Posted by: Heather Durnin | November 30, 2011

Polar Bears & Student Action with @amckiel

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday night, I was putting together the final touches for a geography assignment I’d planned to present to the students the next morning.  While it was similar to an outline I’d used a few years ago, I decided to scratch it after I read two tweets from  Andy McKiel.

And so I read his blog, Chillin’ with Nanuq for more details.  After travelling to Churchill, Manitoba, Andy was embarking on a life-changing experience – the polar bear migration. In the fall each year, the polar bears congregate along the shores of Hudson Bay so they can go out on the sea ice and hunt seals.  Due to global warming, this freeze-up is happening later in the fall, and the ice is breaking up earlier each spring. The situation has become so severe, that polar bears are now listed on Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Working with Edmodo and scientists from Polar Bears International, Andy would be sharing his experiences from the windows of Tundra Buggy One, via daily live video broadcasts. While this area outside of Churchill is isolated geographically, Andy would bring this issue into our rural classroom outside of Wingham, Ontario, via Edmodo’s webcast. This was a compelling story that aligned with the original project criteria.

And so…project re-write.

The next morning, I started class with one of Andy’s images – a polar bear dangling from a helicopter as it’s being brought to D-20 (Polar Bear jail) in Churchill before being taken to a more suitable habitat.

amckiel

The students were shocked and disturbed.  They were ready to learn.

amckiel

After spending a few days reading Andy’s blog and the excellent educational resources at Polar Bears International, the students soon discovered they could help the polar bears by adopting one – symbolically!  As a class of 31, they unanimously agreed to reach the top fundraising goal of $250 on their own.  Due date: November 30.

The following week, when Andy returned to Winnipeg, he Skyped into our classroom to answer many unanswered questions the students had prepared for him.  They were also keen to share their “adoption” plan with Andy, whose blog posts and images had inspired them.

While we know the importance of planning a project outline and success criteria ahead of time, sometimes, however inconvenient it may be, changing those plans leads to an even greater learning opportunity. When we connect our students to narratives shared by inspirational people outside of our classroom walls, our students develop a deeper understanding.

As Andy recently voiced in his K-12 Keynote presentation, “Use your experiences to connect with other people in other places to share learning in meaningful ways. The learning becomes an event.”

“The things that motivate our students, and the things that they remember are the things that are most important to them.”  

We don’t always know how the story will end. Go with your instincts and let the story, with its unknown ending, guide the learning and inquiry as our students connect and learn.

And the proof? Today is November 30, and this group of grade 7/8 students met their goal of raising $250. In fact, they raised $293 on their own. Most importantly, every student participated. Andy skyped in once again to participate in their celebration while my students drank Coke from white cans and ate white donuts. While my students may not remember the themes of geography, they will remember what they did, on their own, to make a difference.  Thanks, Andy, for turning their learning into an event.

SueLecatsas

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Responses

  1. I must say, the pleasure’s been all mine in being able to connect with you and your students to share the learning, Heather :-)

    Not only have your students learned through my experiences up in Churchill during the polar bear migration, but I have also learned a great deal through your students as well…

    I’ve learned that authentic learning experiences are key to motivating and engaging students. I’ve learned that connections matter. And I’ve learned that no matter how young or old, anyone is capable of making a difference when they set their hearts and minds to it!

    Thank you for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with you and your students. I’m so impressed that your students not only achieved but surpassed their goal in such a short period of time. Way to go :-)

  2. What a wonderful post and story! I love the idea that learning becomes an event and your project typifies this notion. It is also great to read Andy’s comment on this post and what he has also learnt along the way. Did your students document their learning?

    • Thanks Anne. Whenever we can learn with our students, it’s a true example of collaborative learning in the classroom. The students completed a fairly extensive project as part of this journey which included creating a Glogster to show some of their work. They also reflected on the process afterwards in their blogs. You can view an example of this here. All student blogs with similar entries are posted here. Just go back a few posts to find those related to this project.


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