EarthGen Washington, Washington OSPI OER Project
Environmental Science, Life Science
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Middle School
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    Education Standards

    Sacred Breath

    Sacred Breath


    Sacred Breath is a Middle School curricular program created by EarthGen. For this unit, we offer professional development training and assistance with implementation. If you are interested in implementing this program at your school or district, please let us know! Please contact for more information. 


    Welcome to Sacred Breath! This middle school unit is a transdisciplinary learning experience that invites educators and students to take a breath and consider how that act is essential in our lives and our relationships with the world. The focal question of Sacred Breath is: How should Air be cared for to support the wellbeing of communities, Land, Water, and species? Throughout this learning journey, students and educators engage in healing breathwork practices, learn the stories of Indigenous communities’ relationships with the Air, explore the power of storytelling, and delve into multiple forms of data to explain where we are and imagine where we may go.


    In Sacred Breath, we interweave different ways of knowing such as Western scientific knowledge, storytelling, and Indigenous knowledge systems in order to nurture a more holistic form of scientific inquiry. In doing so, this unit supports educators to facilitate learning that brings together the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of  environmental science and environmental justice topics. Given this transdisciplinary approach, we strongly encourage educators to co-teach this unit with colleagues in other departments (e.g. science, social studies, English Language Arts, art, etc.).     


    Creation of the Unit

    Sacred Breath was inspired by a graphic novel of Navajo Creations Stories created by Clarene Davis (Navajo/Zuni) and Cordell Charlie ( ) as part of an EarthGen partnership. The graphic novel focuses on the relationships between air quality and Navajo culture. It is featured as an anchoring resource within this unit and also deeply informed the design of this learning experience. 


    This curricular program was developed by Dr. Rae Jing Han (second-generation Chinese immigrant, living on Duwamish and Coast Salish lands) and Cameron Steinback (Afro-American, living on Duwamish and Coast Salish lands), with support from Cameron Foy (Multiracial - Native Hawaiian, Japanese, and white, living on Duwamish and Coast Salish Lands) and Laura Tyler (white, living on Duwamish and Coast Salish Lands). We believe that acknowledging and reflecting on our own intersecting identities and our relationships with these topics is an important part of justice-centered education. 


    In addition, several collaborators provided crucial support and guidance that shaped the unit, including Anastasia Sanchez and Dr. Shelley Stromholt.


    Learning Goals

    Next Generation Science Standards

    The learning goals of Sacred Breath are closely informed by the Performance Expectations described in the Next Generation Science Standards, which guide the scientific concepts and practices that we focus on in the unit. Sacred Breath addresses MS LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations. There is a particular emphasis on the Science and Engineering Practice of Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Students address this Performance Expectation by investigating the disproportionate burden of air pollution on Indigenous communities, the impacts of this pollution on health and well-being, and how Indigenous communities are resisting and responding to this environmental justice concern.


    Science Social Focus Framework

    To explore this complex topic, Sacred Breath supports students to engage with social and cultural dimensions that are often not included within Western scientific knowledge. An additional framework that informed the creation of this unit is the Science Social Focus Framework designed by Anastasia Sanchez. This learning experience aims to move toward the following three learning goals that correspond to the three interconnected concepts in this Framework: 


    Science Social Focus Concept

    Learning Goal Within Sacred Breath

    Critical consciousness: Promoting an awareness of others and society to apply appropriate empathy or critique through the lens of environmental justice. 

    Students can critically analyze how settler-colonialism and extractive land relations harm socio-ecological systems.    

    Consequential concern: Grappling with matters of future wellbeing and ecological caring as students make connections between science content and the consequential concerns facing society.

    Students make connections regarding the disproportionate burden of air pollution and its impacts on Indigenous communities’ health and well-being. Based on this inquiry, students generate justice-centered alternatives and pathways toward socio-ecological thriving.           

    Critical and liberatory presence: Restorative justice-oriented representation that names the intersectional injustices faced by racially and socioeconomically marginalized communities — as well as their resistance, leadership, and flourishing. 

    Students learn about how Indigenous sovereignty and ways of knowing – including multigenerational care, storytelling, stewardship, and relationality – are crucial in resisting and repairing these forms of harm and injustice.


    Unit and Lesson Structure

    This unit is designed to be flexible and adaptable to your needs and the needs, interests, and experience level of the students you are working with! Based on students’ language experiences, you can ask them to gather their ideas through written text, demonstrations, drawings, dialogue, and more. Most importantly, we hope you engage your students in authentic conversations about our focal topic and center collective inquiry on the many ideas and questions students themselves generate.


    Each lesson in this unit follows a consistent structure:

    • Lesson Overview - In each lesson, we introduce a resource, story element, and/or discussion topic that focuses the learning for the day. As you progress through the unit, we encourage the incorporation of students’ questions from previous lessons that align with the upcoming content and activities.
    • Breathwork - Each day’s learning begins with breathwork practices rooted in the spiritual, mental, and physical tradition of Yoga that emerged in ancient India. Students try multiple different breathing techniques and mudras to connect with their own relationship with breath.
    • Main Activities and Materials - Descriptions of the activities (including related materials) to guide you and your students through new content to explore the guiding question(s) of the lesson.
    • Summary Table and Concluding Reflections - Students will track their learning throughout this unit by adding to their Summary Table at the end of each day. The first column is a space to capture key takeaways related to the guiding question for that lesson. In the second column, students record specific pieces of evidence that support those takeaways, including data, observations, and stories. The third column in the Summary Table is dedicated to the Concluding Reflection, a prompt that helps students synthesize their new insights and draw connections to the Science and Social Focus Question. Finally, the fourth column encourages students to exercise their intellectual agency by reflecting on their initial theories and what else they would like to investigate to answer the Science and Social Focus Question. 
      • Please print copies of the Summary Table for each student to utilize. In addition to individual reflections, you can feel free to facilitate small-group or whole-group discussions to complete the rows of the Summary Table collaboratively. Consider creating a collective Summary Table on a bulletin board or whiteboard so that all members of the class can see each other’s ideas and engage in shared learning.
      • Students should feel free to engage with the Summary Table through sketching, journaling, or other creative forms of expression. 
      • The Summary Table should be a space to encourage students to practice being critical thinkers and scientists! Be careful not to “funnel” students toward a correct answer. Instead, students should feel autonomy and responsibility for gathering the knowledge that is significant for them and tracking their own learning journeys. 


    In Sacred Breath, we use a variety of different strategies to assess student learning and sensemaking in alignment with NGSS and SSFF:

    • Summary Table and Concluding Reflections
    • Lesson 8 (constructing an argument using evidence)
    • Lesson 13 (culminating storytelling project)


    Culturally Sustaining and Environmental Justice Considerations

    Throughout this unit, we emphasize the use of a pedagogical approach known as culturally sustaining pedagogies, which build from the foundation laid by culturally responsive and culturally relevant practices. Culturally sustaining pedagogies invite and encourage students to not only use their cultural and community knowledges and practices in school, but to actively maintain and deepen them. Through the guidance and professional support provided in this program, teachers will have tools to weave these commitments into their teaching practices in ways that are responsive to their community contexts and collectively move toward environmental justice with students, families, and communities. 


    By creating learning experiences that honor the specific place-based interests, histories, knowledge, perspectives, practices, and priorities of students, families, and communities – especially those of the global majority – we’ll see students, families, and communities feel welcomed, respected, and intellectually cared for in science learning spaces within and beyond the classroom. We encourage liberatory teaching and learning while practicing anti-racist and anti-colonial principles, because it is crucial to the lives of all students and the environmentally just futures they deserve.


    To support these commitments, we offer considerations and suggested practices below to guide culturally sustaining and justice-centered implementation of the unit. This also includes ideas about navigating the challenging dynamics that may emerge when learning about environmental injustices and how they may impact your students. 

    • Supporting students’ intellectual agency: To sustain students’ ways of knowing, we encourage you to center students’ own lived experiences, expertise, ideas, curiosities, and desires throughout the activities. Dialogue and discussion are important modes of learning in this unit that enable students to share their insights and collectively build their knowledge. Honoring student thinking includes following students’ lead and embracing expansive forms of evidence and reasoning.  
    • Creating space for emotional experiences: The topics in this unit are complex and may bring up a range of emotions that are a crucial part of students’ learning experience. We encourage you to hold space for students to identify, process, and share their emotional responses throughout the learning activities. Modeling your own emotions-centered reflections may help students to practice vulnerability and care for themselves and others. Consider using tools such as The Emotion Wheel to support these conversations. 
    • Engaging in critical inquiry about settler colonialism: This unit includes critical inquiry about the histories and societal structures of settler colonialism. When engaging with difficult issues like colonization, land theft, resource extraction, genocide, and cultural erasure, we encourage you to approach the learning experience with humility and reflect on your own positionality within the system of settler colonialism. 
      • It is especially important to be intentional when facilitating learning about settler colonialism with Indigenous students. For example, consider providing a heads up in advance, giving students the option to opt out of particular lessons, avoid putting Indigenous students in a teaching or spokesperson role, and being careful about how pedagogical strategies like debate may cause harm in some instances.
      • Be sure to use present tense language when referring to Indigenous communities. Curriculum and resources often erase the ongoing presence of Indigenous peoples by discussing them only in historical contexts or using past tense language. 
      • In Sacred Breath, we strive to support student learning about the realities of settler colonialism without victimizing Indigenous communities. Instead, we hope to focus on creating accountability to address the systems that are responsible for colonial violence. Colonization has resulted not only in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples but the development of structures and practices that destroy lands and waters.
    • Honoring Indigenous knowledge systems: In this unit, we strive to honor and incorporate Indigenous knowledge systems as both complementary to and distinct from Western scientific knowledge. Although Indigenous knowledge is sometimes regarded as myths or anecdotal, it is important to recognize it as valid, valuable, and sacred knowledge that does not depend on Western science for “verification.” At the same time, we resist oversimplification and siloing by recognizing that Western science methods are often utilized by Indigenous and other global majority communities for culturally significant and justice-centered purposes. 
      • We encourage you to reflect on your own identities and experiences as an educator and your beliefs about science. This self-awareness can inform how you facilitate learning about Indigenous knowledge systems with students.
      • We recognize that Indigenous knowledge systems are often appropriated by non-Indigenous individuals and strive to engage with Indigenous communities and knowledge in respectful ways. For example, we prioritize sharing resources about Indigenous knowledge that are created by Indigenous people.
      • In Sacred Breath, the words Air, Water, and Land are sometimes capitalized to denote the Indigenous understanding of these entities as living and having agency. This concept is different from the Western science understanding of water and land as abiotic factors in an ecosystem or resources to be managed and used. We invite you to reflect on your views about what is considered a stakeholder in the environment and to hold space for multiple valid interpretations of these entities. 
    • Centering Indigenous leadership and resistance: Throughout Sacred Breath, we center the many forms of leadership and resistance practiced by Indigenous communities in response to colonial harms. Highlighting Indigenous communities’ brilliant contributions and innovations is an important source of asset-based learning for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. It is also crucial to uplift Indigenous knowledge systems and leadership to guide our collective responses to environmental and climate challenges. 
    • Supporting transformative power through storytelling: Stories and storytelling play a major part in student learning and action within Sacred Breath. We believe stories are essential to who we are as individuals and communities and how we make sense of the world. At the same time, storytelling can be a powerful act of resistance, reclamation, and revolution, and there are rich legacies of creative storytelling as a strategy within social justice movements. For these reasons, we hope to support youth to practice storytelling to imagine future possibilities and recognize their own transformative agency in their communities.


    Resources for Teacher Learning

    To provide context for the learning activities in this unit, we strongly encourage you to explore these resources prior to beginning your implementation. Some of these videos are also included as resources in the unit to support student learning. 


    Lesson 1: Exploring Sacredness: Personal and Collective

    Lesson Overview

    In this introductory lesson, students will explore the meaning behind the title of the unit, “Sacred Breath.” Students will discover what breath means to them and how the Air we breathe guides and grounds our actions. Students will also reflect on the definition of sacredness, what sacredness means to them, and what they hold as sacred. For the conclusion of the lesson, students will take what they learned home and discuss the ideas of breath and sacredness with their families and communities.

    Lesson 2: Introducing the Topic: Caring for Our Sacred Air

    Lesson Overview

    In Lesson 2, students will build on the learning in Lesson 1 by discussing cultural aspects of sacredness and how this is reflected in Indigenous communities. Through investigation of a visual story and a data graphic, students will examine how sacred relationships with Air are being disrupted. This reflection will lead students to explore the importance of recognizing and honoring the sacredness of our Air and how we can be better stewards. Through these conversations, students are introduced to the Science and Social Focus Question of this unit: How should Air be cared for to support the wellbeing of communities, Land, Water, and species?

    Lesson 3: Identifying Evidence

    Lesson Overview

    The focus of Lesson 3 is the collection and identification of evidence to describe our collective relationship to the environment through our breath and Air by understanding air quality and the impact of air pollutants like particulate matter and smog. This investigation focuses on the impacts of air pollution on human and ecological health and well-being. We present students with a report called Tribal Communities at Risk: The Disproportionate Impacts of Oil and Gas Air Pollution on Tribal Air Quality. In this lesson, students unpack the claims made in the report and practice how to identify, collect, and use evidence to support these claims. 

    Lesson 4: Explaining Pollution Induced Changes

    Lesson Overview

    Lesson 4 continues with evidence-gathering by introducing some scientific concepts that explain how air pollution impacts the environment and populations. Through articles and various data sources, students collect more forms of evidence to explain the relationships between pollutants, the Air, and species, including humans. Additional time may be used for students to practice data collection using handheld and remote air quality monitoring tools.

    Lesson 5: Community Action and Research

    Lesson Overview

    In this lesson, students apply their evidence gathering and reasoning practices to data representing oil and gas facilities in Washington state and data concerning environmental and health hazards associated with those facilities. This data exploration is interspersed with case studies from communities who have taken proactive steps to safeguard their community and advocate for a healthier and more just future.

    Lesson 6: Settler Colonialism in Historical Contexts

    Lesson Overview

    In this two-lesson series, students critically analyze the system and structures of settler colonialism in historical and current day contexts. Through exploration of video and image resources, students investigate the connections between environmental injustice, resource extraction, and Indigenous genocide, displacement, and erasure. Throughout these learning activities, we center Indigenous resistance and resurgence to these forms of social and environmental violence. 

    Lesson 7: Settler Colonialism in Current Contexts

    Lesson Overview

    In Lesson 7, students continue building their understanding of settler colonialism, focusing on how this system continues in the current day. Students explore how colonialism and Indigenous resistance and sovereignty are related to what they learned previously about air pollution, resource extraction and resource consumption, and health impacts. To conclude this inquiry arc, students reflect on their own responsibilities to challenge settler colonialism and support Indigenous resistance and sovereignty.

    Lesson 8: Constructing an Explanation

    Lesson Overview

    Present students with a claim, a list of data sources that are relevant to the claim (but not what the data say), then Ask students to identify (select from a list) a pattern of evidence from the data that would support the claim, or Ask students to identify (select from a list) what pattern of evidence from the data would refute the claim.

    Lesson 9: Storytelling as a Way of Knowing

    Lesson Overview

    Students are introduced to the culminating project as an opportunity to create their own story based on their learning in the unit. In this lesson, students will explore the idea that storytelling is a way of knowing that is both similar to and different from Western scientific knowledge. They learn how storytelling is an important practice in many cultural knowledge systems and explore an example of a Navajo creation story. Students reflect on their own experiences with storytelling as a way of knowing, as well as how storytelling can be an act of reclamation and revolution that fights against colonialism.

    Lesson 10: Storytelling as a Pathway to Care

    Lesson Overview

    In this lesson, students engage further with the practice of storytelling as a revolutionary act by exploring stories highlighting how relationships with Air can be disrupted and how we can better care for the air. First, students watch video testimonials of several young people from across the U.S. who describe their experiences with air pollution and how they are motivated by care. Then, students use an appreciative listening protocol to share their own experiences with their peers.     

    Lesson 11: Relationships with Land

    Lesson Overview

    In this lesson, students consider how relationships with Lands and Waters may show up in the story they will create. Students extend their understanding of settler colonialism by examining how it manifests through extractive relationships with Lands and Waters. In addition, students explore how Indigenous knowledge, practices, and value systems present alternative models of relationality that challenge dominant worldviews. After learning about different forms of land relations, students reflect on their own relationships with lands and waters and share about these relationships through a gallery walk activity. Through doing these activities, students begin to envision how Air can be cared for in the future. 

    Lesson 12: Circles of Care

    Lesson Overview

    To further prepare for the culminating project, Lesson 12 focuses on exploring how Air is connected with our broader socio-ecological systems. In this lesson, students consider how different entities are cared for by Air and take care of Air by highlighting these entities within a Care Circle activity. Based on these conversations, students discuss what we can learn from this web of care in order to better care for Air and other interrelated entities. 

    Lesson 13: Our Stories of Sacred Breath

    Lesson Overview

    In this culminating lesson, students synthesize the learning they have engaged in throughout the unit by creating their own story about how we can care for Air. Students explore a variety of creative storytelling formats and analyze the strengths of the different formats. Students reflect on what story they hope to tell and what format they would like to use to share their story.