Skip to main

June 17, 2024

Braiding Indigenous Stories and Science: A Call to Action

I became a gardener when I was a teacher because it felt like the perfect complement to my work in education. Plant seeds, nurture them, then give them time and space to grow. I remember staring out the window during the final weeks of each school year, watching the school grounds coming back to life and daydreaming about my summer garden. Meanwhile, my students and I stayed inside, writing final essays and counting down the days until we could all enjoy being outside.

So…why didn’t we take our learning outdoors? 

Good question. 

Before I read Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, my idea of a middle grade novel study looked a lot like “read a chapter, discuss, repeat” while sitting in our assigned seats in the comfort and routine of my classroom. 

After reading the novel, my perspective completely changed. 

Written in beautiful, artistic prose, Kimmerer takes readers on a journey into the Black Ash Forest, to the shores of Cascade Head on the night of the Salmon Ceremony, to Maple Nation and the strawberry plants, and beyond. It has all the symbolism and figurative language of our favorite ELA anchor texts but with an additional layer: a call to action that every reader can connect with about our collective responsibility for the natural world around us.

After reading the novel, I felt like a gust of wind was pushing me to get to work! In order to practice what Kimmerer suggests throughout Braiding Sweetgrass, we must get our students outdoors to enact the change they read about. There are so many ways to do this: from using the Seek plant app to help students identify the natural plants in their community, to introducing students to regenerative agriculture and then planting a Three Sisters Garden at your school, all the way to developing action research projects with your students that focus on nature sustainability and the Honorable Harvest. Suddenly, writing an essay or taking a multiple choice quiz no longer feels like it accurately measures student learning the same way applying and analyzing indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge can.

Image Source: Amazon

In my early career, I thought I was supporting students by helping them grow their understanding, but I was only asking them to demonstrate their knowledge on the page. Turns out I had a lot to learn, but Robin Wall Kimmerer says that life is our learning, and we don’t have to do it alone.

I am grateful for this.

And now, looking back, perhaps my opening statement isn’t the whole story. I became a gardener when I was a teacher–true–but I wasn’t truly a teacher until I became a gardener. Because deep learning happens when we plant knowledge and nurture our students, and give them time and space to grow, but they can’t reach their full potential in closed containers; as an educator, neither can I.  Maybe we don’t have to stare longingly out our classroom windows waiting for summer to arrive—maybe we can open our classroom doors in community, and live, learn, and carry out our responsibilities as stewards of our land together. 

Ready to teach and read Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults? Enroll in Course 5331: Beyond the Book: Creating a Comprehensive Unit for Teaching Braiding Sweetgrass and explore this incredible young adult novel with the support of numerous teaching resources, activity ideas, and frameworks for transforming your next classroom novel study!


About the Author

Julie Kuntz holds a B.A. in English and a Master’s in Education. Drawing on her years as a Middle School ELA Teacher, Julie develops content that is practical and highly engaging! Additionally, she is passionate about fostering equity in schools.

Fun Fact: Julie and her husband own a custom home renovation company, Custom by Kuntz!

Share

Search the K12 Hub

More From Teaching Channel

Recommended Courses

Shifting Your Focus to the Science of Reading

Literacy

#5227

Grade

PK-3

Flex Credit

$189

3 Credits

$475

Motivate, Celebrate, and Innovate with Secondary ELA Instruction

Literacy

#5289

Grade

5-12+

Flex Credit

$189

3 Credits

$475

Building Comprehension with the Science of Reading

Literacy

#5269

Grade

K-8

Flex Credit

$189

3 Credits

$475

Want to partner with us?

We’re always looking for new authors! If you’re interested in writing an article, please get in touch with us.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Get notified of new content added to K12 Hub.

-
Pay as You Learn with our Course Bundles. Select Bundles on SALE through June 30! Explore Your Options >>
close-image
Last Day of Summer Session Registration. Use DOGDAYS24 and get a 3-Credit Course for $399! Learn More >>
close-image