“Ms.Lopez, WHY are we still learning all about Native Americans? Can we move on to something else?”
Always discouraging words to hear from a student, but ones that made me think about the importance of going back to our learning goals and reasons for studying Native American tribes. Once again, I realized that a connection that was automatic for me (U.S. History requires first learning about the First Nations) was not for my students. And, once again, I stopped class for a few minutes to go back and review why. Thankfully, a few students remembered the connection and were able to articulate it.
Throughout this unit on Native Americans, I felt it was important to do a few things: 1. Point out that Native Americans should not be blobbed together as people sometimes do, but should be shown as distinct tribes; 2. Drive home that America was already a land thriving with civilization and that it was not “discovered” at all; and 3. Set the stage for when the first English people arrived, and what happened after that.
As we studied different Native American regions (Northeast, Plains, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest), we observed the differences in terms of their beliefs, art, ways of living, and structure. We used Venn diagrams to help organize comparative paragraphs about different regions.
Our school’s arts integration teacher, Elena Betke-Brunswick, and I collaborated on a culminating project for this unit. We talked about various options but in the end decided on making totem poles in the style of some Pacific Northwest Native Americans. Rather than carve on wood, however, Ms.Betke suggested we make prints. Each student would choose an animal to represent a family member. This way, students could choose 5 or 6 from their collective prints to make a printed totem pole that would symbolize their families.
The final project motivated students again and provided a change of scenery from my classroom, as we have been working in one of the art rooms. This week students finished their carving and moved on to printing. See the process and some of the products below.
I might have spent more time than I had originally planned on this unit, but I don’t regret it. The time we spent in the art room working was a special time, where we all sat around the same tables and chatted as we worked. We laughed, listened to music, and took mental breaks from the rest of the school day. And all the while, my students were engaged and learning. Priceless.