by Paul Sokoloff and Kieran Shepherd
The Canadian Museum of Nature and Students on Ice (SOI) have been partners in experiential education in the north from the very first expedition 15 years ago. Museum experts have been accompanying expeditions ever since, serving as educators, mentors, helpers, and occasionally even bear guards.
While the expedition starts in Ottawa, where the nearly 200 students and staff began to get to know each other, it wasn’t until we settled into our shipboard life on the Ocean Endeavour that we really got into the full swing of the expedition.
Paul: Each glorious Arctic day started out with a cheery tritone sounded over the intercom, followed by the dulcet tones of Geoff Green—SOI’s founder and expedition leader—saying, “Good morning, Students on Ice.”
Paul: Following a morning briefing, the students would either find a workshop onboard that suited their interests (Ailsa ran workshops on digital storytelling, while Kieran, Lucie Metras—a botany volunteer with the museum—and I could often be found in the lab). However, if we had dropped anchor near an interesting shore (and as long as there weren’t any polar bears blocking the route), we’d file to the Zodiacs to make landfall.
Indeed, many of our expedition highlights were out on the land, where we would interpret the Arctic environment, past and present.
Paul: I really enjoyed the interactive nature of the botany workshops I held—where else could you search out fascinating Arctic plants while students and staff from the North shared their knowledge and perspective, all the while munching down on tangy, delicious mountain sorrel (qungulit in Inuktitut—Oxyria digyna is its scientific name)?
Kieran: I ran a workshop on prospecting for fossils but one of my best workshops happened by accident.
We landed in a place where there was no hope of finding fossils. I decided to run an “ology” workshop. As a group, we attempted to identify as many scientific disciplines as possible in the area. By the end of the workshop, we had covered mineralogy, bryology (moss), lichenology (lichens), archaeology, palaeontology, zoology and osteology (bones). The zoology, botany and geology of the Arctic are so unique.
Paul: Kieran’s “ology” workshop was a smashing success, and indeed highlighted the extraordinary interdisciplinary possibilities made real by being on expedition. Ailsa’s digital storytelling workshop was equally awesome: what better way to share this trip than with a compelling first-hand account!
For us, the highlight was certainly getting to know our fellow expeditioners. While we hope we inspired at least one future scientist (fingers crossed), I know that the future of the North will be bright if these inspiring young minds are the driving force behind it, wherever they choose to make a difference.