Science in the Subarctic
Jacqueline Monteith – Frontier School Division

We all have a relationship with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This relationship builds as we explore the world around us through experiences, interests, and exposure to new ideas. Fostering these relationships is phenomenal. It is even more phenomenal when we consider the very real and lasting impact that we have on our young people through STEM-based experiences.

Our communities in Frontier School Division (FSD) span a geographical area larger than the state of California. Most are northern, rural communities with strong indigenous roots. Our communities span all areas of Manitoba, from farmlands to the boreal forest and as far north as the subarctic on the shores of Hudson Bay. The uniqueness of each and every community is remarkable. From a scientific standpoint, our geography can be celebrated by having a close look at local topography, geology, climate patterns, animal migrations, aquatic differences and similarities, and more. Our communities are filled with local experts who have valuable generational knowledge, and having youth explore this with a STEM lens is incredible.

A prime example of the uniqueness found within FSD is in our most northern community of Churchill. Churchill is known at the Polar Bear Capitol of the World. Our youth from Churchill are studying polar bear and marine mammal ecology in many ways. Students may participate in a citizen science project initiated by the Assiniboine Park Zoo called Whisker Printing, where they study the unique whisker-print of each bear as a means of tracking activity, lifespan, and range. Students may participate in a course focused on Arctic Science, where they study various aspects of subarctic science both in Churchill and in Winnipeg. Students also may participate in an annual global live stream event focused on polar bears and other features of the tundra. In the global live stream event, students become the experts and discuss their own experiences and lifestyles in Churchill, ensuring equity of access to subarctic opportunity regardless of geographic location.

Inspiring our teachers, youth, and community partners to explore STEM through a local lens can be tricky at times. There are a lot of barriers, from being unsure of where to start to blizzards and polar bears! Over the past few years, our science team developed a few resources that have become pillars for building the relationship between our youth, local expertise, STEM approaches, and personal interest.

FSD STEM Cards: This series of STEM cards was developed for Kindergarten through Grade 12 learners as a response to home and school needs during COVID times. They continue to inspire activities connected to scientific method, design process, and inquiry. Each activity comes with a connection to Indigenous Way of Life as well as additional biological connections contributed by Parks Canada. Materials for each activity are common in schools and homes, or can be collected in nature. I enjoy seeing how inspired teachers become by this set, and how they make the activities their own.

5 Minute Field Trips: This document provides some suggestions for taking your learning outside in ways that are short, manageable, and meaningful. It follows the Manitoba curricular topics from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Teachers are encouraged to head out of the classroom for STEM explorations, to use these ideas as a launch for additional ideas, and to celebrate these local connections. Personally, I love developing local scavenger hunts where students photograph given objects that represent scientific concepts. They love the challenge.

Expedition Churchill: The popularity of the FSD STEM Cards led to an additional opportunity in partnering with the University of Manitoba, which developed a free e-book called Expedition Churchill. The e-book explores many aspects of life in the sub-Arctic, all with a local lens and voice. We were able to develop a set of 10 STEM Cards and 10 full lesson plans to continue sub-Arctic learning. My favorite activity is the Blubber Glove – Be sure to check it out!

Overall, the relationship that students and staff have with STEM is incredibly unique and personal. These resources were developed with individuality as well as whole-self approaches in mind. I encourage you to gain inspiration from these resources, and continue the exploration of your own relationship with STEM.