Yesterday and today, English and History students are spending the afternoon snowshoeing north into the Sylvania Wilderness in small groups. (Another graduate fellow and I are assisting teachers Jeff Rennicke and Michael Salat with this lesson so that we can have fewer students per instructor.) Armed with maps and compasses, each group set out for a different lake in the wilderness area, navigating through areas of forest with no trails. As a staff member, my job was to stand back and let the students lead the way! We took excerpts from two books with us to read and discuss in the woods. The first was a section of Into the Wild, the book students are currently reading in English class, that dealt with the idea of acceptable risk. The second, a section from Endurance, was part of the current history unit on Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctica expedition, and we connected it to the first reading with a discussion of the risks Shackleton’s men took at different stages of their journey. Finally, on the shore of Big Bateau Lake, we heated water for hot chocolate and munched on homemade scones before starting the trek back to campus.
Afterward, I asked my students whether they felt doing the reading and discussion in the cold, snowy woods instead of in the classroom added something to the experience, and the answer was a resounding “yes.” If they were cold and tired after snowshoeing only a couple miles, they said, they could only imagine how much tougher Shackleton’s men had it on South Georgia Island!