Bison, Bison

Bison are big and strong

1000 years ago they did nothing wrong

Powerful heads like snowplows

Now they compete with cows

Once people started the slaughter

The issue began to get hotter

If we begin to restore

Bison will roam once more

Some people want to haze

But others want to raise

So when Buffalo are free to graze

Then a new generation can praise

by Mrs. Lovec’s 5th Grade 2015/2016, East Side School, Livingston, MT

A Curriculum Sequence on the Past, Present, and Future of Bison

by Mario Battaglia

Photo Credit:

At the beginning of my first year in graduate school when I was desperately searching for a Master’s thesis topic, I was asked to design a bison-themed curriculum for the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana. Two full years and a Master’s thesis later, this “Bison Curriculum” is finally available for the general public. The curriculum educates students about a remarkable and enduring mammal, the great American bison. Designed for sixth through ninth grade science, social studies, and language arts classes, the curriculum examines the 10,000 year significance of bison to Native and, much later, non-Native peoples primarily within the state of Montana. In all, five interactive, hands-on, and student-driven units highlight bison’s integral role culturally, politically, socially, and ecologically both before and after Euroamerican contact. Throughout the curriculum sequence, students uncover bison’s dynamic and turbulent past, discover bison’s central placement within Native cultures, and are challenged to critically engage with the processes leading to the near-extinction of bison in the late 1800s. From this understanding, students are tasked with determining potential steps forward in bison restoration and management.

The 10,000 Year Significance of Bison: A Curriculum Sequence on the Past, Present and Future of Bison

Includes Complete Lessons and Teacher Guides for Science and Language Arts Units, Grades 6-9

How the Guide Meets the Needs of Teachers

Since a teacher’s time is extremely limited, and new curricula can sometimes be difficult to implement, we focused our design around meeting a variety of teacher’s needs. We figured that foremost on this list of needs would likely be funding. Therefore, we made the Bison Curriculum free for teachers, with lesson content either provided within the curriculum guide itself or available online. Additionally, several free PowerPoint presentations are included and can be customized as needed. The guide also highlights a number of links to free YouTube videos relevant to each lesson module. Further, each lesson module contains a descriptive outline and comprehensive “teacher guides” to expedite grading and minimize the need for lengthy background research. Also included within the curriculum are worksheets, lesson handouts, readings, and sample “deliverables” (i.e., a bison brochure example and a timeline collage example) to ensure a seamless implementation. Finally, additional resources are listed throughout the curriculum guide.

A teacher workshop with Blackfeet teachers on the reservation as we prepare for the trial run of the Bison Curriculum.

From the beginning, I wanted the design of the Bison Curriculum to be centered on multivocality, an idea that stresses collaboration and equal input from a variety of project partners. And, over its two year lifespan, the curriculum has had many, many contributors! The Montana Department of Transportation granted the initial funding to kick-start the project. The Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office supplied community support and much valued cultural expertise. The Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology at the University of Arizona worked to create the lesson modules, of which I was a part. And last, but far from least, multiple Blackfeet teachers and students on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana were tasked with the initial assessment of the curriculum.

In conjunction with all of this, I conducted an efficacy assessment that resulted in my Master’s thesis entitled: Presenting a Pluralized Past: Assessing the Efficacy of Multivocal, Bison-Themed Lesson Modules as a Public Education and Outreach Strategy for Archaeology (available online: The study examined the multivocal model used during the design of the curriculum. To do this, I submitted pre-and-post surveys to students and teachers in order to gather the requisite data. The study found that a student and teacher-centered, collaborative approach toward curriculum design was an effective way to foster student and teacher agency, address cultural sensitivities, and incorporate multiple worldviews.

Students learning about the exciting history of bison from Unit 2 of the Bison Curriculum.

How the Guide Meets Standards

Each science unit within the curriculum meets the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). At the beginning of each lesson module, the “disciplinary core ideas” and “cross cutting concepts” are provided. A full explanation and list of the standards can be found at The language arts unit meets common core standards as listed for English Language Arts. These standards can be found at

The Five Units

Science Unit 1 introduces students to the American bison, distinguishing it from “buffalo” (buffalo actually is a misnomer; it’s a different species altogether!). The unit presents the many intricate behaviors of bison, their habitat, and their seasonal movements. Science Unit 2 presents the pre-and-post contact natural and enculturated history of bison. Students learn about the dynamic, evolving, and sometimes turbulent relationship between humans and bison beginning 10,000 years ago. Science Unit 3 has students put on the hat and shoes of an archaeologist. Students learn about the prehistoric hunting of bison through oral histories and archaeological evidence. Through an analysis of bison bones, students engage with the tangible past, as well as draw conclusions about the complex and intricate hunting strategies and processing techniques employed by Native peoples. Science Unit 4 introduces students to the complex trajectory of bison conservation from the initial efforts in the late 1800s to current management approaches. With bison conservation on the rise, students examine past and present strategies that have been employed and synthesize this information into a “bison brochure.” Finally, in the Language Arts Unit, students learn about the time-honored status of bison among various Native American tribes. They are then tasked with creating an art piece or picture book telling a story about bison they found interesting, exciting, or noteworthy. This unit culminates with a presentation of the book or art piece to a younger grade.

Students reenacting a “bison drive” during the filming of an upcoming episode from the PBS show In the Americas with David Yetman.

These five units aim to be at least partially student-driven, where students have the requisite support and resources to take a more active role in their own education. And, with comprehensive “teacher guides” and detailed lesson outlines, the units strive to accommodate, simplify, and expedite the implementation process for a variety of classroom contexts. That being said, we invite teachers to adjust and customize the curriculum as needed. There is an inexpensive “textbook” entitled The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent that, though not required, is recommended. However, alternative readings are available, either by inclusion in the actual curriculum guide or accessible online. Beginning in 2016, I will be compiling additional resources and readings that will also be freely available online.

Download the FREE guide!

PowerPoint 1_Introduction to the Bison

PowerPoint 2_Bison and Archaeology_Science Unit 1

PowerPoint 3_Bison Conservation_Science Unit 4

I hope you find these lessons on the 10,000 year significance of bison to be engaging, inspiring, educational, and most of all, fun for both you and your students. Please feel free to email me with suggestions, comments, or general feedback. Also, the Bison Curriculum will be featured in an upcoming episode of the PBS show In the Americas with David Yetman. Stay tuned!

Thank you for your interest,
Mario Battaglia

Bison Curriculum Project Author

Battaglia, Mario

2015 Presenting a Pluralized Past: Assessing the Efficacy of Multivocal, Bison-Themed Lesson Modules as a Public Education and Outreach Strategy for Archaeology. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

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