According to educational experts, such as Intel Education, when students create visual representations it helps them remember and further understand newly-acquired knowledge. The medicine wheel is a unique and culturally educational graphic representation that students can produce in a variety of subject classes.
What is a Medicine Wheel?
Medicine wheels have been part of many Native American cultures for thousands of years. At one time there were 20,000 medicine wheel ceremonial grounds, constructed out of stones, found in North America. Tribes who incorporated these grounds went there for times of contemplation, learning, and celebration of life.
The medicine wheel is divided into four different sections. Each section represents a different season, stage in life, cardinal direction, animal totem, time of day, sacred medicine, colour representative of race, and aspects of a person. The wheel represents a harmonious interconnectedness and respect between all beings and components of life.
The Ojibwe Medicine Wheel
Teachers who will incorporate the medicine wheel in their classrooms should research the culture and tradition of a specific tribe, perhaps one that is from their geographic area. This is because the meaning of the medicine wheel differs with each Native American Nation.
As an example, as follows are the characteristics of the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel’s four quadrants:
North: white, elder, bear, winter, sweet grass, night, air, spiritual, wisdom, mastery of skills.
East: yellow, baby, eagle, spring, tobacco, morning (sunrise), water, mental, open mindedness, joy, innocence.
South: red, adolescent, deer, summer, cedar, afternoon, earth, physical, learning, personal growth, respectful of others.
West: black, adult, buffalo, autumn, sage, evening (sunset), fire, emotional, generosity, uniqueness.
Medicine Wheel Activities for Elementary Students
In the classroom, teachers should put up pictures of medicine wheels that are part of the Native American culture they are teaching. The teacher should also read storybooks or invite elders to the class so that students can more deeply understand the specific native culture they are studying and the meaning of the medicine wheel. Students can then create their own medicine wheels.
Students can learn of the four cardinal directions by adding North, East, South and West to their wheels. They can also learn about the patterns of the Sun by adding drawings or collage pieces of sunrise in the East, the Sun highest in the sky in the South, sunset in the West, and night time in the North.
Children can create another medicine wheel where seasons are the theme. By using drawings, words, craft supplies and magazine clippings, they can describe their favourite aspects and activities of each season by adding these to appropriate sections of the wheel.
Another medicine wheel can be created to focus on animal totems. For example, the Ojibwe wheel’s East’s quadrant has eagle as its totem. In this scenario, students could fill this section of the wheel with all winged creatures or information about the eagle’s habitat, diet, and life cycle.
Finally children can create a medicine wheel that reflects the story of their family. Again using the Ojibwe wheel as a model, students could describe themselves as a baby in the East, their older sibling or cousin in the South, their parents in the West, and a grandparent in the North.
Medicine Wheel Activities for Secondary Students
In the classroom, teachers should post up pictures of medicine wheels that are representative of the specific First Nation tribe they are teaching. Students should increase their knowledge of this culture by researching articles, books, and museums exhibits. Teachers are also encouraged to invite elders from the particular tribe to come speak to their students. Students can then create medicine wheels based on their newly acquired knowledge.
Incorporating the four seasons, students can create a medicine wheel, using words, drawings, craft supplies and magazines, demonstrating the traditional practices that Native Americans completed during each time of year. For example, they can demonstrate the hunting and gathering seasons for each animal and plant species. Also for a weather unit, students can describe climate and extreme weather that occurs during each season.
For an Earth Science class, students could describe the cycles of the elements, such as the water or soil cycles, or they could describe the historical and present day uses of each element as resources.
For a Global Geography course, students can list a number of countries that represent each type of race (represented by the colours of the wheel) and describe cultural information for those countries such as religion, language and food.
For a Biology course, students could focus on the animal totems describing the biomes in which they live, their place in the food chain, and a detailed description of their lifestyle.
For a creative writing course, students can write inside their medicine wheels, a reflection of their childhood, their present contemplation of being a teenager and their hopes and dreams for adulthood.
Finally an activity can be organized for students to focus on themselves and to identify their positive qualities. If students were using the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel as a model, in the North quadrant they could illustrate skills they feel they have mastered or in the West some of their unique characteristics.
Teachers are encouraged to incorporate the medicine wheel into their lesson plans. It is a tool that can be used among many subject areas. It is a way for students to reinforce learning in English, History, Geography and Science classes but also a way to gain knowledge about Native American culture and themselves.