By Jennifer Doubt and Ed Hendrycks

As two museum scientists accustomed to gazing down microscopes at specimens, it’s safe to say that we had no idea what our role would be in developing a giant (11m x 8m) educational floor map of the Canadian Arctic. We knew that Canadian Geographic would produce the map, and we would tap the museum’s extensive expertise about the Arctic to provide content for it. Canadian Geographic would then show our stories in ways that supported the education curriculum in schools, and we would supply real-life examples from our adventures in the field, our scientific discoveries, and the rich legacy of our collections in order to make the stories come to life.

Students walk on the giant Arctic floor map.
Students try out the giant Arctic floor map at its December 16 launch at the museum. Image: Jessica Finn © Canadian Museum of Nature.

It sounded great, but what does that mean? It meant, as we learned, that we would help to mediate a nine-month discussion between the Canadian Geographic project team and the museum’s science team. We gathered ideas and compiled information from our colleagues, and then coordinated and participated in the review of the resulting educational documents.

Two pages with descriptions of lesson plans based on museum field expeditions.
Two lesson plans drawn from real-life examples of museum field expeditions. Lesson plans and curriculum-based activities are part of the educational kit that accompanies the map. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature.
Students sitting on the Arctic floor map
Students from Ottawa’s St. Gabriel School try out the floor map with the help of educational specimen cards.

Luckily for us, the project sold easily in our office. After all, here was a chance to help tens of thousands of students from coast-to-coast-to-coast explore the Canadian Arctic’s rich and fascinating natural diversity.

It was also a chance to focus the spotlight not only on traditional Arctic icons such as polar bears and diamonds, but also on lesser known natural history species that are missing from many school science lessons—think of amphipods, lichens, camels (yes, camels!) and galena (hint: it’s a shiny mineral), to name a few.

A view of the map’s title panel, with illustrations of 16 plants, animals, fossils and minerals.
The title panel for the map includes illustrations of 16 Arctic plants, animals, fossils and minerals that were selected by the museum’s scientific team. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Research assistants, research associates, research scientists, curators, collection managers, technicians, and volunteers all contributed time, creativity, and knowledge in the name of bringing Arctic natural history research and collections to life for students, visitors, and friends of the museum.

Plant specimens that are part of the educational package for the map.
Plant specimens from the museum’s collections are among the real examples that students can examine during their exploration of the map. Images: © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Our colleagues are great people, but I’m sure that this common cause is largely what kept their doors open to us—even when we returned to them for a third (or more!) review of a document about their area of expertise, or asked them to find us a tenth (or more!) photo from their research. Sometimes it was hard for all of us to stick with it.

The reward for this effort was clearly seen at the launch of this national educational and outreach project in December 2014. Canadian Geographic Educator Sara Black led a captivated class from St. Gabriel’s School in Ottawa through a magnificent, lightning fast, 180-degree turnaround in their understanding of the Arctic.

Jennifer Doubt is surrounded by eager students as they explore the floor map.
Curator of Botany Jennifer Doubt listens to students from St. Gabriel School describe their impressions of the Arctic at the official launch of the map. Image: Jessica Finn © Canadian Museum of Nature.

At the start, the students used words such as “ice”, “snow”, “cold” and “empty” to describe the focal regions of the map…but 15 minutes later, after an introduction to the map and the learning tools that included real specimens and information cards, terms such as “plants”, “fossils”, “diverse” and “colour” were favourites to describe the Arctic.

Ed Hendrycks talk with students as they explore the map.
Senior Research Assistant Ed Hendrycks, an expert on amphipods (tiny crustaceans) , shares his impressions of the Arctic with students from St. Gabriel School during the official launch of the map.
Image: Jessica Finn © Canadian Museum of Nature.

We couldn’t have asked for better proof of the project’s value! The considerable strengths of Canadian Geographic Education and the Canadian Museum of Nature have successfully combined to create a unique, exciting, inviting, portable venue for sharing Arctic nature and knowledge about it.

We invite you to come and check out the map for yourself over the March Break period and walk with our educators and volunteers across the Arctic…in sock feet of course!

A student holds a specimen card while exploring the map.
A student from St. Gabriel School tries to match a specimen card with the Arctic location where the specimen is found. Image: Jessica Finn © Canadian Museum of Nature.

NOTE: Teachers can book the map for free for use at their school by contacting Canadian Geographic Education.