North of Sixty: A Tapestry of Arctic Perspectives

    Aaron Doering experiences life North of Sixty first hand during one of his earlier adventure learning projects in the Arctic. All photos: Matthew Whalen Students in schools across the Arctic are about to begin an “adventure learning” journey, an effort to view their communities—and the impact of climate warming—through the eyes of local elders.

The vehicle for this adventure is a project called North of Sixty, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative led by the University of Minnesota’s Aaron Doering. North of Sixty combines classic ethnographic data collection with modern-day technology to educate seventh-to-twelfth-grade students in five countries across the Arctic.

“The ultimate goal is for the students to create what I’m calling a global tapestry of climate stories. We’re going to weave together, not only history, but also the cultures of the Arctic communities,” Doering explained.

The students will gather stories from the elders, people Doering calls the “knowledge keepers” who will give first-hand, personal perspectives on how climate change is altering lives north of sixty degrees latitude.

Students will capture these stories, and then upload them to North of Sixty’s website, a unique online learning environment in its own right.

Connecting education and technology is Doering’s passion—especially in the field! North of Sixty students and teachers will bring stories of climate change in the Arctic to people around the world using 21st century technology and social media.

Doering thrives on using technology to enhance learning. In this capacity he does everything from online learning development to appdesign and aesthetics.  He also has a strong interest in the environment. So it’s only natural that with projects like North of Sixty, he has blended his two interests.

Sewing the Seeds of Adventure Learning

In the early 2000s, Doering started looking at how K-12 students could be motivated in their own classrooms using real-world and real-time data from remote regions of the world. By combining online resources like video, chats with leading scientists and experts from around the globe, discussion boards and in-field experiences for teachers, Doering and his colleagues took adventure learning to new levels.

One of his first projects was the NSF-funded project, Go North!, which took him—and several millions of students following via the Internet—on dog sleds to most Arctic nations. Next, came Earthducation, a four-year effort to connect students, teachers and an online community to look at the ways education can and will influence our planet’s future.

Pulking: not your standard K-12 curriculum.

North of Sixty is the latest of Doering’s projects. “Each project influences the other as I try to continually allow education, the environment and design [to] motivate learners throughout the world,” Doering points out.

Student Scientists

This summer North of Sixty students will grow into a team of young social scientists on a mission to enter their own communities and witness climate change through the eyes and experiences of a different generation. Doering estimates at least 150 and up to 300 students from schools around the Arctic—in Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, Canada; Kaktovik, Alaska, USA; Murmansk, Russia; Karigasniemi, Finland; and Digermulen, Norway—will participate in the project’s first year.

“I want stories to be told from people within these communities and I want these kids to be excited about collecting these stories from their elders. We’re giving the students the tools to be able to document the changes,” he said.

Aside from learning how to ask the right questions and conduct an interview, North of Sixty students will get a crash course in 21st century technology. They will use iPad and iPod Touch devices to record the video and audio files from field visits with elders, and then use basic video editing software to craft a story. Finally, they will post their recordings to an online site that Doering and his colleagues have created. Their communities, and people from well below 60 degrees north latitude, will be able to share in their experiences and get a unique perspective on how climate change is affecting people in the Arctic.

Growing a Solid Online Learning Environment

But before the North of Sixty students can begin, Doering and his team must finish developing an online, interactive learning environment where students of all ages and latitudes can experience the living history project.

As the project grows with student contributions, so will the website. It will serve as a teaching tool where students practice composing, editing and “pushing” entries live onto the Internet while visitors post comments, feedback and share their own climate change stories. Social media also will play an important role in North of Sixty. Students will post updates to Twitter and Facebook, sending their climate change stories to even broader audiences with a few clicks.

“The number one goal is to teach the world about the Arctic and climate change through the personal lenses of the people who live in these regions,” Doering said.

Next Step and Untold Stories

Doering and his design team hope to formally launch the learning website this summer. At the same time, the team is contacting the teachers who will guide students through this process to provide project-related training and professional development. This fall and into next spring, the students will begin using the website in their classrooms and posting climate stories.  In a year’s time, Doering plans to travel to several participating schools to further encourage the use of North of Sixty in classrooms throughout the Arctic.

Doering hopes North of Sixty is only the beginning. He sees the project as a model that can be replicated, a tool that can literally give voice to untold environmental stories.

“My hope is to take this to students throughout the entire world,” he said. “For example, I just returned from Arnhem Land in Northern Australia and spent a great deal of time with the Aborigines. Their stories could also be captured through this approach. North of Sixty is just the beginning.For more information about North of Sixty, visit For more information regarding Doering’s projects, visit—Alicia Clarke