MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Nature Stories: Promoting Environmental Awareness through Culture and Exploration.

Nature Stories: Promoting Environmental Awareness through Culture and Exploration.

Nicholas Pawlowski, St. Mary's Mission School, Red Lake, MN, inspired from Caduto and Bruchac's book Keepers of the Earth.
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In this lesson, the story of Turtle Island is told to the children. Sky Woman falls to a flooded earth, is helped by the animals and then plants seeds on Turtle's back which grew into North America. The childrens homework is to bring a leaf to school, every day, for about a month (fall). These leaves may be sketched into their nature journal, plant lessons may by conducted with them every day and comparisons made between students. Every leaf is then pressed in a telephone book and after a month, they are brought out and assembled on a cut out paper tree, (only trunk and branches).

Learning Goals

The goal of this activity is to promote greater awareness that 1) all the plants we see around us all come from a common source,2) display a sampling of the innumerable species of plants, 3) attach a cultural story to a science lesson and, 4) the changing of the seasons.

Context for Use

This activity may be done only with a single class, or the entire school. I gathered leaves from everyone in my art class and then made one single tree with everyone's on it. Over 200 leaves! The story must be revisited and incorporated into classroom talk for the rest of the school year. In this way it is not just an art project, but rather, a fundamental culture and science education.

Subject: Geoscience, Environmental Science, Biology:Plant Biology, Diversity
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity:Short Activity:Demonstration, Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science

Description and Teaching Materials

This story of Turtle Island may be adapted to any story from any culture. The important part is physical participation by the children. Leaves are everywhere and so can be collected by everyone. This includes, water, bugs, grass, stones, etc.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The difference in this activity now after MnSTEP from when I made it last, was that I would now include nature journaling every day. Also, we would now spend significant time talking about the childrens' leaves, where they come from and how come they are all different. This would also be a regular part of morning meeting, at least for two weeks, until the children get in the habit of picking leaves daily.


Assessment would be determined by each child's nature journal. Each journal would record not only a child's daily participation, the information learned and most importantly, serve as memory tool of his unique participation in the class/school project when they would later, perhaps at the end of the year, have to find their leaf again by matching the one on the wall with the picture in their nature journal.

References and Resources