By Laurie Hindman
When the tipis rise on Berthoud Elementary front lawn, the community is put on notice that students are studying the Plains Indians cultures. For them, “Tipi Week” is the culmination of a district-wide social studies unit that begins in August for all third grade classes.
There are no tipis on the lawn at Ivy Stockwell, but their third grade students have been engaged in the Plains Indian unit since the beginning of school and will continue their learning of the indigenous people of Colorado through Oct. 15.
“Our culminating experience is a field trip to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature,” said Rhonda Richer, principal at Ivy Stockwell. She said the third grade classes have a guided visit to the North American Indian Cultures exhibit where they focus on the Colorado tribes. The third graders will have an opportunity to handle artifacts and participate in various learning activities.
“We make this as experiential as possible,” said Richer.
Third grade teacher Judy Sanford said the unit is a rich curriculum that begins with a study of world regions and ultimately focuses in on the grasslands of North America and the area’s nomadic tribes. “We work from a timeline that demonstrates the impact Europeans had on the Native Americans, from the arrival of Spaniards with horses, to the western expansion that resulted in the demise of the nomadic life of Plains Indians.”
“One of the most meaningful activities we do is on the playground,” said Sanford.
Students are told to scatter all over the blacktop, demonstrating how much land and freedom the tribes had before the Europeans arrived. “We then shrink it down and shrink it down until all the students are gathered in a very small area — This is life on the reservation.”
Another activity that generates good discussion is a picture card sort. “There are pictures of Native Americans from the past and present,” explained Sanford. “Students are instructed to sort who is a Native American and who is not. Of course they are all Native Americans.” Sanford wants the students to understand Native Americans are still here. “They look and dress like us,” said Sanford. “Some students are surprised by that.”
The picture sort leads to discussions about famous Native Americans, such as Jim Thorpe, as well as the many contributions North American indigenous people have made to our culture.
“Students often are only aware of what pioneers brought to the West. The Native Americans contributed a lot to our culture,” said Sanford. She points out that Europeans had never grown corn, potatoes or pumpkins before their interaction with Native tribes. Indigenous traditions and cultures helped shape the American political system, trade, mythology and art. “It is a real eye opener for the kids.”
Studying cultures with new eyes
Berthoud Elementary’s Native American unit has changed over the course of the years. In the past, they included a naming ceremony where the third grade students would select an “Indian name” for themselves, usually based on input from family members.
BE Principal Camilla Lojeske said that practice has been dropped from the program. She explained it was brought to their attention that the naming ceremony is a sacred tradition among Native Americans and imitating it would demean its purpose. “In an effort to be culturally sensitive, we no longer include the naming activity. It is a very important ceremony in a young person's life, and we would never want to be seen as disrespectful.”
<p>Judy Sanford’s third-grade class crowds inside the outline of a female American bison the Ivy Stockwell students drew with chalk on the classroom floor. The students totaled their weight to determined that their collective weight, 1,619 pounds, was approximately equal to that of a female American bison, but didn’t come close to that of the usually 2,000 pound or more male.</p>
<p>Third-grade teacher Judy Sanford helps students use chalk to draw a portion of an American bison on the carpet of the classroom.</p>