Module 4: How to Make a Drum

This site provides a lesson plan for teaching students how to make a traditional Alutiiq drum.  The really neat thing about this lesson plan is that it draws in many aspects of drum-making from an indigenous perspective.  For example, the student must learn about the various trees and animals that inhabit the area where these drums are traditionally made and used.  This is necessary if they are to select the best wood and skins for their instrument.  Students must also learn and utilize knowledge from western disciplines to construct their drum.  They must, for example, have some mathematical skill in order to make accurate measurements for the drum’s frame; they must also understand the science behind what makes drum skins shrink and stretch.

The lesson plan encapsulates place-based learning and constructivism very well.  It illustrates an holistic approach to learning, characteristic of Indigenous learning,  where students must pull information from diverse disciplines.  They must also test their knowledge by actually constructing a usable object.  The project develops metacognition and critical thinking skills because students can write about their experience constructing the drum, and can explore questions such as, “how did Indigenous peoples construct drums without the use of metal tools?”

November 27, 2011   No Comments

Module 4: The Axe Handle Academy

Linguist Ron Scollen and his wife Suzanne Scollen propose their idea for an “ideal” academy that takes an holistic, place-based approach to education.  At the Academy, three questions get asked of students and faculty:  how well do you know your place; how well do you know your community; and how well do you communicate.  Based firmly on a sense of place, the physical location that is meaningful to the Academy’s teachers and students, the curriculum covers a multitude of disciplines, geology, archeology, history, art, journalism, writing, etc under three heads:  communications, cultural studies, and bioregional studies.

The idea behind the curriculum is to produce graduates who are productive members of society and who ultimately will have a choice of careers to pursue.  So, rather than approaching the curriculum with a view of pushing students towards certain careers, such as researcher or scientist, a practice most evident in Western educational/intellectual traditions, the curriculum seeks to enable all students to become good researchers and good scientists, and just generally sensitive thinkers.   Graduates, regardless of the line of work or career path they ultimately choose, should be cognizant of the impact that their work has on their bioregion.  They need to be aware of the impact that various human activities has on their lives.

The Academy’s title “The Axe Handle” derives from an ancient Chinese proverb that they way to make an axe handle is to have an axe handy so that you can copy it.  The proverb informs the educational philosophy of the Academy where teachers are constantly learning new stuff, and they learn alongside their students.  The teachers model the cognitive skills that they expect their students to acquire, while encouraging students to share information and help each other learn materials.  This is a bit like the concept of constructivism where the educator does not dictate static knowledge to students, but engages them in the learning process by assigning them projects and problems to solve.


November 12, 2011   No Comments

Module 4: Place-Based Learning Articles

This website is a veritable cornucopia of articles written by Steven Semken, an authority on place-based learning and Indigenous education.  Most of the articles, particularly the ones written and published within the past ten years have links to pdf files that readers can download. Among the paper titles includes “Place-Based Teaching and Learning” which was recently accepted for publication in the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning of Learning.  Unfortunately, that article is not accessible in pdf form, and readers will have to wait until the encyclopedia is published.  Other titles include

“A sense of the American Southwest: Place-based Earth system science for diverse students”

“Factors that influence sense of place as a learning outcome of place-based geoscience teaching”

“Design elements and learning outcomes of two place-based teacher professional programs situated in the Southwest United
States: Concordance with Universal Design for Learning.”

“Putting Earth science back in its place”

“Sense of place in the practice and assessment of place-based science teaching”

Steven Semken is associate professor in the Earth and Space Exploration department at Arizona State University.

November 10, 2011   No Comments

Module 2 Belo Monte Dam Project Draws even more Concerns

Brazil plans to build the third largest hydroelectric dam which will have devastating effects.  Not only will it flood out over 300 acres of land, but it will displace thousands of inhabitants, most of whom are indigenous peoples.  It will also destroy the wildlife habitats of land mammals and fish.  The latest concerns center on the plants that will now lie at the bottom of the dam, rotting slowly and releasing the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere.

This article points out the global ramifications of building this dam, but it does not focus on the plight on the indigenous peoples.  In fact the article’s rhetoric suggests that it might actually be a good thing for the inhabitants along the Xingu River to relocate because “The thousands of indigenous people and peasants who scratch a living out of the forest and the river will see their main source of drinking water and food dwindle.”  The writer doesn’t take into account that what she perceives as poverty is a way of life for the Indigenous peoples:  not only will their food, water, and transportation be threatened, but their culture, history, rituals, stories will be flooded out as well.


Gerken, J. (2011, September 15).  Belo Monte Dam Project Draws even more Concerns.  Huffington Post Green.  Retrieved October 2, 2011 from

October 17, 2011   No Comments

Module 2 Indigenous Peoples Protect their Lands and Rights

Maintaining land ownership continues to challenge Indigenous peoples as governments of the dominant societies capture lands that have been the center of tribal life for many Indigenous peoples.  Recently the government of British Columbia sided with local industries to turn Fish Lake, a body of water that not only provided food and water for the Tsilhqot’in people, but served as the place where ceremonies were held for centuries, as a dumping ground for mining waste.

The Tsilhqot’in people had traditionally isolated themselves from the mainstream societies.  They successfully prevented roads from being built on their lands; they have resisted measures to bring electricity to their area, and they teach their children their traditional language.  The latest move to capture their lake forced the Tsilhqot’in to use technology to get their message across.  They chose film.

The film, Blue Gold:  The Tsilhqot’in fight for Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), features members from the tribe speaking about the lake and the impact that the government’s proposed policy would have not only on their lives, but on the area’s ecosystem.  The grizzly’s habitat would be threatened, for instance.

The Tsilhqot’in won their case, and it was the film that swayed the panel who reviewed the case, as well as the general public who offered their support towards the cause.

This site is useful to research in place-based learning because it shows that the Tsilhqot’in peoples used narrative to tell the story about the Lake.  Narratives play a major role in disseminating the knowledge of this and other Indigenous tribes through the generations.  Film was the ideal media for this tribe to tell their story to the outside world.  The film also shows the inter-connectedness of nature, culture and religion to Indigenous peoples.  In place-based learning, geographical places are taught from the perspective of the stories and traditions that are meaningful to Indigenous peoples.  In this type of learning, disciplines are not separated as specialities, but are tightly interwoven in the fabric of learning, changes in the land, the seasons, are understood from the perspective of their relationship to the divine.


Indigenous Peoples protect their lands and rights.

October 17, 2011   No Comments

My Research Interests

I do not pretend to be knowledgeable about Indigenous cultures, and all that I know about these cultures I have learned from popular media.  This course is helping me think critically about issues that surround Indigenous education, especially when Westerners impose their ways and modes of knowing on these peoples.

My research interests will focus on place-based learning.  This topic interests me, not only because of its novelty to me had (I had no idea what it was prior to ETEC 521), but because it is related to two areas of cognition that interest me:  situated learning and embodied knowing.  Place-based learning is a form of situated learning, where learning takes place in social and environmental contexts in which the knowledge is used. Learning takes place when problems that are authentic to the context are tackled.  Embodied knowing is a bit more difficult to define simply because it has different meanings.  One definition which is useful in this context is placing the learner in the context in which he will need to use specific types of knowledge.  For instance, although a driver’s manual is helpful, the way to learn how to drive a car is to sit behind the wheel of one and drive.

September 25, 2011   No Comments

Finding a Place to Stand

This is a blog post written by Tasha Beeds, who is of nêhiyaw (Cree), Métis and Caribbean ancestryShe asserts that traditional and Western knowledge can co-exist and be taught, as long as the Indigenous knowledge isn’t compromised.  The author advocates writing down narratives that pre-existed in oral forms.  She states that the written form will not supersede the oral because orality comes from a lived experience, and whatever is written down must emanate from the experiential.


Beeds, T. (2011).  Finding a place to stand:  Indigenous education through oral and written narratives.  Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.  Retrieved from

September 25, 2011   No Comments

Western Science Meets Native Reality

For Indigenous Peoples (IP) knowledge and place are bound together.  Western educational systems run counter to IPs concept of an “interdependent universe, and the importance of place in their societies.” The authors work from the premise that Westerners could use the Native worldview to promote a sustainable way of living.  Traditional educational processes involve observing natural phenomenon, adapting lifestyle in order to survive, obtaining sustenance from plants and animals, using natural materials to make tools and other implements.  Knowledge is passed down inter-generationally through stories and demonstration.

Westerners test competency through testing; among IPs, competency is determined by survival.  They have their own system for understanding and articulating meteorology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and the sacred.  They have also devised a way of dealing with the flora and fauna of their environment in ways that are sustainable.  They see all of these disciplines as inter-related, while in the Western educational system, disciplines are detached from each other, and learning takes place within four walls.  The practice of deconstruction/reconstruction of Western thought doesn’t hold in traditional worldviews where everything is seamlessly interconnected

The authors advocate teaching subject matter in ways that IP understand it, then explaining it in Western terms.  Their idea is to show IP that Western and traditional knowledge enhance each other.  There is a problem to this, however, for the IP knowledge is an everyday part of life.  When they learn the Western worldview in school, it remains there.  They will not use this worldview in their tribes when they go home in the evening.  Thus, they will see that the Western worldview is best used in school, but the traditional worldview is used in the tribe to survive.  Therefore, the traditional worldview will always take precedence, and be superior in their eyes.

The site includes a chart outlining differences in worldview between IP and West.  The authors illustrate these differences by recounting a meeting between representatives from the State Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks, Alaska and the Minto peoples.  The agency wanted to measure sediment in the water supply; the Minto people wanted to know what was being doing about the fires.  Wild fires are left to burn themselves out until they approach man-made structures, at which time agencies mobilize to put out the fires.  The Minto people tried to explain that the issue of sediment in the water supply would be controlled if the fires were put out promptly.  The representatives said the policy regarding fires were handled by a different agency, and because there were no representatives with them that day, they could not address the issue of fires.  This example illustrates the separation and specialization of areas of knowledge and approaches to handling natural phenomenon.

Conclusions:  Native people may need to understand western science, but not at the expense of their own knowledge.  Traditional knowledge must be recognized as credible.


Kawagley, A., and Barnhardt, R. (2007).  Education indigenous to place:  Western science meets native reality.  Alaska Native Knowledge Network (ANKN).  Retrieved from

September 25, 2011   No Comments

Eight Aboriginal Ways of Learning

This site outlines ways in which Native Australians learn.  Learning for them isn’t a curriculum, the content of a course, but it is a process.  There are eight involved, one of which involves a sense of place—“land links.”  Teaching takes place away from classrooms and desks, and in the community.  Students construct stories and they share them.  The pedagogy is narrative-driven, and the eight ways are interconnected.  They are:

Use of symbols and images
Land links
Deconstructive/Reconstructive (starting with the whole and picking it apart)
Community Links

There’s a link to a wiki site that discusses these eight ways in greater detail, complete with a discussion forum.  I will write about this site in a later blog post.


Kalantzis, M., and Cope, B. (2011).  Eight Aboriginal ways of Learning.  New Learning:  Transformational designs for pedagogy for assessment.  Retrieved from

September 25, 2011   No Comments

What it means to be attached to a place

“[a] Sense of place is the set of all meanings and attachments a person or a group invests in a place” (slide no.7)

This site features a series of powerpoint slides by Steven Smeken in School of Earth and Science Education at the Arizona State University, a US state where many Native American tribes live.  The department teaches earth sciences by using students’ prior sense of place as leverage for learning.

Classes begin with advanced organizers:  meeting the students where they are.  Students must pick a place that holds intellectual and cultural significance for them, and describe characteristics of the place, as well as ways in which they interact with the place and come to know it.  Then students are introduced to the Western scientific concepts that explain the place’s natural phenomena.

The department teaches the discipline both in and about these places.  The presenter makes a great point:  “Places populate the cultural landscape, just as landforms and biota make up the physical landscape” (slide no. 4).

Place means different things to different peoples, of whatever culture.  Place can have aesthetic, economic, ceremonial, historical, spiritual, scientific significance.  People even develop emotional attachments to places.

In place-based teaching, place defines the curriculum instead of global standards.   It is local, trans-disciplinary (it takes into account history, art, geography/geology, hydrology, etc), experiential (students work in the actual place or in the community), cross cultural.

Each slide lists ways in which students’ meanings can be incorporated into the learning of earth sciences, including using the names for places that students know and already use.  Slide 24 contains a few points to consider when offering a place-based course for the first time.

The presentation concludes with an extensive bibliography, which will be helpful to researchers interested in place-based education.


Smeken, P.  (2010).  Place-based teaching and learning.  Retrieved from

September 25, 2011   No Comments