Seventh-graders in Sarah Kukla’s social studies classes recently completed their “First Americans” unit on migration to the Americas and Native American peoples with research on and computer-aided design (CAD) of totem poles.
Although students have studied aspects of Native American history and culture in earlier grades, this unit led them to discover new information which deepened their understanding. “Learning about the way that different cultures are based on their environments was really interesting,” said Ethan. “What surprised me was that all Native Americans originally came from Asia and crossed the land bridge,” Emily offered. Haley added, “It’s interesting that they all came from the place but developed different cultures.” It was more recent (relatively) and local history that caught Jake’s attention. “I didn’t know that the Five Nations in New York had made peace and worked together to help each other as the Iroquois Confederacy. I had thought that they were fighting the whole time.”
“We are learning about Native American cultures during the pre- and post-Columbian time periods. We focus on how these cultures are affected by their environment and location, making each unique. Guiding essential questions include, ‘How does the environment affect a culture?’ and ‘What happens when cultures interact?’” explains Kukla. “It’s important for students to understand the culture of the indigenous people of our continent. Northwest Coast Native peoples use totem poles as a symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Tradition provides that each individual is connected with nine different animals that will accompany each person through life, acting as guides. For this project, students explored the most important aspects of their own lives and cultures, then used CAD to create 3D totem poles with symbols that represent them. It has been a great way to get to know my students and make connections to Native American culture.”