Native Village of Afognak
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Properties of Wood
Driftwood Journey Curriculum

Lesson Summary
: Students will gather and identify the different woods, the properties of each, and where they are found.


  • Students will understand that Alutiiq people used different types of wood for different purposes.
  • Students will identify the different types of driftwood by burning a small amount.
  • Students will journal their findings.

Materials needed: Wood: cottonwood, birch, alder, elderberry, red cedar, yellow cedar, spruce, hemlock, birch bark, grates for fires; containers to boil water; thermometers; picture of, and/or actual, wooden utensils; journals

People to be included: Elder(s) to help in identification; parents to help and participate.


Gear up: Tell students that there are several different kinds of wood. Ask: Where can we find wood here on the island? (Shore and forest, etc.) Tell them we will be gathering samples of wood and we will identify them.

Catcher Beach, on Afognak Island

Explore: Class will travel to the beach and gather samples in a 30-minute period.

Class will be broken into groups and timed to identify how many different kinds of wood they can find from their gathered materials. What sense can they use to identify the types of wood? (Smell, sight, touch…)

With the help of Elders and parents, and using pocket knives, students will prepare piles of wood scraps and shavings for a test burn. Each group will build a little fire pit and select one type of wood to burn. With the help of Elders and teachers, they will start the fire. When the fire is going, they will put a grate over the fire and put a container of water to boil on the grate. Students will use thermometers to see which wood heats water the fastest and starts to boil first.

(They will test the properties of the wood -- at the beach site -- through smelling, chipping, burning and rubbing.)

During the test-burn demonstration students will investigate:

  • Best wood to kindle a fire (cedar)
  • Fastest burning
  • Best woods for smoking (cottonwood and alder)
  • Best for dory knees / kayak prow
  • Best for boat building
  • Best for baskets
  • Best for bowls / utensils

Elders visit classroom to help identify samples taken from beach.

Pictures and artifacts from museum or from personal collection are brought to the classroom for hands-on connections.

Generalize: Ask the students a series of questions such as:

  • What did you notice about the wood?
  • What did it look like?
  • How heavy is it?
  • How does it smell? (sweet? bitter?)
  • What kind of texture does it have?
  • When you burn it, what happens?
  • Which one was the smokiest?
  • What color was the smoke?
  • Which burned the hottest?
  • Which burned the fastest?
  • Which burned the longest?

Where did you find it?
Based on your observation, can you guess which wood is which?
Is the wood native to the area or from someplace else?

Ask them to record some of the above information in their journals.

Lesson Outline:
    1. A Driftwood Story
    2. Properties of Wood
    3. Cultural Uses of Wood – Past and Present
    4. Tides – Gravitational Pull of the Moon
    5. Wind, Tides and Currents
    6. Earthquakes and Tsunamis
    7. Afognak and the 1964 Tsunami
        (Camp version, classroom version)
    8. Celebration of Trees
        •  Driftwood Art
        •  Driftwood Stories and Poems
    9. Celebrating Alutiiq Customs and Traditions

    Appendix: Resources Used


Driftwood Lessons