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Curriculum Level: 6-8

By Wendi Pillars, Jordan-Matthews High School, Chatham County Schools, North Carolina

Students will be introduced to the subsistence lifestyle through the interconnected lenses of changing climate, food insecurity, and decreasing sea ice. Students will become familiar with the location of Savoonga, Alaska, home to a Siberian Yupik community, within the Arctic region as a whole, as well as be able to distinguish between sea ice and glacial ice. Students will gain a new appreciation for the diversity of lifestyles within our own United States and understand why we are an Arctic nation.

SUGGESTED GRADE LEVELS: Grades 8-10; approximate class time needed = 2 or 3 x 90 minutes

SUBJECTS: Earth and Environmental Science, Biology (created with Biology standards in mind, but easily adaptable for Earth and Environmental studies). This lesson does assume basic knowledge of climate change, the impact of greenhouse gases, and the concept of albedo as it relates to melting ice.


NC Biology Standards:

Bio.2.1: Understand the Interdependence of Organisms and the Environment.

  • Relevant Sub-Standard: Bio.2.1.3 – Explain the cycling of matter and the flow of energy within ecosystems by relating specific aspects to the organisms that inhabit them.

Bio.2.2: Understand the Interactions of Abiotic and Biotic Factors within an Ecosystem.

  • Relevant Sub-Standard: Bio. 2.2.1 Infer how human activities (including population growth, pollution, global warming, burning of fossil fuels, habitat destruction and introduction of nonnative species) may impact the environment.
  • Relevant Sub-Standard: Bio.2.2.2 Explain how the use, protection and conservation of natural resources by humans impact the environment from one generation to the next.

Bio.2.1: Understand the Concept of the Arctic Ecosystem.

  • Relevant Sub-Standard: Bio.2.1.4 – Generalizing that although some populations have the capacity for exponential growth, there are limited resources that create specific carrying capacities and population sizes are in a dynamic equilibrium with these factors. (e.g. food availability, climate, water, territory).

NMAI Essential 360 Understandings #3: People, Places, and Environments

  • Native knowledge understands and values the relationship between local environment and cultural traditions, and recognizes that human beings are part of the environment.



  1. How does the geographical location of Savoonga, Alaska, within the Arctic region influence its political and environmental dynamics?
  2. What physical characteristics distinguish sea ice from glacial ice, and how do these differences shape the traditions of Arctic inhabitants?
  3. In what ways does the dependency on sea ice as a platform for hunting and transportation affect the cultural identity and traditions of Indigenous communities in the Arctic?
  4. How do variations in sea ice extent and thickness affect the availability and accessibility of marine resources, and subsequently, the food security of subsistence communities like Savoonga?
  5. What are the primary direct and indirect impacts of diminishing sea ice on the availability and sustainability of traditional food sources for Arctic subsistence communities? And how do these communities adapt?


  • Students will be able to make connections between sea ice and food security in a subsistence culture.
  • Students will be able to distinguish sea ice from glacial ice
  • Students will be able to analyze the socioeconomic ripple effects of less sea ice on the subsistence community of Savoonga in the Bering Sea.
  • Students will be able to identify Savoonga and the Arctic region on political and physical maps.


  • (Suggestions–teachers can of course tailor to their specific student needs): Subsistence culture/ lifestyle, sea ice, glacial ice, cultural traditions, climate change, interconnectedness, socioeconomic, ripple effects, food (in)security, diminishing sea ice, sustainability, food sources, Siberian Yupik Eskimo, Savoonga, Indigenous communities

BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR THE EDUCATOR or RESOURCES TO EXPLORE FURTHER: Teachers can use these resources to learn more about Savoonga itself before teaching, and/or select sources to share with students. One idea is to create a choice board where students can choose a couple of links to explore and prepare to share or reflect in some way with others.

  1. Students will ideally have some background knowledge about climate change, the impact of greenhouse gases, and the concept of albedo as it relates to melting ice.
  2. St. Lawrence Island Yupik People and Their Culture (focuses more on Gambell, the other village on the island, but it still provides solid insights into that lifestyle) Smithsonian Arctic Studies Paper: St. Lawrence Island Yupik People and Their Culture (Smithsonian Institution resource)
  3. Quick Facts about Sea Ice
  4. Listening to Savoonga (talks about acoustics and noise pollution, but also provides views of the village and interviews with some of the residents to help students/ teachers get a feel for the place)
  5. Savoonga AK (drone footage of Savoonga in winter; note the use of 4-wheelers, and no trees!)
  6. Savoonga Alaska (2023 drone footage of the village including new buildings)
  7. Savoonga skin sewer (interview with a sealskin sewer)
  8. Alaska’s native-owned island (lots of great insights into Yupik life, but a longer video)


**Please refer to this spreadsheet for a suggested breakdown of timing over three 90-minute class periods.

  1. Students will take a pre-assessment about sea ice and the Arctic in general. (10 minutes) Can be done via Google form or on paper. Paper is preferred to have students draw a map to locate the Arctic/ Arctic Circle and provide extra insight into their background knowledge. You can also include photos to compare and contrast sea ice and glacial ice if you have time. (Pics are included in the pre-assessment).
    Use the same assessment for pre- and post for insights into their growth of understanding.
  2. Students will research the difference between sea ice and glacial ice. (NOAA Website: Five Facts to Help You Understand Sea Ice); read via Jigsaw activity template: students will each have a number 1-5 (count off or use sticky notes). Students will read only that section in the linked article and take notes using a graphic organizer online (or on paper) (10-15 minutes). After 10-15 minutes, all 1’s will group together, all 2’s, all 3’s, etc. so there will be 5 groups total. If your groups are too large, divide them in half. As a group, they will each read (they don’t need to share digitally) their responses, including 3 facts, 2-3 key words that help explain the topic and 1 question they have after reading. (10-15 minutes)Once everyone in the group has read out loud, the group will decide on the Top Three Facts overall that summarize their section, 2-3 key words overall, and 1 or 2 of their favorite questions from the group as a whole. Only one person will scribe/ synthesize for the group on a Google slide. Options based on time: students will get into groups of 1-5 and share their top takeaways using the slide deck as an anchor or students can present their work as whole groups (all 1’s present to the whole class).
  3. Locate Savoonga on a map or this one
  4. Students watch the video from Alaska News to understand changes in sea ice and subsistence living:
    1. Answer questions about the video (linked here); teachers can print this out or post it digitally. There are several questions suggested in the document, so teachers can decide which ones to use with their students based on time
  5. Students will read conversation starter cards to prime thinking about sea ice and subsistence living.
    Teachers can display the slides to a whole class, use them in stations, or have students work in small groups/pairs to prime their thinking about the Arctic and introduce new knowledge from day one.
  6. Students can view two short drone footage videos that show Savoonga from the air in two different seasons. Here and more recent footage here.
  7. Students will read an article on Bering Sea Ice impacts and answer questions:
    1. Answer questions about the article. Student Handout of suggested questions is available here.  (A comprehensive set of questions is linked here); teachers can print these out or post them digitally
      1. Teachers can go through the suggested questions (each has suggested responses) and choose a few of them to use with their students. Not all of them need to be used; you may just want to use one as an exit ticket, depending on your time available.
  8. Students will read a journal entry from a research team member in Savoonga, describing the importance of sea ice.

    1. Since students have already read and responded to questions, the formative assessment for this reading can be a one-minute paper (see link for great question ideas) or a prompt like: “I used to think___, but now I know____”. I personally would have students write this prompt 2 or 3 times to get them to show deeper thinking.
  1. Using all of the above information, students will create a flowchart that delineates how one event can impact another. Flowcharts should have at least 3-4 events to demonstrate student understanding of cause and effect.
  • Students are encouraged to work in pairs or groups of three to create their flowchart on a separate piece of paper. Use the example for brainstorming and coming up with ideas, as well as listing key vocabulary required for responses. For each effect, students will write a claim about each effect, supported by evidence from any of the resources used in the lesson. Effects should be connected in a way that makes sense and supports the overarching idea that no sea ice causes countless domino effects for the villagers and their lifestyle.
  • Teachers are also encouraged to provide a minimum number of key vocabulary words that students should use in their responses.
  • Words selected will depend on the teacher’s expectations and the students’ readiness/ abilities. Selecting words that need to be included can help scaffold student responses and further guide their understanding.
  • Level of detail for each claim and evidence will also depend on the teacher and their goals for the assessment. This can be used as a powerful formative assessment within the human impact standards for Biology.
  • Pair work provides additional opportunities for students to dialogue and cement their understanding, while the teacher walks around to dispel misconceptions and provoke deeper thinking.
  1. Optional Summative assessment: Students will be able to explain in writing which challenge from the flowchart they believe is the most pressing from the viewpoint of a subsistence hunter, and defend their reasoning using evidence from the resources and a CER format Differentiated CER Template via TPT (freebie) and a suggested rubric here.

ASSESSMENTS: Please note that most of these are formative assessments because it’s important for the teacher to be moving around the classroom, listening, nudging, and pushing student thinking; this also helps teachers gauge the timing of activities and prioritize areas of focus)

  • Pre-and post-assessments (use the same assessment before and after the learning to gauge growth and new understanding), including photo analysis of sea ice vs glacial ice (formative assessment)
  • Jigsaw responses (formative assessment)
  • Listening comprehension from Yupik natives speaking in English (their second language) using a writing task (formative assessment)
  • Written responses to questions (formative assessment)
  • Oral responses to conversation starters (formative assessment)
  • Analysis of impacts by creating a flowchart to demonstrate understanding of cause and effect (summative assessment using a simple checklist on the flowchart)
  • (optional) CER (Claim-Evidence-Reasoning) Writing activity (if you have time or can team with another teacher for interdisciplinary work) to express understanding in writing and provide further depth of that evidence. A suggested rubric can be found here so that it can be used as a summative assessment.


  • Research a local crop and explore how it is impacted by the changing climate or other anthropogenic factors (hurricanes in NC, fishing industry, cotton, tobacco, etc.)
  • Research one Arctic marine mammal or organism to understand its relationship with sea ice (walrus, minke whale, bowhead whale, fur seal, bearded seal, spotted seal, seabird (least auklet, crested auklet, petrel, thick-billed murre, northern fulmar, puffins, kittiwakes) phytoplankton, zooplankton
  • Students could propose a solution for the most pressing challenge they believe the community residents face (although it’s important to note that they are contributing the least to the problems posed by climate change)
  • Students could compare and contrast their own lifestyle with that of subsistence hunters, including changes over time



Akeya, D. (2021, December 5). savoonga ak [Video]. YouTube.

Akeya, D. (2023, September 15). Savoonga Alaska [Video]. YouTube.

Alaska Dispatch News. (2017, May 27). Video: Savoonga residents describe changes in spring sea ice.

File: Arctic Circle.Svg. Wikimedia Commons, Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kiddle. (2024). Savoonga, Alaska. Kiddle.,Alaska

NASA. (n.d.). Five Facts to Help You Understand Sea Ice. Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet.

On Course Workshop. (n.d.). One-Minute Paper. Retrieved from

PolarTREC. Pillars, Wendi. (2018, August 5). Migration and Carry-Over Effects in Arctic Seabirds. PolarTREC.

Reading Rockets. (2024). Jigsaw. Reading Rockets.

The Seattle Times. (2019, Sep 21). As Bering Sea ice melts, nature is changing on a massive scale — and Alaska crab pots are pulling up cod. The Seattle Times.

Smithsonian Learning Lab. (2009). The St. Lawrence Island Yupik People and Their Culture. Smithsonian Learning Lab.

Smithsonian Learning Lab. (n.d.). The St. Lawrence Island Yupik People and Their Culture Map. Smithsonian Learning Lab.

Teachers Pay Teachers. (2023). CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) Science Writing Templates FREEBIE. Teachers Pay Teachers.