Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy,ARM Climate Change Research Project

For school year 1996-1997


Sheila Gaquin and Jason Fantz, teachers

PO Box 148, Point Hope, AK 99766

907-368-2876, FAX 907 368 2770


Granted $4,000. Spent: $2130.10 Remaining amount: $1867.40

The Proposal

We proposed studying local plants and their habitats with two classes--the 6th grade, and the high school biology class. We wanted students to discover the conditions required by the local plant communities, and to see if conditions varied significantly within a relatively small area. As outcomes of our study, we proposed the following:

* Creating a print and electronic version of a plant guide for plants growing around the village of Point Hope. We especially wanted to focus on plants which had traditional uses.

* Building terrariums of native plants for use in classrooms.

* Identifying microhabitats on the tundra and measuring the temperature, humidity, soil pH and sunlight in each area for the purpose of learning the needs and/or preferences of various plant communities.

The Budget

With the money allotted to us through DOE funding we ordered $2130.10 worth of equipment and supplies at the end of last school year (May 1996). A detailed budget is attached. When school resumed in early August, the materials we had ordered were on site. We appreciate that ARCUS was able to release funds to us during the 1995-96 school year so that we could order early. The window of opportunity for Arctic plants is rather brief, and if we had had to order our supplies this fall, we would not have been able start our study in early August when school opened.

In the Beginning

The first day of school the students wrote "focus writings" putting down on paper everything they knew about plants, Arctic or otherwise. We compiled this individual effort onto a class paper. The compilation showed the students knew plants needed sunlight to grow, some animals ate plants, and flowers are pretty.

The focus writings functioned as a pretest and showed areas of knowledge that needed to be developed inorder to procede with our study. since we wanted the students outdoors, observing and learning as much as possible in the brief period of temperate weather that fall has to offer, we taught much of the basics of botany outside kneeling on the damp tundra.

The Plant Guide

To begin the study of local plants and gather data for our plant guide, I divided the sixth grade into groups - a green, blue, yellow and white group. We took two field trips to each of 5 previously identified micro-habitat areas. Each group was to gather only plants with flowers matching the group's colors and only one sample of each plant to assure that we would not impact the plant populations too severely (though it must be point out that each of our sites was located with in a few "blocks" of the school, and therefore are already heavily impacted by human activity.)

When we got back to the classroom, each group identified the plants in their collections, filled out an identification tag and pressed their plant material. For identification we used Verna E. Pratt's Wildflowers of Denali National Park. I choose this book as our main identification guide because it is easy for children to use and contains many of the species we find in the Point Hope area. The book is divided by color, the photos are fairly large and clear, and the description is fairly brief and easy for non-botanist to read and comprehend. When Pratt's book left us without an identification, or when we couldn't distinguish between several species of sub-species, we used Eric Hulten's The Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories as the final authority. The sixth graders were quite thrilled to use such a BIG book.

After our plants were identified, pressed, and mounted on herbarium paper the students wrote their own plant descriptions, and employed many of these botanical terms they had learned like palmate and basal - along with some kid words like "furry" and "fluffy". After working together to edit the plant descriptions, each group typed their description using Microsoft Word.

We laminated our plant mounts so they could be handled without worrying about damaging them. Then we then put each mount together with a printout of our plant descriptions. Each color group shared their plants and descriptions with the students in the other color groups. This activity pointed out the importance of GENUS and FAMILIES. Students from the yellow group noticed many similarities between their specimen of saxifrage and (Saxifraga hirculus ) and the specimen from the white group, (Saxifraga bronchialis ). Similarities were also noted between Polygonum bistorta and Rumex arcticus , both members of the buckwheat family. The students noted that though these two plants do not look alike, they taste alike, and some how you just know they are similar. Though I didn't intend to teach taxonomy, the students were curious about how scientist KNEW which family, and genus to assign a plant. They were surprised to learn that taxonomy is NOT an exact science, and that scientist sometimes disagree on the fine points of classification. The idea that science was a dynamic field rather than a fixed set of information to be memorized was a new idea to the students. 

The field trips were great fun, and the students enjoyed each outing as well as teaching each other about "their" plants, but the most enjoyable, and educational part of our study came when we invited the Elders in for tea and cookies. I had tried the previous year to take Elders into the field with us to share their knowledge of local plants, but due to the difficulty of walking very far with them , we usually learned about only one or two plants per field trip. By having dried specimens and photographs we were able to ask the Elders about many plants.

After we'd sated ourselves with tea and cookies, each color group showed the Elders their plants and then wrote down what the Elders told them. The students were fascinated to learn that an "ordinary" plant like Artemisia tilessii was so important to their ancestors and Elders, and was used in so many ways - to cure a toothaches, to dress a wound, etc. Later in the school year when one of the kids had a bad toothache, another student commented, "too bad our Artemisia tilessii is laminated!"

After the Elders left, each group added the information they learned to their plant descriptions which were saved on the computer. Now we had all the information we needed to begin to put together our plant guide book...except photographs. The high school biology class had taken photos of many of the plants in our collection, but these proved problematic on two accounts.

1. Many of the pictures were not well focused, or were not close enough to show any detail of the plant,
2. The photos were in slide format.

We thought we would have the capability of scanning slides into our computer, but that piece of technology did not materialize. Luckily we learned of two other plant projects, and were able to contact the people involved and borrow their photographs. Karen Brewster and Jana Harcharek from the Inupiat History, Language and Culture Commission had come to Point Hope two years earlier and taken a small group of Elders up river with the Search and Rescue Helicopter. The Elders had picked some plants and prepared them in traditional ways, while Karen and Jana photographed the process. Unfortunately, (or fortunately from a teaching stand point) they had identified all the plants by common names, so when we got their photographs, the kids had to go back , their own specimens and the guide books once again to match technical names to photographs.

Our second source of photos came from Baldassare Mineo, a rock garden aficionado who had come to Point Hope strictly to view and photograph the wild species of plants he propagates in his garden. The kids were impressed that someone from the lower-48 would come all this way just to look at PLANTS. They were also pleased that Mr. Mineo knew the "big" names of the plants and put them on the backs of the photographs he gave us 

I scanned the photographs, so they were available to begin compiling our guide. The students used Micro-Soft Publisher to create the pages of the guide. We agreed on a format and they imported their text, and the matching photograph. We then printed each page on our color computer and collated it in class.

CD Rom 

Andrew Tooyak, a Point Hoper who is making a CD-Rom on the history of Point Hope, heard of our plant project and asked to incorporate it into his CD. Andrew took the information the kids had gathered, along with the photos and scanned them. When he finished the CD he brought it to school and let us view it. It was fun for the children to see their work incorporated into a professional production. At this time, the plans are for 80 copies of the CD to be distributed to schools across the North Slope.

World Wide Web 

Our plans to produce an electronic version of our plant guide for the World Wide Web has been fraught with difficulties. Hyper Text Mark-up Language (html) is a fairly complicated language for sixth grade students to master, so from the beginning we intended to use an html editor like the one included in Micro-soft Office-97 or the software Front Page. Our school purchased both of these programs, but unfortunately they only run with Windows 95, which we were supposed to have installed on our computers before Christmas of 1996. This still has not materialized, and it now looks like it will not be on our networked computers until the fall of 1997. I have explored both pieces of software-Micro-soft Word 97, and Front Page, and found them to be easier than html, but not exactly user-friendly for kids. We still hope to get the guidebook converted into html format and put on the World Wide Web before school is out this year, but it will be a teacher project rather than a kids process. Even so, I think the students will benefit from knowing that their information will be seen by a much larger audience than is possible with our print version.

The Terrariums 

The focus of our plant guide was angiosperms. However, the plants which survived best in our terrariums are mainly lichens, mosses and a few vascular pond plants. We assembled 3 small terrariums which have lived through the school year. We used M. C. Pielou's book, Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic to identify the basic types of lichens and mosses, and didn't get down to details of species. Having the terrariums in the class allowed us to experiment with lichens by doing things such as allowing a clump to dry out and then rehydrating. We used bean plants growing in our class to do comparison experiment. After the lichen experience, the students were some what surprised to find that bean plants would not rejuvenate, no matter how much water we poured on them. We also froze some bean plants and lichens and then tried to revive both. The students could see the incredible survivability of lichens, and had a better understanding of why those plants are often found growing where nothing else will survive.

Our proposal called for making terrariums that would be accessible to all the students in our school to help them learn the names and uses of local plants. The smaller terrariums were handy, because they could easily be loaned out to elementary classes that wanted to look at the plants growing in them and use the microscopes to view the smaller parts of the plants in their classes. Due to the difficulty of keeping terrariums alive over school vacations, we are looking into the possibility of freeze drying sections of tundra to have available for study.

The Plant Census

We had hoped to have the elementary and high school biology classes work together as much as possible, but due to scheduling conflicts, this did not happen as often as we would have liked. Never the less, one activity that we did together was a plant census. The high school students acted as team leaders, and helped the 6th graders through the process of setting up a sample area, and then counting and recording the plants found in their square meter area. In some cases, the plants were so small, and so numerous that estimation skills were called into play. The computerized sensors we purchased were installed in the center of the square meter in each micro-habitat area to measure light, humidity and temperature. 

We were very disappointed in the sensors. They were the most expensive piece of equipment we purchased, and they performed the least effectively. Not all the problems were the fault of the manufacturer-some of the sensors were vandalized in the field, and at one point a cable needed to down load the sensors got lost, but the larger, over-riding and most frustrating situation was caused by the batteries in the sensors. The batteries were supposedly new when we purchased the sensors, and were supposed to be good for a year under the conditions we intended to use them in. This seemed more than adequate for our needs, since we only intended to leave the sensors in place through the autumn. However, when we collected the sensors late in the fall, we were unable to download information because the batteries were dead. We then went through a series of long distance mishaps with the company supplying the sensors, including receiving the wrong batteries. Finally--only a few weeks ago--we received the correct batteries and the correct cables, and were able to download the data stored in the sensors. Some of the data was highly questionable--temperatures spiking over 100 degrees for example. In addition, the data showed that some of the sensors had worked for only a day or two before quitting.


Regardless of the sensor data disappointment, we were able to identify characteristics in each area we studied that seemed to account for the differences in the plants we saw growing. Differences in soils were noted. We had wet, blackish soils that stuck to our feet in the areas where plants like Marsh Marigold grew. While senecio, on the other hand, only grew in sandy soils near to the beach along with a variety of grasses. The high school students performed soil tests for nitrogen, potassium and phosphates and pH . Their results showed a deficiency in basic nutrients in most areas, which made us wonder how the plants "earned a living." The students observed that plants growing near the remains of animals and near squirrel burrows were larger and more lush than those growing else where. Soil samples showed these areas to have a few more nutrients than other areas, but wind protection may have been as much a factor as fertility. That will take more study.

The students noticed a correlation between plant form and location. The most exposed and windy areas had the lowest growing and most compact plants, like moss campion for example, while the tallest plants grew down in ravines or over the edges of bluffs or even behind a bit of trash embedded in the sod where they were more protected from the wind. Sometimes, plants of the sames species would alter their form according to their location. Some of the willows for example, will lie prone in exposed areas, but grow upright in protected areas.

Follow up studies

We plan to continue to work with students in the future on plant identification. Since our herbarium specimens are pretty complete, I would not have future groups collect plant material, but instead take digital photographs of plants in the field which could be downloaded and printed as soon as we return to class. I also will continue to invite the Elders into class to share their plant knowledge with students. The few hours the students spent with the Elders talking about plants is still one of their favorite moments of the year.

We had proposed the possibility a soil stabilization project in the future with the students identifying the plants that had soil holding potential, with the possibly propagating these at school. We thought this project presented the possibility for students to make a proposal to the Village Council--we are always looking for ways for the children to speak publicly in authentic situations. We may pursue this project, although the North Slope Borough has granted the village funding to build a sea wall around our entire end of the spit to eliminate the erosion. It might be more interesting to institute a study to watch which plants grow near the sea wall and benefit from its construction, and which ones will be displaced by it.

Had our sensors been more robust, we wanted to place sets of them in one of our study areas at various levels in the snow--on the surface, just below the surface, a few feet down in the snow pack, and right at ground level to see how conditions varied as the snow depth increased. Is there a correlation between snow pack levels (our snow coverage varies from less than an inch in exposed areas, to over 12 feet in other areas) and the type, size or amount of plants growing in an area.


Though our project did not follow the exact course we laid out last spring, and even though we hit several glitches along the way, we were pleased over all with the outcomes. In the beginning I wondered if we would be able to make plants as interesting to students as animals, which always capture students' interest. While I don't think a Rubus chamaemorus will ever be as enticing as a bowhead whale, the students were curious and interested in the plant work. 

Our ending "focus writing" produced a class compilation that filled 3 long sheets of butcher paper and included information on taxonomy, physiology, soil chemistry, photosynthesis, climate, cultural information, plant reproduction, food chains, adaptations, and to me the most important, a sense of awe for the massive diversity and tenacity of life found right here in our neighborhood. Another indication of the success of the project: Next year's fifth graders are already asking if they get to "do plants" next year.

Thank you very much for the awarding the funds to us, and making this study possible.



Hulten, Eric Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories. Stanford University Press, Stanford
CA., 1968.

Jones, Anore, Traditional Nutrition Project, Plants we Eat Maniiliaq Association, Kotzebue,

AK, 1968.

Pratt, Verna, Frank G. Pratt, Wildflowers of Denali Park. AlaskaKrafts, Inc., Anchorage,

AK, 1993.

ITEX, International Tundra Experiments list server,

People and Organizations:
Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, Betty Kinneaveauk contact person. Barrow, AK

Inupiat History, Lanugauge and Culture Commission (IHLC). Karen Brewster, Contact person.

Point Hope Elders, Jacob Lane, Sr., Kirk Oviok, Alice Webber, Marilyn Dexter.

Budget of Expenses for Point Hope Microhabitat project.
Sheila Gaquin and Jason Fantz, teachers.
(All materials listed were ordered on May 17, 1996)

Amount granted:


Sensing Equipment Amount budgeted: $1200

1 Hobo Softwear

$ 59.00

5 Hobo Temp Gauge @ 99.00 each


5 Hobo Relative Humidity gauage, @ 149.00 ea.


Sub total


Soil test equipment Amount budgeted: $300

Moisture/light meter

$ 26.65

Fertilizer Analyzer


Inst. pH meter




Topsoil Tour Kit recharger supplies


Rubber boots Amount budgeted: $ 100


Waders Amount budgeted, $ 150


Hand lenses Amount budgeted, $80.00


Mounting paper, Amount budgeted, $ 100


Blotting paper, Amount budgeted, $100


Polyfoam driers, Amount budgeted $7.50


Spray Mount, Amount budgeted $50.00


Plant presses, Amount budgeted $70.00


Labels, Amount budgeted $50.00


genus covers, $50 budgeted


Jars and containers $200.00


Shipping (no amount budgeted)


total spent:


Balance left


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