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HKR professor takes teachable moments to a whole new level

"Imagine looking out at vistas of only white and blue with a horizon line that parts only these two colours and that you ski toward for days at a time ... Imagine a silence so profound that your heartbeat is the loudest thing you hear; for days at a time."

This is how Dr. TA Loeffler described her latest expedition on her blog. She left St. John's on April 11 for Greenland. Her and her three expedition mates then traversed 275 kilometres of unexplored Greenland by ski from the Brede Glacier to Gunnbjørn Fjeld, the Arctic's highest peak at 3,694 metres.

The team summitted Gunnbjørn Fjeld on May 12, which took about six hours of climbing up and two and a half hours of skiing and climbing down.

Dr. Loeffler said she's already brought this expedition into her classroom through stories, pictures and case studies. "I am teaching outdoor recreation management in intersession and have been able to demonstrate several real world applications of the theories and models we are studying in the course. I've also used it already in my introduction to outdoor education and recreation class as well giving the students the opportunity to see how the skills they are learning in class can be used in longer and more challenging environments."

The expedition was aptly named Go for Greenland and also involved seven Newfoundland schools as virtual expedition members. With the help of third-year physical education student Taylor Lynn Marsh, who helped design and implement the curriculum, Dr. Loeffler was able to get daily expedition dispatches and curriculum activities to students in grades four, five and six around St. John's.

She used technology called a SPOT messenger that beamed out her location to her website each day with both longitude and latitude coordinates as well as flagging it on Google Maps. The students could also post comments and questions to the website which came to Dr. Loeffler on her satellite phone so she could answer them in almost real time.

"It was really rewarding to have the students follow so closely along and it was the highlight of our days to download their questions," noted Dr. Loeffler.

"I hope to follow up with a research project looking at the efficacy of involving schools in expeditions since it is a huge trend at the moment and quite a number of expeditions have school programs as part of their mandate. I know many of the schools used parts of the curriculum offerings since they referenced them in texts to us."

This was Dr. Loeffler's second summit success in a polar region in six months after she climbed Mount Vinson, the Antarctic's highest peak in December. "I hadn't planned to do both peaks in six months but it was a thrill that it worked out that way," she said. "This expedition also included an ice cap traverse on an un-skied route which was also a goal of mine."

This was Dr. Loeffler's fifth visit to the Arctic. Her first was to Yellowknife in 1995 when she celebrated receiving her PhD. Her next adventure, which will be closer to home, has a personal element. "My next expedition is to the George River in Labrador and Quebec. Fulfilling a long time dream, I will paddle a canoe and walk in the footsteps of Mina Hubbard, who did the George in 1905. She is one of my exploration heroes and has been the subject of some of my research."

She'll be joined by three other Memorial employees and two Memorial retirees from mid July through early August.

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