Turn On the Lights!

Late January is a difficult time of year; all of the bright holiday lights have come down as the snow, slush, and cold have settled in, and any sign of spring is too far away to see. Finding a way through this long stretch is possible, especially when we focus on the inner light that our students shine out into the world! A component of Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education is to encourage students to be agents of positive change. Classroom measurements for success should acknowledge and encourage growth outside academics, including areas of leadership, character development, and school values. (CRSE, pg 27/28). A fascinating way to tie all these pieces together – light in the darkness, positivity, and student impact – is to talk about auroras.  

Northern Lights above Cantwell during the Jr. Iditarod. Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

Yes, the Northern Lights!  My previous post shared ideas to investigate the amount of daylight in different areas of the world. Northern Arctic areas have much less daylight in winter, but they also get the benefit of being the most likely place to see the Aurora Borealis (although they can be seen as far south as Florida, the best chance is in March/April or October/November close to the poles.) 

So what is an aurora?  There are lots of very scientific explanations, but I prefer to stick to the basics. The simple explanation is that our sun sends out particles of energy; when these particles bump into elements in the Earth’s atmosphere it causes the colorful lights we see in the night sky.

Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky above Tanana. Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

A quick explanation for young learners can be found here: CBC Nature of Things: Aurora

For a middle grade explanation click here: Nasa Space Place: What is an Aurora?

Want ALL the science? This SciShow with Hank Green provides it! What Causes Auroras?

Darkness can be scary. It’s frightening when we can’t see what is around us – physically or metaphorically. So how do we make it feel a little less spooky? Turn on a light. Just like the auroras, our students can bring beautiful light to the world through their words and actions. They just need to bump into each other a bit. Like the solar energy particles that create auroras – positive energy, or positivity particles can create little boosts of brightness in our students’ experiences. What has the most power to build confidence and empathy? A little bump of positivity from a peer. Students “light up” when classmates give a compliment, a shout of encouragement, or an understanding hug.  

Night sky in Finger Lake sparkling with Northern Lights. Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

Here is where I turn this idea over to you. Take the concept of lighting up the darkness – just like the Northern Lights – by promoting positive interactions or “bumps” in your classroom culture. Next week is the Great Kindness Challenge – I would love to have an aurora themed week where each class/grade level has a color (green, red, blue, purple) and students add to a Northern Lights display each time a “bump” from a peer is recorded – each positive interaction adding more light to the world. Or maybe the upcoming Valentine’s Day themes of love and kindness can be reimagined to incorporate the auroras?  A simple idea is to play a video of the Northern Lights during the day as background to independent reading or indoor recess. I’ve linked a short time-lapse video from National Geographic here: Time Lapse: Northern Lights from NatGeo  There are options to incorporate art or PE games which can support the theme, too!  

West Irondequoit student,  Mrs. King’s class, created Northern Lights inspired art. Photo credit: C. King

I really hope that I will be able to see the Northern Lights when I am in the more remote interior of Alaska during the 2023 Iditarod. My expectation is that the wonder of nature will astound me, and the light in the darkness will be a reminder that sometimes small things bumping together create beautiful results. I’d love to ask some of the mushers how they feel when they see those lights in the sky and discover what magic it brings to their race.

Library Learning: I highly recommend the book Arctic Lights Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller. It is a fantastic journey through a year in Alaska – each page shares the date, the amount of daylight, when sunrise/sunset occurs, and the average high/low temperatures. The text touches on the natural wonders happening throughout the seasons. The beautiful illustrations by Jon Van Zyle recreate the sights of Alaska as no one else can!