Coming back to school was both exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Learning the names of 100+ students while having a very limited short term memory due to lack of sleep was one of the greatest challenges. I also had a hard time adjusting to it getting so dark so early - I love that Arctic sun.
On the first day back to school I decided to not worry about establishing classroom rules and routines and instead focus on showing students why I was late to school this year. This started with a clarification for the students that I was in the Arctic and NOT Antarctica; it also involved sharing some of the permafrost basics. I quickly shifted the focus onto the students by taking out our Google Expeditions Exploration Kit so I could take my students on a virtual field trip to the Arctic. This is a kit stocked with 20 android phones housed in sturdy VR viewers and they are very easy to use. Students were able to type in a couple of key terms into the youtube app and pull up the 360 tour video I had created two days before while exploring the Permafrost tunnel in Fairbanks. Now 9th graders are pretty easy to get excited, but this activity turned into the perfect storm of excitement factors. While some students are familiar with this technology through gaming, many have not used it in school before. None of the students knew much about permafrost, and the idea of a permafrost tunnel with ancient grass, animal bones, and ice wedges in mysterious shapes is just too good.
What really got the students excited, however, was seeing me in the video. This is a conversation I've been having with other teachers a lot lately as we, as educators, continue to curate our own content for use in the classroom. When I first starting taking 360 footage, I tried to hide myself as much as possible since I was (for the most part) irrelevant to what I was trying to show. Students were always curious, however, as to where I was in the picture. Since then, I've tried to be more conscious about including myself in a way that helps students make a personal connection (their teacher was there), but also doesn't distract from the objective of the lesson. Students' excitement and curiosity about the permafrost tunnel shifted as they really realized it was me taking the video; that I had been there just the day before, and now, through the power of VR, they were there too.
I've got a million goals of things I want to accomplish post-expedition. Some of them small and things I have the power to do (new lesson plans for my classroom). Some of them are big and will take several years and lots of other people to accomplish (getting the OMSI permafrost exhibit to the East Coast, developing a citizen science project with Atqasuk). But for now, I'm just excited that my students are excited as I am to learn about the Arctic.