Environment, Technology, and Culture of the Chumash People

What You Need


  • Flipchart, overhead, or chalkboard
  • Map(s) of the region of the Chumash people:

    For an interactive map, go to The Chumash Region and Beyond section of the Chumash Indian Life site. Use the drop-down menu to choose a map.
  • Various Chumash artifacts (for ideas, see Artifacts)
  • A story or picture about the Chumash people (e.g., A Day with a Chumash by Georgia Lee and Giorgio Bacchin; or stories from Myths)
Environment, Technology, and Culture of the Chumash People


To develop an understanding of the interrelatedness of technology, culture, and environment as illustrated by the Chumash culture.


This lesson is part of a group of lessons that focus on the social, behavioral, and economic sciences. These lessons are developed by AAAS and funded by the National Science Foundation Grant No. SES-0549096. For more lessons and activities that take a closer look at the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, be sure to check out the SBE Project page.

According to the Benchmarks for Science Literacy, an integrated picture of the earth has to develop over many years, with some concepts being visited over and over again in new contexts and greater detail. Some aspects can be learned in science, others in geography; some parts can be purely descriptive, others must draw on physical science.

Perhaps the most important reason for students to study the earth repeatedly is that they take years to acquire the knowledge that they need to complete the picture. The full picture requires the introduction of such concepts as temperature, the water cycle, gravitation, states of matter, chemical concentration, and energy transfer. Understanding these concepts grows slowly as children mature and encounter them in different contexts. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 66.)

While this lesson doesn’t explore the science of the water cycle or any scientific concepts in-depth, it introduces the concept of water and the earth as it relates to the technology and culture of a particular group of people—the Chumash people. This lesson is a mix of an anthropology, history, and geography lesson, and could be a springboard for an oceanography lesson or further discussion of the scientific concepts introduced within it.

According to Benchmarks, students should examine what life was like under different technological circumstances in the past in order to enrich their understanding of how technology has shaped the way people live now. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 55.) The introduction to the technology of the Chumash people supports this—at the end of the lesson, students will discuss the interrelatedness of their own environment, technology, and culture, focusing on how technology has strongly influenced the way in which they live.


On a flipchart, overhead, or chalkboard, draw a three-column table with the headings Environment, Technology, and Culture. Then ask students to define each of the terms in their own words, eventually coming to an understanding like below:

Environment—physical geography/surrounding of a particular area

Technology—tools and other inventions developed for both practical and symbolic reasons to make a culture more advanced and efficient through time

Culture—unique patterns of behavior practiced by most of the people who grow up in a particular environment

Ask students to think about a couple particular environments (inland farmland and city), and discuss the technology and culture of each. (See the table below for sample responses.)




Inland farmland

Farm equipment

Family as key

Irrigation ditches




Product transportation



Mass public transportation (to move a large amt of people)




Mass manufacturing

High crime rate

Internet (to pass info quickly)



While brainstorming and completing the table, discuss the concept of “overgeneralization” with the students. Ask them to think about the benchmark: “Each culture has distinctive patterns of behavior, usually practiced by most of the people who grow up in it.” Discuss the importance of the phrases, “usually practiced” and “by most of the people.”

Transition to the next section by explaining that the purpose of this lesson is to begin to understand the Chumash people—specifically, their environment, technology, and culture. Tell students that the Chumash culture offers an example of how environment, technology, and culture are interrelated—and how each, and the relationships between each, changes over time.


Determine what students already know about the Chumash culture:

  • Has anyone ever heard of the Chumash culture?
  • What do you know about this culture?

Provide a brief introduction to this culture (e.g., Indian culture; first human inhabitants of the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains area; relied on the sustainable use of natural resources; not dependent on farming like other Native American tribes, instead relied on water/boats for trade and transportation).

Direct students to the Chumash student esheet. Have them access maps specific to the Chumash people by following the instructions in the Introduction of the esheet. When students are finished exploring the maps, ask them what they learned about the location of the Chumash people. Specifically:

  • Off of what coast are the Chumash people located? (Pacific)
  • In what state were the Chumash people primarily located? (California)

You can show artifacts, share a story and pictures (e.g., A Day with a Chumash by Georgia Lee and Giorgio Bacchin), or show the Chumash Tomol Crossing video clip to further spark interest in this culture.

Ask students to use their Chumash student esheet to explore a couple of different resources about the Chumash people:

The esheet will guide students through the exploration of these two websites to deepen their understanding of the Chumash people, focusing on their environment (noting the importance of water), technology, and culture.

Provide students with the Chumash student sheet so that they can answer questions about the information they are reading. Note: The Chumash teacher sheet provides the answers to the questions on the student sheet.

When students complete the student sheet, collect it and move on to the Assessment section of the lesson.


Similar to the Motivation activity, have students complete a table for the Chumash people describing their environment, technology, and culture. A sample completed table is below.




Coastal (near water)



Tomols (plank canoes)

Maritime (water-based)


Extremely resourceful
(used plants for housing, medicine, baskets)

Bead money

Role-based (to separate jobs and create efficiency)

Harpoons, shell hooks


Assess student understanding of the interrelatedness of the Chumash environment, technology, and culture by asking these questions:

  • Provide an example of how environment, technology, and culture are interrelated.
    (Because the Chumash lived near water, they developed the tomol [plank canoe]. This technology allowed for transportation, trading, and fishing. The tomol allowed easy access within the waters, influencing and expanding their maritime [water-based] culture. They became largely known for their fishing and trading practices.)
  • How did these aspects of the Chumash people change over time?
    (The environment that the Chumash lived in remained roughly the same; the Chumash were able to live in that region for many years and rely on the natural resources because of their great respect and care for the earth. While the tomol was initially built for mostly practical purposes, it developed into a symbolic representation of the culture as well; the technology of the tomol improved over time, and other technologies emerged and improved.)
  • Complete this sentence: Technology influenced the Chumash people by....
    (Technology influenced the Chumash by helping their practices become more efficient over time. For example, the way food was collected advanced throughout the years—they started by collecting shellfish and harvesting seeds; a “throwing stick” was later developed that allowed hunting of larger animals; later yet, inventions like harpoons and shell hooks allowed the fishing of sea mammals. Technology allowed their food collecting to become more efficient and helped them collect a variety of food items throughout time.)

Finally, ask students to apply what they learned to their own lives, by asking them to describe their own environment, technology, and culture. Facilitate a group discussion on the interrelatedness of all three aspects and how they have changed over time, focusing on how technology has strongly influenced the way in which they live.


To learn more about the economics of natural resources, students can complete the lesson, Where did that pencil come from? The Study of Natural Resources on the EconEdLink website. (Note: This lesson is at a 3-5 grade level.)

To learn more about the state of California, students can go to Explore the States: California on the Edsitement website.

Funder Info
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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