Social Studies Rocks: Inupiaq Dictionary

Many of my social studies classes have been consumed by our most recent project: the Inupiaq Dictionary.

Several forces combined to make the Inupiaq Dictionary a reality:

-my desire to learn the local Inupiaq language

-my first year teaching Alaska Studies Levels 3-5

-Ginger, one of my teaching idols, showing me a cool project that a school in Marshall, Alaska did using the Yup'ik language

Ginger and I put our digital heads together and we came up with the Inupiaq Dictionary project.

Here's how it worked:


I sent my fourth hour class out into the village to take pictures with digital cameras.


Taking pictures of Eskimo food was pretty popular.


This was my favorite picture of the activity. (This is a caribou head f.y.i.) I love how the tongue is hanging out. I'm not sure if that's natural or if it's the result of high school boys combined with a digital camera.


Some of the pictures turned out to be pretty good quality. I was impressed.


Some were kind of silly. This is a bellybutton. The group who took this picture refuses to reveal who the bellybutton belongs to. I have my suspicions...

Once my little photographers had completed taking pictures, one of our bilingual instructors came in and taught the kids (and their teacher!) how to write and pronounce the Inupiaq words.


It was fascinating!!! I learned that my favorite picture is tuttum niaqua.

tuttum = caribou (possessive)
niaqua= head


My kids took a picture of this four-wheeler (referred to generically as "Honda" - think kleenex, sneakers, xerox, etc.) to be funny. Hondas are a recent addition to the Inupiaq way of life, so they thought that there would be no Inupiaq word. They were wrong.

Turns out that if there's no Inupiaq translation, you add a 'q' to the end of the word. Honda becomes hondaq.

Once we mastered the pronunciations, the kids recorded their voices saying the words. Then they added a page to our School District Wiki and uploaded their sound file, picture, etc.

Our school district wiki is powered by MediaWiki. Editing requires a very rudimentary knowledge of computer code. Now, I know some of my readers have been coding since birth (you know who you are...), but imagine trying to teach a crew of junior high and high school students how to code.

It was at times painful. Coding is an exact art. One missed slash, and your page looks like this. It took some time for the kids to get used to making everything perfect, but we persevered. Ginger and some other tech savvy teachers helped us implement a template, and that made things easier.

The kids who had the easiest time with the coding were the kids who are super into MySpace. All the time they spent tweaking their profiles came in handy. (Hey MySpace! Thanks for actually teaching my kids something!)

I made the above page. I'm quite proud of it. If you click here you can actually play the mp3 file and hear my very white voice pronouncing the word. One of my boys (who is quite skilled at speaking Inupiaq) said my pronunciation was perfect. I beamed. (He was probably just being nice, but I'll take what I can get.)

My fourth hour class was championriffic as we refined the process. Now a few other Social Studies classes in Shishmaref are contributing. Last week I flew to Unalakleet and helped teach students and teachers from other schools how to contribute. Next week Ginger and I will help teach an inservice workshop on the same subject. We're hoping the project continues to grow. Meanwhile, be prepared to learn a little Inupiaq...