Last year, Dartmouth’s second group of IGERT students came home with a task. IGERT Director, Ross Virginia, approached Lars Poort, a PhD student at the Institute of Learning Processes of Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland), to discuss how the scientific education provided in Greenlandic schools might be improved. Poort, who researches how education affects students’ perceptions of nature, explained that children in most cultures learn science as an amalgamation of facts rather than a dynamic subject based on inquiry. Lenore shared anecdotes of her and Simone’s interactions with school children, who would not ask questions even when directly encouraged to do so (on any topic!). Scientific research is a foreign concept for students who have had little to no contact with scientists. Students often do not know that scientists can be young people like us. They know that scientists are interested in Greenland, but they also see that, for the most part, the scientists come and go without interest in local knowledge or interaction with communities. Wouldn’t it be great, Lars thought, if early-career polar scientists could make some sort of teaching tool for Greenlandic classrooms to show students that science is based on questions and that many young researchers are involved in asking and answering them?
Addressing the dearth of scientific opportunities for and, thus, accomplishments by native Greenlanders has been central in several recent initiatives. Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland) offers degrees in teaching, social work, nursing, journalism, and the social sciences. Although students interested in the physical and natural sciences still must seek education in Denmark, the University is rapidly growing and actively looking at how to incorporate the natural sciences into their mission and curricula. Notably, 2009 also saw the founding of the Greenland Climate Research Center within the University-affiliated Institute of Natural Resources. This institute recently appointed Prof. Mark Nuttall, noted climate change anthropologist, as Professor of Climate and Society, signaling expansion into the international science scene. Second, the Centre for Arctic Technology in Sisimiut trains future “Arctic engineers.” The students, roughly half of whom are native Greenlanders, spend their first 1 ½ years of study in Greenland and a further year studying in Denmark. Poort suggested that the Centre for Arctic Technology could be instrumental in training a local workforce for future minerals exploitation on the island. Finally, schools are (slowly) beginning to show interest in interactive learning. Of five nationwide institutions that house children removed from their homes for social injustice reasons, the one in Uummannaq is committed to activities-based learning and even sent students on a trip with Poort to learn about the ecology of Northwest Greenland and Maine.
Though steadily improving, Greenland’s education system faces a shortage of teachers; Poort told the group that only 4-5 new science teachers enter the system each year, necessitating that non-scientists fill the science teaching jobs.
Someone so knowledgeable about the characteristics of Greenland’s education system, its recent achievements, and its current challenges provided invaluable feedback on the “Changing Climate Changing Greenland” DVD and accompanying teaching material we created in Ross’ spring course, “Polar Science, Policy, and Ethics.”
Poort’s first comment was that the narration is too fast for the students, for whom English is most commonly a third language. Translating the video into Kalaallisut or providing subtitles would facilitate greater receptiveness and material comprehension. Further, he emphasized that the scenes like those in the freezer looking at an ice core will be the most important for the students, who have little to no exposure seeing scientists “doing” science. We were grateful for the opportunity to learn how we can meet students’ needs better, especially since we plan to work video revisions into part of the IGERT curriculum this coming year.
Poort also clarified our audience, grades 7-9, and reiterated that students are “saturated” with climate change information—but in the form of pamphlets rather than instructional and memorable activities. He highlighted the “Polar Science and Global Climate: An International Resource for Education and Outreach” from the IPY as one of few useful resources for teachers. While far from being on the same scale, we hope that our video, too, will be seen as a positive resource by educators who wish to teach their students about climate change and introduce them to work such as that presented in AMAP’s new “Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic.”
While we hope the final version of our video will have a lasting impact in Greenlandic classrooms, we also wanted to engage with the larger community while in Nuuk. On August 13th, we all presented our research to a general audience at Katuaq, Nuuk’s Cultural Center. Steph presented the basics of air being trapped within grains of snow as it transforms to ice; Ali talked about ice sheet melt, sea level rise, and why glaciology is socially and economically relevant on a global scale; Chelsea shared details about carbon storage and different types of soil, including the Arctic permafrost that is particularly fascinating to scientists; and Jess discussed toxins in food webs and her observations from the field near the ice margin two weeks prior. The University of Chicago students (T.J. and Perry) talked about their collaborative project with the Greenlandic Language Secretariat constructing the first English-Kalaallisut dictionary since 1929. We made the first public debut of our video-in-progress, which received a positive reaction, and we all fielded thoughtful questions about our lecture material. Jess even had lengthy conversations with community members who had personal observations of the sea tomatoes and algal blooms she discussed in her talk. We all enjoyed sharing our work and its relevance to the polar environment and were grateful to be part of a continuing IGERT tradition engaging in scientific dialog with Greenlanders.
Chelsea presents her soil research in her public talk at Katuaq.