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Members of the North of Sixty team posed for pictures during a send-off at the University of Minnesota: from left, Ph.D. student and new media developer Brad Hosack, associate professor Aaron Doering, Ph.D. candidate Jeni Henrickson and Centennial High teacher Chris Ripken.

, Submitted photo

Doering Ripken worked on a drying rack to hang inside their tents during their Canadian arctic expedition. They will be pulling sleds laden with nearly 200 pounds of gear.

, Submitted photo

Centennial geography teacher heads to the Arctic; class follows online

  • Article by: Shannon Prather
  • Star Tribune
  • April 9, 2013 - 1:44 PM

It’s known as Adventure Learning, but you could also call it reality education.

Here’s the script: Fly a group of Minnesota teachers to the unforgiving terrain of the Canadian Arctic. Send along sleds with nearly 200 pounds of gear for them to pull.

Outfit them with solar-powered computers and a satellite phone, and let students sitting in classrooms watch as they traverse 150 miles of granite, ice and snow on skis.

Oh, and don’t forget about the polar bears.

University of Minnesota faculty member Aaron Doering — credited with coining the Adventure Learning concept — and Centennial High geography teacher Chris Ripken are leaving for the Canadian Arctic today as part of a five-person team called North of Sixty. They’ll be traveling in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island on Canada’s east coast, where they plan to help Inuit children document their families’ heritage and how it’s been affected by climate change. The island is about 1,000 miles from Greenland.

The mission of North of Sixty is twofold. First, it’s intended to create a global tapestry of climate stories that documents the history and culture of Arctic communities and preserve their voices and ecological knowledge. Schoolchildren in the Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Finland and Alaska will all share their families’ stories.

The second objective is to use technology and real-life epic adventures to create a generation of insatiable learners.

“People ask ‘what am I afraid of?’ There are two things — the wind and polar bears,” said Doering, associate professor in the Learning Technologies.

Adding excitement

There will be heartwarming stories and there could be heart-pounding drama all uploaded daily. That’s the point. Make learning exciting.

“I am very excited to have this opportunity,” Doering said. “We have someone like Chris, who is an incredible teacher and who can be the model for other teachers because he’s bringing these authentic activities into the classroom to motivate the students.”

Ripken’s students won’t just be watching. They’ll also document their own families stories at home while Ripken helps Inuit children document theirs. Ripken hopes to chat with his students via Skype during the three-week excursion.

“These inter-generational stories help kids learn resiliency,” Ripken said. “They show how family members overcame challenges. It also strengthens family ties.”

Second Arctic trip

This isn’t the pair’s first trip to the Arctic. They journeyed there in 2009 for another adventure learning expedition called GoNorth. More than 3 million viewers followed that journey via the Internet.

In 2009 they used dog sleds. This time there will be no dogs. Doering decided to up the ante and pull their gear themselves on sleds.

“I love to travel on the landscape. It’s very peaceful. It’s you and nature,” Doering said.

Ripken said he’s been preparing all winter for the trip, training outside. He and his wife, Lisa, are avid hikers and backpackers. He camped in the Boundary Waters this winter to help acclimate himself to the conditions he will face in the Arctic.

Temperatures are expected to drop to 20 degrees below zero at night and the group will be crossing polar bear country.

“If you see a polar bear, consider yourself prey,” Ripken said.

The expedition will bring bear bangers, whose noisy clang is supposed to dissuade the bears.

“He’s a master teacher,” Centennial Principal Tom Breuning said of Ripken. “For us, he’s a role model for kids.

“It’s taking geography and putting it in real-life applications. When he is there, he will be using his iPad and he will be communicating back to his classroom. For us it’s a win-win.”

Looking beyond the map

For Ripken, adventure learning is one way he’s changing how his students view geography, which is a required course for ninth-graders at Centennial.

Sometimes, you’ve got to look beyond the map, he says.

“It’s not just about physical features and the location of cities, it’s about human connections. It’s a major curriculum change over the last 11 years.

“If I had my choice, we’d board a bus. We’d be going out into the world. … It’s just not possible, so I do my best to bring the world to them.”

Ripken has figured out ways to bring some of that humanity into the classroom even during semesters when he’s not globe-trotting.

He teaches a unit on the geography of happiness, in which students theorize about how things such as wealth, family connections and weather contribute to happiness. The student brainstorm, research and map their best hypotheses. Then they compare it to a Dutch researcher’s findings.

Ripken also teaches a unit on urbanization and smart growth.

“We really take into account population patterns, the issues of development. We look at the existing physical environment and cultural patterns,” he said. “Students now see the links between geography and people.”

You can follow the adventure at http://n60.co/

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804

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