with people in the community (e.g. living on a trap line). Anecdotal notes might be written and sent to school. Remember to abide by local protocol, which may mean that Elders do not assess students. As well, extra credit might be given to students if they write some of the classroom content in both English and Cree (or Michif or Dëne).

Culturally sensitive science teachers try to separate language proficiency from content understanding. That is why an oral assessment of student work (work such as a project or poster) may be a good idea for some students. Perhaps a student can express an idea in artistic ways rather than using the English language. A combination of the two (e.g. the use of photography) sometimes works best.

World wide, educators have discovered that scores on international summative exams improve when students are engaged in their own assessment (Black and Atkin, 1996). To call this "self-assessment" might create the misunderstanding that students are entirely responsible for their own assessment. Instead, we advise that students contribute to their overall assessment. The challenge for students is to understand their teacher’s assessment criteria well enough to use them. It turns out that the process of coming to knowing those criteria contributes substantially to what, and how much, students learn (e.g. students writing notes attached to their portfolio content).

Assessment techniques, including test questions, are not only for assessing Western science content. They should also be used to assess Aboriginal science and technology content in a Rekindling Traditions unit.

Our last principle is the recognition that every child has a gift and possesses talents. Culturally sensitive assessment seeks to discover these gifts and talents, for two reasons. First, you can conduct a much fairer system of assessment in your classroom when you are aware of your students’ gifts and talents. Secondly, students’ self-identities are strengthened by using their gifts and talents to maximize their achievement in school science. There are multiple ways for students to express their coming to knowing; for example, designing posters that convey course content learned, composing music to convey meaning constructed from a class activity, writing in non-academic genres (such as local newspaper columns or advertisements) to communicate course content, producing a role play or skit that illustrates course content, and creating something in the visual arts that represents course content.

These principles for assessment in cross-cultural science classes provide some general guidance to a teacher. However, the sections that follow go further. They give concrete advice about some specific assessment techniques (tests, rubrics, checklists, and portfolios). We do not try to cover all possible techniques. The reader is reminded to consult Saskatchewan Education’s (1991) Student Evaluation: A Teacher Handbook.


Written Tests

Preparing students to feel at ease writing tests is necessary because academic testing is often a rite of passage into Euro-Canadian institutions. However, written tests can be sensitive to student needs and to the local culture in order to give students a chance to show what they do know, especially when students are in grades six to ten. The following advice comes from a variety of sources.

We suggest that you embed science test questions in students' daily lives, rather than asking a question in an abstract decontextualized way. An example is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Two Test Questions Addressing the Same Content (grade 10 level).

An Embedded Question
A Decontextualized Question

You are a science expert on the topic of concentration. A lawyer comes to you for expert advice. Her client, a commercial fishing company in La Ronge, caught a load of pickerel. A sample of 10 fish were found to contain 0.005% PCBs. In other words, 0.005% of the fish weight was PCBs. Government regulations state that the maximum amount of PCBs allowable "must be under 5 ppm" (part per million). The lawyer asks you, "Can the pickerel be sold legally?" What advice do you give?

Which is a higher concentration, 0.005% or 5 ppm?

A question embedded in the students’ life experience is more meaningful, but you must be sensitive to certain consequences. Obviously students must read more when a question is embedded. This requires more time. Also, students may think of very different ideas to use in a local setting, ideas that a teacher did not intend to be used. Thus, you must express yourself very clearly in terms of what scientific ideas you expect students to apply, and you must be flexible in your marking. In addition, by asking students an embedded question we often require a much deeper understanding of an idea because students cannot simply repeat memorized information. Students have to actually use the idea in a setting where they may not have used the idea before. Embedded questions tend to be much more rigorous because they assess a higher level of thinking. They assess what students really understand, as opposed to what students can remember. This requires more time. The issue of simple memorization versus knowing a useful idea in depth is a complex one. Different students generally hold different opinions on the topic and will react differently to embedded questions.

Multiple-choice questions tend to encourage simple memorization and require students to guess the thoughts in their teacher’s head. The same multiple-choice question can be posed as an open-ended question to give students the chance to express their ideas in their own words, rather than to guess at the teacher’s interpretation of an item. Time and time again, researchers have discovered that the meaning of a multiple-choice item differs between a student and a teacher (Aikenhead, 1988); hence the item was not really assessing what the teacher thought it was assessing. Even worse are true/false questions, unless the content is meant to be purely information recall (e.g. knowing the name of symbols). One way to modify multiple-choice or true/false questions is to require students to explain their choice, giving all the marks for the explanation. Students who find it difficult to express their own thoughts in writing are at an initial disadvantage. But if they are coached and if they practise, these students can improve their test writing skills, and therefore have better access to higher education.

One technique to use with science problems that require mathematics to solve is to craft leading questions that help students navigate through the complexity of detail. For a physical science test, for instance, a problem can be posed but instead of simply asking students to solve it, you require them to answer a series of questions, such as: (1) What do you know from the question? (2) What do you need to find out? (3) What equation(s) should you use? and (4) Solve the problem.

Another piece of advice about tests (to help assess what students do know) is to give students choices. Sometimes we can phrase a question in two ways: one that requires a mathematical calculation, and another way that requires an accurate use of a concept without doing math. This would give students a choice between a quantitative and qualitative question about the same scientific idea. Choices can also be given in terms of topics. Tests can never survey all the possible topics in a unit, so it is a matter of luck whether you ask a question which a student finds easier than another question you could have also asked. This arbitrary nature of testing can be alleviated by posing several questions of equal worth, and asking students to do one of them, two out of three, two out of five, etc. Choice often gives students the chance to show you their strengths.

For students whose talents relate to visualizing, you can use pictures and diagrams in creative ways. For instance, if you wish to assess a student’s understanding of an extensive process (e.g. the commercial preparation of wild rice, or the birth/death cycle of a star), you might duplicate on the test several diagrams from your classroom instruction. One method is to place them in a random order and get students to order them correctly. Another method is to omit a key diagram and ask students to describe (or sketch) what has been left out. Alternatively, you could prompt students to describe or explain the significance of any part of a familiar diagram.

Often the context of testing is different from the context in which students learned the material. Thus, the test really assesses whether students can take procedural (tacit or implicit) knowledge and transform it into a written (focal or explicit) knowledge. This is a Language Arts activity. To determine students’ grasp of the knowledge in context requires a different kind of test. You might engage students in a task and have written questions for them to answer as they go through the task. You could assess their answers to those questions. Alternatively, you could orally ask students questions when they are originally involved in the task. This method accomplishes several objectives: it determines what they are learning, it communicates to them what you think is important to learn, it helps them express that knowledge in words, and it combines instruction with assessment (one of the principles of assessment).

This discussion leads us to consider the topic of oral exams. In any out-of-doors activity, it might make more sense to spend time with each student to conduct an oral exam in the context where that knowledge is normally used; for example, during a survival camp. Oral exams can also be used in class for students who have particular difficulty expressing themselves in written English (the principle of fairness). Teachers who do this point out that they can quickly put students on the right track when students misunderstand what topic or detail you intend them to address. Equally important, students can quickly admit they do not know something and they can get on to the next question. You would always return one more time to an omitted question at the end of an oral exam, to give a student one more chance.

You know you have composed an excellent test when students mention that they learned something from writing your test. This means that assessment and instruction went hand in hand.

You always have control over the weighting you give your tests within your assessment system. Some teachers give very low weighting to tests, while others give a high weighting. You might choose to weight test scores differently for different students, depending on their gift and talents.


Assessment Rubrics

Essays, projects, reports, assignments, class presentations, hands-on activities, group work, etc., are assessed by a teacher who has expectations in mind. Rubrics provide a way of clarifying those expectations to yourself and to your students. Rubrics can be used throughout the year, so the time it takes to compose them is time well invested. Table 3 illustrates a rubric for assessing how well students came to a thoughtful decision on some issue. The criteria in this rubric concern the use of rational reasons based on evidence. (It is easier to read Table 3 from the bottom up.)

Table 3. An Example of a Rubric


Accomplishes level 3 and goes beyond in some significant way, such as questioning or justifying the source, validity, and/or quantity of evidence.


Provides the main rational reasons AND supports each reason with relevant and accurate evidence.


Provides some rational reasons AND some supporting evidence, BUT at least one important reason is missing and/or part of the evidence is incomplete.


Provides only personal opinion for a choice and/or uses inaccurate or irrelevant evidence.


Response is missing or is illegible, OR it lacks reasons and offers no evidence to support the decision the student made.

Rubrics have advantages over most rating scales because rubrics are less ambiguous. They are much easier for students and parents to understand. Rubrics can communicate your intentions better than a rating scale or checklist can.

A modified rubric can be very helpful for assessing major projects or reports. For example, the "Book of Plants" produced by students studying Nature’s Hidden Gifts was assessed either by individual or by group according to such criteria as: using paraphrases (rather than copying verbatim), typing the report, and collecting a story from someone in the community. Points were awarded in each of these categories and students were aware of the point system when they began the project.



A checklist is a list of descriptors you think are important for a student to express or do. It is not a judgement on how well something was done. Rather it is a recording of whether you observed a behavior or not. It is a positive approach to assessment because it keeps track of what has been done, it does not attempt to find out what students can not do (as tests tend to do).

We found checklists to be a good technique, for instance, when assessing (1) students’ use of a telescope, (2) their performance on tasks during a survival camp, and (3) their work with hands-on activities in any unit. A checklist keeps track of how often students have performed what you expect of them. The items on your list will match your objectives for your unit, objectives that are otherwise difficult or impossible to assess on written or oral tests. The Student Evaluation: A Teacher Handbook (Saskatchewan Education, 1991) contains several examples of checklists for science instruction. These should be modified to meet your own objectives.

If you become more interested in how well students meet certain objectives on your checklist, then you need to compose a rubric or rating scale for each of those objectives.



A portfolio is a selected collection of a student’s work. Portfolios can include: homework, observation records (e.g. rubrics, checklists, rating scales of various performances), anecdotal records (e.g. notes from people in the community), class work, reports, posters, photographs (e.g. with written explanations), projects, etc. A portfolio provides evidence of a student’s growth and achievement, collected over an extended period of time. Teachers find that a portfolio: can reflect the unique context of learning (being sensitive to cultural diversity that may exist), can emphasize student progress, can de-emphasize language deficiency by emphasizing content, can involve students in self-assessment, and can promote student autonomy and self-esteem.

To develop a portfolio assessment system, you should be asking yourself: What are important aspects of student learning that are not being assessed satisfactorily now? and What do I really want students to achieve by the end of the course? With a clearer sense of what you want to assess, you are ready to turn your attention to how to do it.

There are three phases to a portfolio assessment system: before collection begins, collecting materials, and evaluating the materials. Each of these phases is briefly discussed in turn.

Before using a portfolio system, you need to establish: What will be included? Who will decide? and How will the decision be reached? In terms of what will be included, please see the list above. You might want to exclude quizzes, tests, lab reports, and major projects, if those materials belong to another part of your overall assessment plan. In terms of who decides what gets included, you have three choices: you can, a student can, or best of all, both you and your students can decide (ahead of time and/or during the collection phase). When students are given the opportunity to decide what materials should be included, students tend to take more responsibility for collecting good evidence that meets your criteria of excellent work and excellent progress, and therefore, students take more responsibility for their learning. In other words, students engage in a form of self-assessment. In terms of how portfolio decisions will be reached, an initial agreement on procedures is necessary, but a degree of flexibility over negotiation for an individual item later is good, too. And lastly, before implementing a portfolio system, make sure you negotiate (or decide on) a limit to the amount of material that gets placed in a portfolio.

The 2nd phase of a portfolio system is collecting materials. This requires an appropriate and reasonably sized container (from file folders to boxes). Your students should be responsible for maintaining their containers. Remembering that a portfolio is supposed to reflect a student’s progress, it is important to begin collecting early in the year, and to include draft as well as polished documents. Each entry should be dated and should have a note stapled to it (3 by 5 cards are good) written by the student (usually), explaining: (1) the reasons for including the item — what it represents in terms of the student’s learning, and/or (2) how the material relates to the your teaching objectives. The explanatory note clarifies what progress a student is making towards the goals for your science course.

The 3rd phase of a portfolio system is evaluating the materials along with their attached notes. This process is made easier and more objective when you use rubrics, rating scales, checklists, or profiles. Simple rating scales (e.g. does not meet expectations, meets expectations, and exceeds expectations) seem ambiguous because your expectations are not clarified. Simple rating scales should be avoided. Your portfolio system will have succeeded superbly if a student is the one to compose (with your help) a rubric or a set of rubrics to use in this evaluation.

Teachers have found that a portfolio system alters their classroom climate because using portfolios often combines assessment with instruction (Duschl and Gitomer, 1991). An investigation into student assessment at a Navajo (Diné) Nation school in the USA demonstrated the fruitfulness of portfolios in science courses (Nelson-Barber et al., 1996). The teachers found portfolios to be appealing once they tried them because: portfolios reflected the context of learning (the context of students’ everyday world); portfolios showed student progress; and portfolios involved students not only in self-assessment, but in setting some learning goals as well. Portfolios can promote student autonomy and they can be sensitive enough to reflect the cultural context of learning, not just the process and product of learning. Nelson-Barber and her colleagues (1996) reported that portfolios were more successful when parents were informed about the new system of assessment and when parents actually participated in the portfolio system in some appropriate way (even by just listening to their child’s reason for including an item).

Practical details can by found in books such as Janine Batzle’s (1992) Portfolio Assessment and Evaluation. Although such books are written for elementary school teachers, the suggestions are nevertheless fruitful.





Culturally sensitive cross-cultural science and technology units are designed to help Aboriginal students feel that their science courses are a natural part of their lives because students participated in those units in ways that are culturally meaningful. The Rekindling Traditions units give students access to Western science and technology without requiring them to adopt the worldview endemic to Western science. However, for those students who have a gift or talent for Western science, a Rekindling Traditions unit lays the foundation and encouragement for further study in science and engineering.

For other students, the units bring to their attention two important cultures that influence their personal cultural identities (the culture of their Aboriginal community, and the culture of Western science and technology). The units help students feel at ease in both cultures and help students move back and forth between the two cultures. As a consequence, most students have a chance to master and critique aspects of Western science without losing something valuable from their own cultural way of knowing. By achieving smoother border crossings between those two cultures, students are expected to become better citizens in a society enriched by cultural differences. This is an essence of cross-cultural teaching.

Rekindling Traditions units engage key community people in students’ learning. In doing so, the units create a stronger bond between the school and community in general. (For more information on your role with the community, see Stories from the Field: Experiences and Advice from the Rekindling Traditions Team.) Community participation in school science nurtures students’ coming to knowing, including its life-long learning aspect. This result stands in marked contrast to students memorizing information, a school task so many students find irrelevant to their life in their community.

Rekindling Traditions units encourage a change in the relationships between you and your Aboriginal students in ways that promote mutual respect, coming to knowing, and the ethic of harmony with Mother Earth. You will learn from students who themselves have just learned valid Aboriginal knowledge from people in the community. You will demonstrate how an educated adult learns new knowledge (i.e. life-long learning), and you will share your own knowledge with students. Your roll will be facilitator, cultural travel guide, and learner; in short, a culture broker.

At one of our meetings, June George, an experienced cross-cultural science educator from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, advised our team of the importance of being a member of a network of teachers so individual teachers are not isolated as they work on their innovative teaching. If you plan to use any of these units, we encourage you to work with at least one other person as a team.

In the future, other units should be developed for Saskatchewan schools. For example, there is a need for units about forestry, fishing, agriculture, gardening, and architecture, as well as for units that extend any of our six units. We invite you to develop one of these units. Such a project would make a good proposal for the Stirling McDowell Foundation.

If you are interested in further reading, here are some books we found to be valuable and easily accessible: Greg Cajete (1999) Igniting the Sparkle: An Indigenous Science Education Model; Marie Battiste and Jean Barman (Eds.) (1995) First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds; and Lenore Stiffarm (Ed.) (1998) As We See ... Aboriginal Pedagogy.




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