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A World Away - Maryland Students Connect to the Arctic

By Tom Harten, middle school teacher and PolarTREC Educator

It is 3547 miles from Owings, Maryland to the North Pole. A world away for sixth grade students learning about the impact of arctic change to their way of life in southern Maryland. Recently, students from Northern Middle School and Windy Hill Middle School both located in Owings, had a chance to make a more personal connection to the arctic through the Float Your Boat project.

"... we have a single passion, protect & hand a planet to the next..."; boat decorated by student

Tom Harten from the Calvert County Public Schools’ CHESPAX environmental education program met with selected sixth grade classes for a lesson designed to help students make the connection between changes in the arctic environment and the ecology and economy around Chesapeake Bay country.

Students began the activity watching a short excerpt from Chasing Ice, a documentary film that captured the largest glacial calving event ever recorded. The dramatic footage illustrated the rapid changes taking place in the lands far to our north.

Climate change scenario cards for the Chesapeake Bay where the students live.

Student pairs were given a scenario card (seen above) with a variety of events that are projected to occur as the climate warms and the arctic continues to change. Students discussed with a partner, whether their scenario might result in a positive or a negative consequence for our lives in Calvert County. Pairs moved to different corners of the room based upon their interpretation of their given situation. A few examples of the scenarios included the idea that birds such as the Tundra Swan that winter in the Chesapeake Bay but nest in Alaska and northern Canada will likely be impacted through these changes. Another scenario projected that wetlands surrounding the bay and river are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Potential positive impacts included the idea that global transport could become more economical as this region becomes free of ice and allowing for the passage of ships.

After students had sorted their different scenarios between “positive”, “negative”, or “unsure”, a full class discussion of the different ideas commenced.

Students decorating wooden boats from Northern Middle School and Windy Hill Middle School, Maryland

Students were then tasked with using one of these connections as a theme for their boat decoration project. Students worked on their boats in class while listening to Elegy for the Arctic by Ludovico Einaudi (video below) which was produced in partnership with Greenpeace. Boat designs were graded on their overall content/organization, creativity, and content accuracy.

"There has been an example shown in global sea routes which could make shippiing eaiser & reduce costs for goods." A learning expressed by a student on a wooden boat.

This summer, these boats will travel aboard an icebreaker to the North Pole. Their boats will sit on the sea ice alongside a parent Arctic Buoy that contains a GPS beacon and ride along the shifting ice that will eventually melt. As seventh graders, these students will be able to track their boats while they are learning about ocean currents and the role of global systems on our local environment. The project will help connect these students to a place that is literally a world away!


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