Nunavut students learn real world science aboard icebreaker
“We have to learn to respect the environment and respect where we live”
Special to Nunatsiaq News
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Tenth-grader Alysha Maksagak of Cambridge Bay, who recently participated in the 2014 North American Indigenous Games in Regina, skipped school to learn more.
On Oct. 24, Maksagak, along with science teacher Beth Sampson of Cambridge Bay’s Kiilinik High School, headed out on an educational adventure.
For 11 days, Maksagak and Sampson were part of the Schools on Board, Arctic Field Program.
Schools on Board, an outreach program offered by the University of Manitoba, pairs students with scientists to research and learn about the effects of climate change on arctic life.
“It was amazing,” said 14-year-old Maksagak. “Before I went, I was sceptical on the effects [climate change] had on my hometown. I didn’t realize how big of an impact global warming has on where I live.”
The entire program takes place aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker and research vessel Amundsen, which travelled from Kugluktuk through the Northwest Passage and dropped the science team off in Iqaluit on Oct. 6, where each student-participant gave a school-based presentation.
Maksagak and Sampson were supposed to arrive back in Cambridge Bay by air on Oct. 7, but foggy weather back home left them stranded in Yellowknife for days.
The student participants in the program came from all across Canada, including three from British Columbia, two from Manitoba, two from the Northwest Territories, one from Quebec, and two from Nunavut including Maksagak, from Cambridge Bay, and a student from Baker Lake.
“Our program is unique because it is an actual working research vessel,” said program co-ordinator, Michelle Watts, in a telephone interview from Winnipeg.
“The ship left from Quebec City in early July and has three legs of its journey. We joined them during their last leg. Some of the scientists have been on the ship since July collecting real data for real research.”
Maksagak has dreamt of becoming a marine biologist ever since seventh grade. That’s when she was watching “Shark Week” on television. She’s hoping eventually to go to Dalhousie University in Halifax, to make those dreams reality.
“I’ve always had an interest in marine life,” she said. “Watching the scientists made me want to pursue my career even more. They enjoy their job, they had fun with it.”
Each day on the Amundsen was planned out for the 12 program participants and more than 50 crew members; breakfast was at 7:30 a.m., followed by a daily meeting at 9 a.m. While the boat was in transit, the scientists would make presentations before lunch at 11:30 a.m.
But it was the hands-on fieldwork that the students enjoyed the most.
“We helped the scientists drag a net across the ocean floor and then we sorted out all the species of wildlife in the sea,” said Maksagak, smiling. “It was so much fun.”
When the students weren’t helping the scientists directly, they were conducting their own experiments.
An experiment, which the 10 students, including Maksagak and her roommate, enjoyed the most involved seeing if ice melts faster in salt or fresh water.
“The experiments were really interesting,” said Maksagak. “I learned so many cool things on.”
That curiosity and passion were what earned her a spot on the ship.
Each year, schools can apply for a placement on the vessel. If the school itself is granted an opening, educators must then agree on which student to send on the trip of a lifetime.
Students are chosen based on a number of criteria including their love of science and adventure and their ability to keep up schoolwork while away.
“Alysha was chosen because she is a promising student who has shown an aptitude for science,” said Kiilinik’s vice principal, Anne Daniel.
“There is nothing better than real world learning, and this trip will leave a lasting impression on Alysha and her peers about how scientific knowledge effects the real world. We’re hoping that these students take the experience back to their home communities and become inspired,” said Watts. “And we hope they can inspire others about the environment.”
That seems to be happening already, with Maksagak.
“Climate change is real and it’s really happening,” she said. “That`s what I learned. I want to get people to notice what climate change can do to the Arctic. We have to learn to respect the environment and respect where we live.”
For more information on how your school can join the program, go here.