Each day for the past six weeks, my classroom has come to life during my early morning literacy block, my 4th graders buzzing with excitement over our study of Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic. This winter my students were tasked with researching topics and teaching each other about how early Inuit people met their needs to survive, and most recently, with presenting on the effect of global warming on all forms of life in the Arctic. Fully integrated with literacy skills, this social studies unit has been a highlight of our year together.
On March 10, 2018, as a Teacher Associate for the Canadian Studies centers at University of Washington and Western Washington University, I had the pleasure of presenting this unit to Washington and Oregon educators at the Washington State Council for the Social Studies Annual Retreat, co-sponsored by the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, and the Oregon Council for the Social Studies. Over two hundred educators gathered in Stevenson, Washington, at the Skamania lodge to deepen their practice. A small group gathered for my session, “A Sea of Change for the Inuit People of the Arctic and Canada,” receiving the digital and print materials needed to teach the unit. We talked about the importance of teaching about Indigenous groups and developing students’ deep appreciation for cultural practices using the work and voices of Inuit people to guide us.
As global warming threatens Inuit communities and as the Arctic environment transforms, back home in my classroom, my students want to know what they can do to help stop global warming to protect a place and people they now care deeply about. As we wrap up our unit, my students are feeling empowered to be part of a solution, connecting their daily effort to protect the environment with real human impact. My students now know and believe, in the words of Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Inuit people have “the right to be cold.”
Mary Cingcade is a 4th grade teacher at Hazelwood Elementary in Edmonds School District. Prior to becoming an elementary teacher, she designed professional development programs as part of the UW Jackson School of International Studies. Her interests include supporting ELL students, promoting understanding of diverse cultures in our schools, and equity.