Cultural Connections

The Geophysical Institute has developed a program called Cultural Connections that brings together aurora science and Inupiaq culture and language. Educators can borrow these kits from the UA Museum of the North. The kits contain teaching objects and lesson books for students as well as a teacher’s guide. The lessons blend visual, auditory and hands-on experiential learning styles.
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In the cultural part of the lessons, students listen to stories from elders about where the northern lights came from, watch a traditional dance about the northern lights, and hear songs about the northern lights that help them engage with the oral tradition of passing on knowledge. They can also learn Inupiaq words for science vocabulary.

There are kits for two different age groups:
4th and 5th graders can explore the magnetic fields that protect the earth with a lesson on magnets, diagram what the northern lights look like from space, interview community members about the aurora and graph their data, as well as learn about energy transfer and energize tubes of gasses and view them with spectrum lenses to see how the colors of the northern lights are created.

6th-8th graders can predict and build a scale model of the solar system, view sunspots where solar flares are formed with the Sunspotter on a clear day, experiment with iron filings and magnets to understand magnetic fields that shape the solar winds around our earth to form the northern lights and even become an aurora forecaster!

The Cultural Connections website links to a 25-minute video called Kiuguyat: The Northern Lights that combines scientific and traditional Inupiaq knowledge. The website also has Inupiaq vocabulary pronunciation and footage of elders from different villages sharing their knowledge. There are also short video lessons with graphic depictions of the phenomena that create the northern lights. These lessons have an interactive component after the video to help students solidify the concept by engaging with it. All of the website material is also included on a jump drive in the kit.

Click here to borrow kits, make an online request, or purchase a kit pass. 

This project was funded under NASA  cooperative agreement NNX16AL65A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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