Sustainability and the American Bison - Native American Heritage Month


Photo of The American Bison on historic map
Keynote montage of National Archives Bison photo on Library of Congress primary source map. Quote from Ken Burn’s Film The American Buffalo.

For this November’s Native American History Month I want learners to merge environmental science, history, geography, and creativity by exploring the American Bison.  My inspiration for this lesson idea comes from Ken Burn’s two part documentary “The American Buffalo” that premiered October 16, 2023 on PBS.  Ken Burns films are known for their depth and this one is no exception. The two part film runs four hours.  However PBS classroom has chunked it up in shorter segments with lesson guides which you’ll find here: The American Buffalo Ecosystem Engineers.

When using documentary films in the classroom I often like to add activities beyond discussions, essays or reflective writing. I want learners to participate in additional research and use their creativity to not only show what they know about a topic, but to share that information with others.

A couple of ideas to build on…

Segment Exploration: Divide learners into teams, each assigned to explore one of the PBS documentary segments. Then, through research, they can  unpack further information and develop an engaging way to present this knowledge to their peers.

CBL Framework and Sustainability: Employ the Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) framework, anchoring lessons around the Big Idea of Sustainability. Engage learners in the topic by streaming one of the documentary segments from PBS The American Buffalo Ecosystem Engineers. (For example you might want to start with the segment Facing the Storm).

Next challenge learners to brainstorm an essential question related to the American Bison and their relationship to Native American cultures. Continue through the Framework with Investigate and Act.  Learners might use Pages, Keynote, Clips, iMovie as they develop action plans to support their authored challenge and to provide ways to share their knowledge.

As learners create, encourage them to use authentic primary source photos from the National Archives or Library of Congress to provide a historic link to their research.  Analyzing primary sources as well as Web resources provides good media literacy practice!

Here are a couple more posts in our Apple Education Community for Native American Heritage Month:

And as I post today - it’s National Bison Day! 

Buffalo-crossing sign in the vast Wyoming portion of Yellowstone National Park - Library of Congress.
Buffalo-crossing sign in the vast Wyoming portion of Yellowstone National Park - Library of Congress.

More new and amazing resources on Challenge Based Learning:

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