Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Native American Education: Past, Present, and Future


Patricia McDaniels-Gomez, Daniel Schwarz | Published: August 19th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 11th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course Oklahoma History, U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 120 minutes
  • Duration More 2 periods


In this lesson, students will review, analyze, and evaluate the history of Native American education, focusing on boarding schools (specifically Carlisle Indian Industrial School), terminology, and their transformation over the past 150 years. Students will analyze primary sources from the past, learn about extant boarding schools, and envision the future of Native American education.

Essential Question(s)

Why did the U.S. government use assimilation to educate native children? How did assimilation in education affect Native people?



Students formulate a S-I-T evaluation of a clip from the miniseries Into the West.


Students examine the actual student records of Native children who attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School and discuss its impact on their lives.


Students read and highlight an article summarizing the history of Native American education from the past to the present. They then use the Honeycomb Harvest strategy to gauge their understanding of terms and concepts.


Students use a Choice Board to explore three different resources focusing on the past, present, and future of Native American education.


Students re-evaluate the essential questions and determine what the future of Native American education will look like.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Native American Education Note Catcher (attached; one per student)

  • "History of Native American Education - A Snapshot" reading (attached; one per student)

  • Honeycomb Harvest handout (attached; one per student or small group)

  • Choice Board

  • Teacher’s Guide (attached)

  • Computers with internet capabilities

  • Pens/pencils

  • Blank paper


15 Minute(s)

Welcome students and briefly introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Display slide 2 and take a minute to explain the lesson. Display slide 3 and explain the S-I-T (Surprising, Interesting, Troubling) strategy to the students. On slide 4, play the embedded YouTube video of the clip from TNT’s Into the West. In this clip, the first Native students arrive at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first off-reservation boarding school. While students are watching the clip, have them identify something Surprising, something Interesting, and something Troubling.

When everyone has finished writing their responses on a piece of scratch paper, ask students to share their responses with a partner. After 3 minutes, ask groups to share their discussions with the class.

Display slides 5-6. Quickly review the essential questions and the learning objectives. For the next 3 minutes, ask students to identify examples of instances in the clip when the students were forced to reject their tribal culture. You do not need to introduce students to the term "assimilation," as they will learn it in the reading during the Explain.


30 Minute(s)

Display slide 7. Pass out the attached Carlisle Indian School Resource Center Note Catcher. Tell students that they will need a computer with internet access to complete this activity. As a class, complete questions #1 and #2 together. Then read the directions below to them.

Students will use the internet and the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center site to complete the guided Note Catcher. Using this site, students can look through the student records of those who attended Carlisle from 1879-1918. Students can search using tribes, names, or dates. Documents found in their records include the following: Student Information Card, Behavioral Reports, Report after Leaving, Letters, financial information, postcards, pictures, etc. While reading through the students’ documents, students will jot down in their notes about what impact (positive or negative) the school had on the students.

After 25 minutes, ask some students to share what information they have found about the native students from the past and the impact Carlisle had on their lives. In order to check the students’ responses for accuracy, feel free to consult the attached Teacher’s Guide, which includes sample responses pertaining to each Carlisle student.


30 Minute(s)

Display slide 8. Pass out the attached "History of Native Education - A Snapshot" reading. While students are reading, they should use the Why-Lighting strategy and highlight any vocabulary that is unfamiliar to them and any interesting information. When everyone is finished, have Elbow Partners discuss what they have highlighted. Students should devote 10 minutes to reading and 5 minutes to discussion.

Display slide 9. Discuss the Honeycomb Harvest strategy. Provide sets of the Honeycomb Harvest cards to each student or small group of students. Give students about 3 minutes to arrange the honeycombs to best represent their understanding of the relationship among the terms and concepts relating to native education.

When the students have created their honeycomb shape, have each individual share their reasoning with a small group. If small groups complete their harvests together, ask that they rotate to another group to see other arrangements to compare and contrast. Emphasize that it is likely that students will also produce a variety of arrangements. Spend about 12 minutes on discussions.


30 Minute(s)

Explain the Choice Board strategy. On slide 10, provide the link to the online Choice Board. The Choice Board will have three columns titled: "Past," "Present," and "Future." Under each title are five sources relating to native education from the past and present, along with implications for the future. Students are to choose one link from each column to view/read/peruse. While they are engaging with the source, they are to keep in mind the overall guiding question: "How does this type of education affect native students of that time (Past, Present, or Future)?" Give students 30 minutes (or 10 minutes for each source) to explore their chosen sites.


15 Minute(s)

After 30 minutes, move to slide 11. Have the whole class share out their favorite sites and discuss how the information from those sites affected native students’ education. You can use the two guiding questions: How has assimilation affected education in today's Native communities? What does the future of Native education look like?

After students have answered those, refer back to the essential questions: Why did the U.S. government use assimilation to educate native children? How did assimilation in education affect native people? Ask a few students to provide answers to these questions.