February in the northwoods offers ample snow, gradually-lengthening days, and chilling cold. Just how cold? Twenty of the first 26 days have seen low temperatures below zero, and three days have seen the high temperature fail to get above zero. The low temperatures for the past eight days have been, in order: -34, -27, -17, -28, -35, -6, -23, -31. While cold like this might necessitate the cancellation of school in many places, life here just goes on. Our teachers leverage the cold and snow of February to bring to life many skills and concepts that can best be learned in these conditions, from albedo in environmental science, to skiing and snowshoeing in field instruction, to a palpably-real experience of Jack London’s classic work, To Build A Fire, in English class. In history class, Michael had his students spend some time experiencing a bit of the adventures of Sir Earnest Shackleton’s famous Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917.
Inspired by what they had learned in history class, some students seized on the fact that Saturday, February 14, was not only Valentine’s Day, but the 100th anniversary of a pivotal event in Shackleton’s expedition. Lena, in her e-portfolio, describes how these students, with two graduate fellows, chose to spend a cold, windy Saturday morning:
The -25 degree wind bit my face as I helped a group of my peers hoist the last chunk of ice out of a small opening on Big Donahue Lake. It was February 14th, 2015; the 100th anniversary of Ernest Shackleton’s boat, Endurance, getting stuck in the ice of Antarctica. That day, a student led group of brave souls decided to trek onto Big Donahue on one of the coldest days this winter to celebrate this occasion. I reluctantly volunteered, not feeling up to spending that much time in such cold weather. However, the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt as that last chunk of ice was pried from the inky blue water is immeasurable and irreplaceable.
There are many things I learned to love that day: the intricate layers of ice that can really only be seen when it is cut from frozen water: the tiny icicles that decorate everyone’s eyelashes: but most importantly, the sense of teamwork and community I felt as we worked together to achieve our goal. I felt so accomplished as the group and I paraded back to the LAB; my snow pants coated in a layer of snow, my extremities completely numb, my eyelashes and hair white with frost. I felt tough as nails having braved the weather that day. Mostly I was proud to be involved in such an extreme, important activity. This was one of those things I would have never done back home and being able to do it here made it so much more meaningful.
This activity helped me achieve the learning goal “Demonstrates improved skills in the principles and practices of teamwork and leadership”. During this activity I worked with a team in order to achieve a desired goal. By working together, we had fun and learned a lot about teamwork and communicating in the process. This activity was meaningful to me because I got to do it with a lot of friends. I think that together we all felt that we had fought through many boundaries: the cold, the ice not coming out, and using the right methods. I think the most important thing I brought away with me is that anything can be fun if you communicate correctly and have a group of enthusiastic team members.
Lena and her friends remind us of how much our students learn from their “informal” experiences, including those they organize themselves, inspired by their passions. Highly-motivated young people will do that, when we give them the time and space to do so.
Director of Enrollment and Student Support