Celebrating Native American Innovation, Past and Present 
Meets the learning standards for grades 4-5 (can be adapted)  
Media Type:  dyed beans, corn, and pumpkin seeds
Subject Integration: Fine Arts, English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science

Formal Lesson Plan and TEKS information

Materials: writing materials, cardboard (or equivalent substrate), food coloring, white vinegar, water, containers for mixing such as mason jars), dry corn kernels, dry beans (any variety, but lighter colors work best), pumpkin seeds in shells, white school glue, tweezers (optional) 

Special Equipment: baking sheet, foil, oven or food dehydrator (all optional) 

Mosaic composed of dyed corn, pumpkin seeds and beans

This lesson provides 10 new vocabulary words: 

  • Department of the Interior
  • Composition
  • Nonrepresentational
  • Unity
  • Variety
  • Monoculture
  • Polyculture
  • Companion planting
  • Innovation
  • Substrate 

Have you ever heard of the Three Sisters? Read the Article, Growing Native American Heritage: Three Sisters from FarmProject.org and discuss Companion Planting, Innovation,  MonoculturePolyculture, and Composition

Activity 1

Dye corn kernels, beans and pumpkin seeds for use in Activity 4 (the “sisters” can be dyed together or separately in a container with one cup water, one tablespoon vinegar, and food color of choice. Let the seeds soak in the dye solution overnight.)   

Drain the liquid from the seeds and spread them out in a sunny, warm area to dry, or spread them on a baking pan to dry in the oven on the lowest setting (or in a food dehydrator.) 


What do you observe about the differences in absorption of the dye and the variations of color based on seed type? Form a hypothesis and discuss!

Activity 2

Explore this article by IllumiNative: 7 Young Indigenous Activists Standing Up for Their Communities

Ask learners to make observations about the way these activists are giving back to their communities. Can learners relate any of the terminology and concepts from the Three Sisters article? 

Ask learners for ideas about how their own classroom or Communities could function cooperatively like the Three Sisters (plants). Discuss! 

Activity 3

Meet the new Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Pueblo of Lagua member, Deb Haaland! The Department of the Interior manages public lands and minerals, national parks, and wildlife refuges and upholds Federal trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and Native Alaskans. Additionally, Interior is responsible for endangered species conservation and other environmental conservation efforts.

Use your Social Studies knowledge to articulate the significance of this appointment. 

Activity 4

Time to make a Three Sisters Mosaic! Create a nonrepresentational composition that demonstrates the artistic principles of unity and variety

Lightly draw your composition on a rigid substrate like cardboard or wood before you begin. How does the design demonstrate unity and variety? How does is relate to Three Sisters agriculture or community relationships? How can color and seed choices convey an idea? 

It is best to work in small sections and establish the general shapes first. Continue gluing each seed until the entire design area is filled. 

Once completely dry, gently brush a 50/50 mixture of water/glue over the entire mosaic to seal it. 

Extending the lesson:  

How can we use artwork inspired by Three Sisters agriculture to make observations about our relationship to our community and our environment?

Review of Vocabulary for this Lesson:

Department of the Interior – The Department of the Interior manages public lands and minerals, national parks, and wildlife refuges and upholds Federal trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and Native Alaskans. Additionally, Interior is responsible for endangered species conservation and other environmental conservation efforts. 

Composition- The term composition means “putting together”. It can be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art. Composition can apply to any work of art, from music through writing and into photography, that is arranged using conscious thought. 

Nonrepresentational– (of a style of art) not intended to present an accurate depiction of the physical appearance of people or things. 

Unity- a principle in art that refers to a set of compositional strategies used by an artist to make the parts of a painting or another work of art hang together as a whole through visual relatedness. Unity doesn’t necessarily apply to an entire work of art, it can also apply to an element or elements of a piece of work that could also contain other forms of expression. But unity always expresses a shared commonality within a painting or sculpture or textile.   

Variety– the quality or state of being different or diverse; the absence of uniformity, sameness, or monotony. 

Monoculture– the cultivation or growth of a single crop or organism especially on agricultural or forest land. 

Polyculture– Polyculture is a form of agriculture in which more than one species is grown at the same time and place in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems. 

Companion planting– Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for any of a number of different reasons, including pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity. Companion planting is a form of polyculture. 

Innovation– a new idea, device, or method. 

Substrate– an underlying substance or layer.