In the Classroom

Lesson Plans for NWT and Alberta Secondary Science Classrooms


Freshwater river systems are the basis of livelihood and well-being in northern communities. Changes to these systems due to climate heating, extractive industries, and other economic activities are immediately experienced by community members, young and old – both on the land and within social and cultural life. It is critical that young people in northern communities learn how to understand changes to the land and water – and consider ways to act and address the issue to create healthy futures.


These lesson plans draw upon extensive research done through Tracking Change with Indigenous peoples and other land users, including youth, to meet learning outcomes for NWT and Alberta Science courses. Indigenous knowledge informs all lesson plans, connecting youth to their Elders, histories, lands, languages, and cultures in vital ways. Lessons are inquiry-based, relevant to young people in northern contexts, and adaptable for a variety of learners, containing options for customization and extension for keen students. Lessons may be used in all northern school contexts, including land-based schools. 


We welcome all science teachers, from those well-versed in Indigenous knowledge to those who are new to the north, to integrate these lessons into your classrooms. Our teacher resources are available to help you get started!

Science 7: Informed Decision-Making

Due to human activities such as development, climate change, hydro damming, and others, the Mackenzie River Basin is facing many problems. Managing these issues is important in ensuring that the health of the river is protected and people’s livelihoods are supported. Students will learn the significant relationship between humans and the ecosystems of which they are part. This lesson introduces students to the importance of using all knowledge available (traditional, local, and scientific) in making decisions about current and future problems, using case studies about important environmental issues.

Science 7: Ecosystem Shift - Ice

The change in warmer winters and shifting seasons caused by human activities over the past couple of decades is becoming more noticeable. One key change is in the timing and predictability of ice freeze-up and melt. Students will learn the significant relationship between humans and the ecosystems of which they are part, including the consequences of human activities on the environment. This lesson introduces students to the implications/consequences of human activities and how these changes have been noticed and recorded, by sharing important quotes from Elders, land users, and community members who have noticed shifts in ice patterns.

Science 7: Ecosystem Shift - Fish

Industrial projects are becoming more commonplace in the Mackenzie River Basin, causing changes in the local aquatic ecosystem. One key ecosystem shift is the change in fish habitat, health, and population. Students will learn the significant relationship between humans, their environment and the consequences of human activities on the environment.This lesson introduces students to the implications/consequences of human activities and how these changes have been noticed and recorded by sharing important quotes from Elders, Land Users and community members who have noticed a shift in fish health and populations.

Science 7: Fish Monitoring

Human societies are a major part of their local ecosystems, and human activities have both direct and indirect impacts on those ecosystems. One of these impacts is on fish habitat, health, and population – including the fish human beings rely on for food. This lesson introduces students to the concept of fish monitoring through Indigenous knowledge systems, the indicators of fish health used, and how to monitor fish habitat, health, and populations.

Science 8: Human Impact

71% of the world’s surface is covered in water, from salt water systems to freshwater systems. What happens when our actions as a society impact these vital ecosystems that are part of our daily lives for water, food, and fun? This lesson introduces students to researching and analyzing different human impacts on the environment, and invites students to make decisions that benefit local ecosystems. Students will learn how to analyze the different factors affecting marine and freshwater environments, the human impacts on the environment, and how to address these issues.

Science 8: Local Aquatic System Health

Aquatic ecosystems are impacted by human induced threats such as climate change, industrial development (oil and gas, mining), and hydroelectric dams. Indigenous knowledge and observations of land users are important sources of information in understanding these threats to water. Western science is also a useful way of investigating water quality. This lesson introduces students to different threats facing the Mackenzie River and types of scientific tests that can explain the health of the water. Students will get firsthand experience completing scientific monitoring by investigating water pollution in order to understand the consequences of human activities on the environment.

Science 8: Local Drinking Water

Many Indigenous communities in Canada do not have access to clean drinking water. Lack of infrastructure, along with pollution caused by various industries, affects local drinking water. In this lesson, students will come to understand the significance of water supply and quality to the needs of humans and other living things in their local community. To do so, they will administer a survey and analyze the results to investigate the ways that water is used in their community, the quality of the water, and the perceived threats to the water.

Science 10: Climate Change

Climate heating is a global issue. Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as in other parts of the world, are global leaders in the fight against climate change. This lesson introduces students to ways young Indigenous peoples are involved in climate activism and allows them to investigate climate impacts in their own community. It also enables students to network their learning with students in other locations across the Mackenzie River Basin using online technology, in order to compare local knowledge of climate impacts across their region.

Science 10: Global Climate Change and Rivers in Different Biomes

Many communities around the world rely on waterways for transportation, agriculture, drinking water, and as a source of food. Freshwater is essential, but it is increasingly threatened due to climate change. This lesson introduces students to ways communities in three different parts of the world contribute to and experience climate impacts on freshwater environments. Students will explore communities in the Amazon, the Mekong, and the Mackenzie rivers/biomes in order to compare and contrast climate change contributors and effects in different river systems.

Experiential Science 30: Disturbance and Development

Industrial development can be important for economic development, but it also poses serious threats to the environment. For instance, chemicals used in mining can enter waterways. Understanding these impacts is important when making decisions about approving projects and identifying ways to mitigate the negative effects. This lesson exposes students to resource development projects in the Northwest Territories, introduces how Indigenous knowledge and local communities contribute to understanding of toxins, and allows students to investigate the environmental disturbances that can arise from development. Students will be challenged to apply their learning to investigate a local issue using primary and secondary research, and then convey what they learned in a creative way.

Experiential Science 30: Freshwater Ecology

Fish are an important part of many people’s diets, and having reliable access to fish in a nearby waterway is an important part of many communities’ health and food security. While western science provides important information about local fish resources, fishers and Indigenous peoples have been gathering and passing on information about fish populations for generations. In this lesson, students will conduct fieldwork to investigate local fish resources in a way that is rooted in Indigenous knowledge and on-the-land experience.

Experiential Science 30: Sustainability and Freshwater Resources

A common definition of “sustainability” is: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (Brundtland, 1987). Sustainability often involves three pillars: economic, environment, and social sustainability. Ecotourism is increasingly promoted as a means of boosting local economies while maintaining sustainable practices. It is important for students to recognize different definitions of “sustainability” in order to determine whether (and how) ecotourism would fit within their local community. This lesson will introduce students to the concept of sustainability from Indigenous perspectives, as well as how the principle can be applied to ecotourism in northern communities. Students will learn to listen to Elders and/or local fish harvesters define sustainability and apply local and Indigenous knowledge to decision-making around ecotourism.

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