K-12ers watch Arctic explorers ‘GoNorth’

An online program allows students to learn by following current expeditions.

Students as young as 8 years old are experiencing the virtual realities of the Arctic.

“GoNorth,” a scientific and cultural expedition that explores the climate, culture and people of the Arctic, was founded in part by Aaron Doering, a University professor in the College of Education and Human Development.

Offered to K-12 students, the five-year-old online program connects Arctic explorers with students via satellite. This year, the team of explorers is traveling through Fennoscandia, which is where the arctic regions of Sweden, Norway and Finland are located.

While the explorers go on a 14-week, 1,000-mile adventure using dog sleds, 3 million registered students worldwide watch, listen and read their updates online.

“It really takes the learning outside of the classroom and opens up the entire world for them,” Doering said.

The team is led by polar explorer Paul Pregont, who Doering will join in Sweden in April.

Every year, the team invites a teacher-explorer. Last year, Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby, Minn., sent teacher Jeffrey Sipper to the Russian Arctic for about two weeks.

Sipper said being on both sides of the program helped him see the amount of work and dedication that goes into it.

“Their expeditions and the expedition I was on drive the curriculum,” he said.

The program consists of three levels: explore, expand and expedition.

The level of the program that a student enrolls in depends on his or her grade level.

Third-grade students from Eden Lake Elementary School in Eden Prairie are going through the explore level. Eden Lake Elementary third-grade teacher John Clay said students were interested from the beginning.

“It makes learning come alive for the kids,” Clay said.

Briana Collins, a third-grader at Eden Lake, said she has learned a lot about the dogs. She picked a dog to sponsor, but it didn’t pass the test to go on the expedition.

The students read trail updates from the team every Monday morning, Doering said.

The students can also post their own experiences in audio, video or written form for explorers and other students to see.

Additionally, Doering said live chats with experts are offered periodically.

“Students are getting up at 3 a.m. in Australia to participate in the chat,” he said.

Although the program is mainly designed for K-12 students, Doering said some community colleges are using it as well.

Anyone can visit www.polarhusky.com to get trail updates from the explorers.