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        Careers in Science

        In this media-rich lesson, students explore careers in science through profiles of Alaska Native scientists. They consider how traditional ways of knowing and Western approaches to science can complement each other and allow students to incorporate their own interests when considering careers in science.

        Lesson Summary


        Some students overlook the possibility of a career in science because of common stereotypes about who can become a scientist. In this lesson, students explore different careers in science, learn about the backgrounds of a number of scientists, and understand how Alaska Native ways of knowing and Western approaches to science can complement each other. The lesson begins with students reflecting on their own interests and ideas about future careers. Students then watch several video profiles of Alaska Native scientists and investigate how they integrate Alaska Native and Western approaches into their work. The class is then divided into pairs to conduct two personal interviews: one with a scientist and one with a student studying to become a scientist. After completing the interviews, students create profiles of their interview subjects to present to the rest of the class. The lesson ends with a final class discussion of the compatibility of Alaska Native ways of knowing and Western science and of new ideas about how a student's own interests might be incorporated into a career in science.


        • Understand the similarities and differences between Alaska Native peoples' and Western approaches to understanding the natural world, and how these approaches can complement one another
        • Learn about different careers in science
        • Meet several scientists and learn about how their interests and backgrounds led them to their careers

        Grade Level: 6–12

        Suggested Time

        • Two to three class periods

        Media Resources


        Before the Lesson

        The Lesson

        Part I: Careers in Science

        1. Begin the lesson by asking students to consider the activities that they participate in during their free time. Do they play outdoors? Hunt, fish, or gather food? Prepare and cook foods? Make art? Beachcomb? Hike and camp? Bird-watch? Take part in cultural activities? Then ask students to think about what kinds of careers could incorporate these interests and to record these thoughts in their notebooks. What kinds of skills from their leisure activities could be applied in a career?

        2. Explain that people with many different kinds of interests have found careers in science. What these scientists have in common are certain characteristic qualities, such as curiosity, creativity, perseverance, and an interest in learning new things or solving problems. Ask students to think about what they know about careers in science. As a class, generate a list of job titles/fields on the board. Write down this list for reference later in the lesson. To help students think of ideas, ask them to think about:

        1. Who are some scientists that they have heard of and what do they do?
        2. What are some nonscience jobs where scientific knowledge may be useful?
        3. What kinds of science careers would be useful to Alaskans?
        4. What kinds of science careers do they think will be most important in the future?

        3. Working alone or in pairs, have students view three video profiles of Alaska Native peoples who have pursued careers in science.

        As they watch the videos, students should focus on the interests and career path of each person rather than the specific work that he or she does. Questions to consider:

        1. Why is this scientist interested in his/her field?
        2. How has traditional knowledge influenced his/her career path?
        3. What is a typical day of work like?
        4. What kind of education did he/she need?
        5. How might you discover how much different types of scientific and technical jobs pay?

        Part II: Integrating Alaska Native Ways of Knowing and Western Science

        4. Play the first portion of the Taqulik Hepa: North Slope Natural Resources Flash Interactive. Pause the resource after the segment about subsistence hunting. Discuss Taqulik Hepa's background. Note: You may want to distribute the Glossary of Alaska Native and Western Science Terms PDF Document to students and encourage them to refer to it as needed.

        1. How would you describe Hepa's job?
        2. Why is she interested in studying natural resources?
        3. Is it surprising to you that she is not college-trained in biology? Why or why not?

        5. Have students consider how the traditional data that Taqulik Hepa collects complements Western scientific data. Continue playing the audio to hear Robert Suydam describe some of the challenges and benefits of Western and Alaska Native scientists working together.

        1. What does his story about the lack of a word for hormone in the Iñupiaq language illustrate?
        2. What other challenges do you think might arise from Western and Alaska Native scientists joining forces?
        3. What are some of the benefits of collaboration and cooperation between Alaska Native peoples and Western scientists?
        4. What other ways do you think Western and Alaska Native science can be complementary?

        6. Allow time for students to further investigate the strengths of different approaches to science. For example, Alaska Native science takes a holistic view of the universe (where everything in nature is connected) whereas many Western scientists specialize in particular components of nature (such as ecology, climatology, oceanography, or geology)—why is it sometimes beneficial to have a more holistic view and sometimes beneficial to focus on a specific area? Have students conduct online research about traditional ecological knowledge/traditional ways of knowing and Western scientific knowledge styles. Remind students that the Western approach to science includes many different types of study; for instance, a naturalist and a research chemist may have very different ways of studying the natural world, although both are Western scientists. This Web site by the Alaska Native Science Commission presents a summary of traditional and Western scientific approaches.

        One of the main takeaways from this lesson is an understanding of how the differences between Alaska Native and Western scientific views can be used to complement one another. Summarize the strengths of each approach as a class.

        (Optional) If students are not familiar with the Alaska Native view of the interconnectedness of nature, show the The Spirit of Subsistence Living QuickTime Video. This video communicates the holistic view that everything in nature is connected by spirit.

        7. Have students click through the Dolly Garza: A Tlingit and Haida Scientist Flash Interactive and the Richard Glenn: Iñupiaq Geologist Flash Interactive. Each of these interactive activities highlights an Alaska Native scientist and demonstrates how traditional ways of knowing and Western science can successfully work together. As a class, discuss the following questions:

        1. Why did Dolly Garza decide to get her doctorate degree?
        2. Why did Richard Glenn pursue a career in geology?
        3. What does Jack Lorrigan mean when he says that Alaska Natives are "consummate scientists"?
        4. Why do Dolly and Jack work together?
        5. What do you think are some of the challenges Dolly and Richard faced to reach this point in their careers?
        6. How important do you think scientific and traditional knowledge are in making policy decisions about resource management?

        Part III: Profiling People in Science

        8. Distribute copies of the list of careers that the class generated at the beginning of the lesson. Ask students to add any new ideas to the list that they may have thought of during the lesson. Then, tell students that they will now have an opportunity to create their own profiles of people in science. They will work with a partner to interview two people: one person who is studying to be a scientist and another who is a practicing scientist. If you wish to shorten the lesson, have each pair interview just one subject; you can assign half of the class to interview students and half of the class to interview practicing scientists, or select one or the other for everyone to interview depending on available people in your area.

        Ideally, students should interview people in fields in which they also share an interest. If students already have contact with a scientist or student (a parent, neighbor, or friend), they can interview that person. Make sure that students understand the proper etiquette in contacting someone to ask for an interview (be respectful, explain the project, give an estimated length of time for the interview). For safety reasons, students should go to interviews in pairs or with an adult.

        If you are in an isolated location, or if it is too difficult for students to have face-to-face contact with interview subjects for any other reason, the interviews can be conducted via Internet and/or telephone.

        9. Distribute copies of the Interview Questions for Scientists PDF Document and the Interview Questions for Students PDF Document. Explain that they will be creating profiles (such as a poster or media presentation) about their subjects. Ask students to review the suggested questions and add any new questions that they think would be relevant for their interview subjects. Emphasize that they should take accurate notes during the interview, ask any additional, informative follow-up questions, and consider what they would like to use as visual aids. For example, students may want to take photographs or ask their subjects for sample documents, artifacts, or pictures. They may also want to consider video- or audiotaping the interview (with permission from the interview subject). Encourage students to be creative with their presentations; the goal is to acquaint other class members with their interview subjects in a way that is captivating as well as representative.

        10. Have students set up and conduct their interviews. Check in with students regularly to make sure that they are able to arrange appointments and meet with their subjects. If any students have trouble coordinating a meeting, be ready to help facilitate the planning or redirect students to another interview subject who may be more available.

        11. After students have had a chance to conduct their interviews and create their profiles, have the groups present their projects to the class. Allow time to discuss their interviewing experiences and discuss the similarities and differences among the various careers.

        Check for Understanding

        Have students discuss the following:

        1. Has this lesson dispelled any stereotypes you held about what type of person becomes a scientist? How so?
        2. How has your understanding about what it is like to be a scientist changed?
        3. What is the role of education (e.g., the learning of traditional knowledge and formal academics) in science careers?
        4. What are some ways in which Alaska Native ways of knowing and Western science can be integrated?
        5. How is integrating these two ways of knowing different from forming partnerships between them? Is one option better than the other? Why or why not?
        6. How important do you think it is for Alaska Native peoples to be involved in scientific research, and why?
        7. Looking back at your notebook entry from the beginning of the lesson, do you have any new ideas about how your own interests might be incorporated into a career in science?


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