Students at an Alaska high school have received lessons in anatomy, life skills and local cultural traditions through a practical source: a moose carcass.
About 30 Chugiak High School students processed a moose cow that their teacher, Brian Mason, hunted and killed. The processing included de-boning, separating, grinding and packaging the animal during a recent World Discovery Seminar class, The Anchorage Daily News reported December 15, 2019.
The lesson provided a hands-on experience where students learned moose anatomy, as well as learning ways local indigenous people survived by hunting moose.
“What I try to emphasize — and the World Discovery Seminar program as a whole — is to emphasize experiential learning,” he said. Around 30 of his students used 4-inch knives to process the carcass. “You can learn certainly about anatomy from diagrams and textbooks and videos but getting your hands on an animal is a big part of the science aspect of it.”
The World Discovery Seminar is a school-within-a-school alternative course for students at the Chugiak High School. According to the website: Tthe program employs the Paideia methodology, a Socratic based learning/teaching technique focused on in-depth understanding of classic historical and literary documents. Discussion and written expression of ideas coming out of the seminar process are emphasized along with challenging projects, hands-on activities, and community involvement. Students work toward becoming multifaceted thinkers by examining and questioning real-world events: past, present and future.”
Mason hunted and killed the moose with a permit issued through the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife. He obtained a special Cultural Educational Harvest Permit which allows for the harvest of game animals for educational reasons.
Tim Spivey with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said about 30-40 such permits are issued each year, mostly to schools and villages. While most are for moose, a few permits are issued for caribou or deer, black bears, furbearers and even mountain goats. Spivey said there are strict conditions on the permits.
“We don’t just issue these Cultural Education Permits to anyone,” he said.
There are specifications on the types of moose that can be hunted. The animal had to be an antlerless moose and couldn’t be a calf or a cow with a calf. After killing the moose, Mason was required to submit a report to Tim Peltier, the area management biologist for the Mat-Su area. He had to report the age, sex, specific harvest location and who shot the moose.
Spivey said Mason will also be required to file a report 30 days after the hunt detailing the educational or cultural program activities that took place and other pertinent details or problems encountered.
Spivey said the program is a way of allowing educators and elders to pass on cultural traditions and practices related to hunting and gathering in the state.
Mason said it took him three weekends of hunting before he finally shot the young cow moose in a swampy area near Willow. While he intended for students to learn to quarter the animal, he said that unfortunately “I wasn’t able to get the moose out of the woods whole.”
Students were able to learn how to debone, trim and process the meat properly. They received a lesson on moose anatomy before jumping into the carcass with 4-inch deboning knives. They were supervised by Mason and several parents volunteer.
After butchering the meat, the students ground some and packaged steaks using equipment donated by Alaska Butcher Supply. He said students processed about 200 pounds of moose meat, some of which they’ll cook and eat at a special dinner. The rest will be donated to charity.
Mason said he thinks his animal processings class was a success. Students were immersed in animal anatomy, while also gleaning insights into local culture and tradition.
“I think that certain experiences you can’t really learn from a textbook.”