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Asking The Arctic

Kevin Fox Blog

by Kevin S. Fox, Geography Teacher, George School

In June 2019, as one of National Geographic’s Grosvenor Teacher Fellows (GTF), I took part in a ship-based expedition aboard the National Geographic Explorer, circumnavigating Arctic Svalbard (Norway) for seven days.  Before heading north, I worked with my students at George School, a Quaker day and boarding school near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to challenge our collective lack of geographical knowledge about the region and to help develop possible research questions through our Asking the Arctic project.  Combined with my own radio expeditions (see Season 5), this shaped my Arctic experience and continues to frame the different ways I bring home the knowledge gained.

On October 4, 2019 I reported on and presented expedition experiences to George School students, faculty, and staff at the all-school Friday assembly while initiating a post-expedition call to action to engage the explorer mindset and make public our potential individual research questions and destinations.  The goal of this project has been to showcase student work, model geographical inquiry, and tell the story of the Arctic expedition through the framework of a TOK-style exploration of how we know what we know about this particular region and its people.


The first part of our pre-expedition Asking the Arctic project challenged over fifty of my AP Human Geography students during their last two weeks of the course to face their own limited “geographical imaginations” of the Arctic through a series of mental mapping activities.  We then discussed and debated the popular TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, in order to recognize that we already had the tools from “doing” geography all year to go deeper and move beyond the single story of any place around the world.

The second part of the project had each student exploring their own interests and curiosities about the more or less unknown Arctic region. They were given the following prompt:

If you had one month in the Arctic, what specific place would you visit and what specific question would you ask?

For this hypothetical field-based research project, students needed to come up with a set of (human geography) research questions while choosing one that was doable in that timeframe and possible with the modest resources available.

The Asking the Arctic map places each of the students’ final research questions around the Arctic region.  Click on any pin to reveal a possible line of student inquiry and see how the process of developing questions can significantly expand our geographical imaginations of the Arctic.


Expeditions can bring together a range of perspectives on the same place.  For a closer look at Svalbard and what going on an expedition means to the three teacher fellows who traveled there, check out the GTF video filmed during our time aboard the National Geographic Explorer.


What do you know about the Arctic?  The larger George School community of fellow faculty and staff, as well as students not enrolled in my classes, tested their background knowledge and took this short quiz.  How much do you know?  Take the quiz.

Have you ever seen a walrus up close?  While you watch, ask yourself: How would I narrate this short film of the walrus?  Or, what song might I play to highlight its movements?

No doubt the reindeer enters the popular imagination through the Santa Claus legend.  The Svalbard subspecies is the northernmost living herbivore mammal in the world.  David Attenborough hasn’t answered my calls yet.  How would he frame this encounter with the reindeer?  How would he narrate it?

This “audiograph” is a still photographic image paired with sound.  I like the format but, more so, I found the sound to be just the kind of sensory experience I was seeking out in this terra incognita, or unknown land in the North.  According to the USGS Glossary of Glacier Terminology, a “Bergy Seltzer” is a crackling or sizzling similar to that made by seltzer water but louder. It is the sound made as air bubbles are released during the melting of glacier ice.  What would you call this sound?


As an extension or continuation of the Asking the Arctic project, my current students in AP Human Geography are developing a set of research questions for their own “expeditions” around the globe.  During assembly, I invited everyone to join them in identifying their own place.

Imagine you received enough funding to make a two-month expedition to a region/country you want to understand on a deeper level in order to get beyond the “single story” that you might have of its people and places.

Curious about the range of George School’s research interests and/or the global spread of those future expeditions?  Check out the easy-to-make Google My Maps display of our Asking the World responses.

Feeling that wanderlust?  Respond to the same short three-question survey.  Ask yourself, “where would I go?  What would I ask?”

 Kevin is a cultural geographer who grew up in the Housatonic watershed.  Through The Geographical Imaginations Expedition & Institute, he makes monthly Radio Expeditions into the Geographies of Everything and Nothing.  He has taught geography, cartography, psychology, Spanish, English, and beekeeping in the United States, Bolivia, Paraguay, Spain, Austria, and Tanzania. He currently teaches AP Human Geography to George School ninth graders. 

 Learn more about George School.


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