Way beyond cool – Google Geo Workshop

“Where are you headed to this time?”

“Yellowknife.”

“The National Park?”

“No, that’s Yellowstone. Yellowknife is in Canada.” 

“You’re headed to Canada? In winter? Isn’t that cold?” 

Yes. Yes it is.

Yellowknife, Canada

From a country smack on the equator, with temperatures averaging 30 degrees Celsius year-round (that’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit), to a far-flung  part of the world with temperatures differing by a negative sign, it was cause for alarm. Why the push to travel from a land of slippers and shorts, to a frozen region of 2 layers of gloves and ski pants at the start of December?

Winter in NWT

The Yellowknife Google Geo Workshop was too good a chance to pass up. A once-in-a-lifetime dogsled tour, while taking a deep dive into using Google Earth and other street imagery tools, all in a part of the world I have only heard about. I get to pick up more skills and ideas along the way for my Google Innovation Project, check out the sled dogs and experience a sled ride. How cool is that?

Only problem was getting there.

An 18000km (really?) journey starting from Singapore, through Paris, Amsterdam, Calgary and finally Yellowknife.

After what seemed like 2 days of flying, 5 airports and 4 lunches in a row, it seemed almost surreal to be looking at this.

Yellowknife airport
Reality sinking in – this is Yellowknife airport

The Geo Workshop was hosted over 2 days at École St. Patrick High School and Sir John Franklin High School. Right off the bat, the frostiness and bitter cold was forgotten, with the warm EdTechTeam Canada crew bringing warm greetings, hugs and coffee.

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École St. Patrick High School – a beautiful, warm campus. Thank you for hosting!

As with all EdTechTeam Summits, the Yellowknife Summit was a blast. There is always something new to learn, new people to meet, and new ideas to try out in the classroom and for my Innovation Project. Donnie’s Keynote, Michelle’s and Ellen’s sessions were the only ones that I had time to attend, but the ideas were practically overflowing by the end of the day, having made so many new friends and having spoken to so many educators.

Sled dog tour

Day 2 of the Google Geo workshop was hosted at Sir John Franklin High School, part of the YK 1 district. Another beautiful school, with art paintings adorning the walls to add a touch of vibrancy to the cold winter’s day.

Donnie started us off on uploading photos and images onto Google Maps and Sites, and we spent the morning learning how to take 360 images from our smartphones and other devices like the Theta 360 or Samsung Gear 360.

This being Canada, we used a famous poem “The Cremation of Sam Mc Gee” by Robert W. Service as a backdrop, and went around the school campus taking pictures of the surroundings to better portray the meaning of the poem. Having never heard of this poem before, there was a bit of catching up to do, and before long we were out in the cold winter morning taking in the breathtaking frozen view around the school.

I thought that this was a fantastic idea. Using a local poem not only contextualises the settings of the country, forcing us to get creative to frame the storyline, but also pays tribute to the literary landscape and provides an insight to Yellowknife which would have been lacking on a typical package tour. A wonderful idea which I will definitely take away and tweak when presenting at future summits – thank you Donnie!

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Overlooking the frozen lake
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Trees resplendent in their frozen glory against the morning sun

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Would have loved to stay out longer just to admire the views and crisp air, but the dry chilly air bit through gloved fingers with a dull, vise-like ache after a while. We took whatever photos we could in the cold, before heading back indoors to complete our presentations.

Having shared our various interpretations on “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, we came away with a better idea of the ins and outs of Google Maps, Sites, Earth and Local Guides, and a better overview of the technicalities involved in conducting similar lessons in our classrooms.

We had just enough time to squeeze in a quick lunch before carpooling down to Beck’s Kennels and Tours for the highlight of the trip.

Sled dog tour!

The cacophony of what sounded like a hundred dogs greeted us as we rolled into the compound.

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The place was incredible. Dogs enclosed in their compounds, prowling and lunging with excitement at the sight of new visitors. Sled dogs chained to their sleds, practically straining with anticipation to start a run.

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We bundled up into all our warm clothing, fiddled with our various gadgets and grouped ourselves into 3 sleds. Each sled was designed like a bobsled, with an additional musher behind steering.

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And in the distance, sleds coming back from a lap around the frozen lake with zombie tourists, smiles frozen on their faces while the dogs, with icicles formed around their muzzles, yipped restlessly, itching to run again.

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The baying added to the excitement as we nestled into our sleds, but once our sled moved off, a whole eerie silence descended upon the group.

12 dogpower felt really powerful, as the sled glided across the snow with a smoothness and speed deceptively masked by the dogs’ lean frames.

Check out the 360 video below, which lasts a grand total of 40 seconds before fingers started hurting too much to record. Scroll to the front view to check out the quintessentially Canadian way of recording a video – by strapping the Theta 360 to a hockey stick!

Other than nervous laughter which punctuated the stillness whenever we caught a whiff of dog poo (Yes they run and poop at the same time – who knew? Such an invaluable skill!), we all sat in awe during the whole trip, taking in the splendour of the frozen lake and fumbling with our gadgets to capture any images before the bitter cold draft started gnawing our fingers.

And before we knew it, the tour was over. But not before a grand finale, with the dogs running neatly beneath the bumper of a parked 4WD, and the dawning realisation for the humans when we realised that we couldn’t.

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Dogs can, but not humans! Taken just before we smacked right into the bumper

Sundogs

An added bonus to the trip. A big thank you to Martin who was driving us to the bistro, and who suddenly spotted the sundogs and asked if we wanted a closer look.

Yes yes yes a thousand times yes.

We parked and trudged through calf-high snow onto a small slope to catch a better glimpse of the sun on the horizon flanked by 2 smaller ‘suns’. Whatever atmospheric phenomena at 62 degrees latitude is definitely something we won’t have in our part of the world.

Travelling really changes you in more ways than one. Having endured wind chills of a biting pain that ebbed into a dull numbness out on the frozen lake, the calm winter air seemed almost tolerable.

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Doesn’t feel that cold anymore

Looking back, this trip was really a blast. All that trepidation and self-doubt really melted away the instance we walked through the school door. Yes, Singapore to Yellowknife was an insane journey. The jetlag took forever to shake off, coldness was an understatement, and there were many moments during the 30 hour flight to question my sanity for doing this trip.

EdTechTeam Canada did a phenomenal job organising such an amazing summit, and I’m not sure if this piece does justice to the engagement and fun we all had for this weekend. But I do hope more eyeballs will bring about more attention to such fantastic events, and I do hope more teachers get to attend in future, for yourselves, your students, and for a good story to tell.

After all, that’s what makes life so memorable, isn’t it?

When things get this fun, it doesn’t even feel like learning anymore.

 

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2 thoughts on “Way beyond cool – Google Geo Workshop

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