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Expedition Greenland – Learning Sustainability from the Vikings

There is a link between the lifestyle of Vikings on Greenland in former times and the contemporary challenges of sustainability. Vikings are mainly perceived as warriors from Scandinavia who threatened many regions of Europe with conquering expeditions and raids. But this perception is only partially true. The Vikings had primarily been farmers, craftsmen, traders and explorers. In 986 AD a small group of Vikings settled on Greenland. About 500 years later the settlements vanished. It is still not fully known what happened to the settlements and what caused their disappearance, but it can be assumed that the changing climate, a shift in the trade relations and the consequences of these factors for social structures were influential factors.

In the Middle Ages, Greenland was at the edge of the known world and at the periphery of the large Norse trading network. Therefore it provides an interesting, and somewhat complex, case for sustainability at the margins.

Teaching materials

An international project team has designed exercises for students aged from 12 to 15 for interdisciplinary learning and learning through enquiry. The material deals with Norse Greenland, contemporary Greenland, analogies around the world and international cooperation for global sustainability. The methods include group work with reproduced artefacts, a simulation game, a picture quiz, a role play and a world café. The material has been tested by pupils in England, Denmark, Austria and Germany before being made available for the public. The boxes are available for lending. They contain materials, tutorials and exercises for school lessons and out-of-school events.

The project team consists of scientific and educational staff from the Bonn Science Shop (Germany) Projektagentur Andreas Joppich (Germany), BAOBAB (Austria), the Centre for Design, Innovation and Sustainable Transition (Denmark), the Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University (England) with support from the Danish National Museum and the Danish History Teachers Association.

Target groups are teachers for Geography and History, teacher training institutes, school authorities, students, NGOs and external agencies.The material is available for download free of charge in German, English and Danish (shortly).

Learning and Learning goals

The material encourages students to do an enquiry about the following questions:

  • To what extent does a change in the physical environment have an impact on society?
  • How are different segments of societies affected differently?
  • What are the reactions to physical and economic changes? What leads them to this decision?
  • To what extent are individuals/ groups or institutions within society able to have an influence on the physical and economic changes? How?
  • What does social adaptive capacity mean? What influences it?

To find answers the students are asked to take an expedition. They learn about the historical case and discover that today there are issues of sustainability in Greenland, too. They also get to know that the changing climate in Greenland has an impact on other countries in the world. Global economic structures influence adaptive capacities in Greenland as well as many other countries.

After the fictional journey the students should ask themselves:

  • What have I learned? How is that relevant to where I live?
  • What can I do about the situation I encountered at the other places?

Through the expedition, the following learning goals can be achieved:

  1. Enhancement of the ability to develop a sense of place through the study of Greenland,
  2. Understanding that climate change is factual but with varied effects on different places,
  3. Awareness about the exemplary role/ the importance of Greenland in the context of global sustainability issues,
  4. Knowledge about diverse adaptive strategies (on Greenland, globally and in the home environment) and their impact at the local and global level,
  5. Awareness about how local and global economic and social structures frame responses and adaptive capacities (economic/ institutional lock-ins),
  6. Knowledge about possibilities to become engaged in issues of sustainability in their own local context with regard to sustainability at the periphery,
  7. Encourage further engagement with issues of sustainability while taking into account the specific situation of a place when deciding about actions/ measures for sustainability rather than simply applying general ideology.

Improvement of students´ competences

The exercises involve several disciplines from archaeological science, environmental science, history, geography and political education. They will strengthen competences such as communication (presenting texts to others, reading articles in scientific language), and discussion (drawing conclusions, discussing consequences). The students have to express opinions and provide arguments, based on the facts presented. They gain an insight into archaeological research and the value of historical science for contemporary challenges. By exchanging their ideas and using the teacher/trainer not as an instructor but as a resource, students develop their competence to organize the acquisition of knowledge and its processing autonomously, which is more typical for everyday and professional application than normal school lessons. Team learning is encouraged as it is necessary that students pick up ideas from others and add their own thoughts, so that collectively the whole context can be understood. The development of team competences is supported by cooperative adventure games during the enquiry. Students will develop a more profound understanding of the present ecological, social, economic and cultural challenges of sustainability. Because the scenario of Norse settlements on Greenland is limited in its complexity, it can be understood and overseen by young students but is still complex enough to allow comparisons to the present situation. The students are capable of discussing adaptations and regulations, that were taken, as well as developing proposals, that would have increased sustainability.

Impact on teachers and schools

Multiplier events organized by the project partners in each country will make the teacher reflect their role and their impact on the students. They will become aware of the potential to develop the key competences of students by learning through inquiry. The box of material therefore provides specific methods that are directly applicable. The teachers can leave their usual teacher-centered teaching. The multiplier events will ensure, that teachers feel safe in this new role. Further interdisciplinary teaching is supported – especially a combination of history and geography, but also natural and social sciences. This may lead to more coordination between the subjects and the cooperation of teachers and thus stimulate school development.


joppich Projektagentur Andreas Joppich, Deutschland (Berlin)
Andreas Joppich, Fundraising, Coaching, Projektmanagement, Pädagogik
switil BAOBAB - Globales Lernen, Österreich (Wien)
Koshina Switil, Bildungsreferentin 
rawding Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University, England
Dr. Charles Rawding, Geography PGCE Course Leader, Member of the Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo) 
jorgensen Center for Design, Innovation and Sustainable Transistion, Aalborg University, Denmark (Copenhagen)
Ulrik Jørgensen, Technical University of Denmark (Lyngby, Copenhagen)



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Opinions expressed reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent any sponsoring agency.