Lisa HarrisonThis year’s LivingLAB classes with Grade Four have been a platform for learning resiliency, empathy, and practical skills through the stories of native cultures, Lewis and Clark’s expedition west, and Norse Mythology.

Using a place-based learning model, we have immersed ourselves in the culture of the Clackamas tribe who once lived on the rich and fertile land our school now resides on. We have dried, shelled, leached and ground acorns, planted camas and wapato, and harvested dandelion for tea. We have learned of the adventures of Lewis and Clark, their introduction to these plants by the native people and how the explorers responded to the foods—which was not always pleasant. As we further embraced the rich history of the Clackamas tribe, we learned to twist cordage and collect/bind willow for basket weaving.

This past month, the students delved into the heroic tales of the Norse gods and goddesses, and during main lesson, prepared and presented the epic story, The Theft of Thor’s Hammer. As they developed a familiarity and  fondness for the characters, they were invited to cross over the Rainbow Bridge, Bifrost, and into Midgard where the humans reside. These humans were known as Vikings, and we found them to be as adventurous as Lewis and Clark and as practical as the native people. As the students had perfected the cordage made by the Clackamas tribe, we learned of a common cordage made by the Vikings and set out to make our own.

Student with snodgaffelOne type of cordage was made on a Snodgaffel; a tool with two prongs at one end and a handle on the other. Snodgaffels can be made from bone, antlers, branches and even stone, and make a square rope that has been found to be extremely durable. The students were given a rough cut snodgaffel made of oak, the same material used to make the elaborate Viking ships, and began to sand with three different grits of sandpaper until their tool was as smooth as butter and had rounded corners like a kindergarten toy. On each of the snodgaffels, their initials have been burned in Elder Futhark, the alphabet of this time. The students have been working diligently on their snodgaffels and with the rope they are creating, they are finding practical uses; trim and embellishments for sewing projects, belts and for binding material.

The gift of engaging in these skills has brought a sense of competency in the students. It has been an absolute joy to witness their careful and thoughtful work and applications.