In this focused lesson on exciting Arctic exploration in the early 1900s, students will begin by exploring why Matthew Henson is an important historical figure. They will examine their assumptions about explorers and learn about the unusual life and accomplishments of Matthew Henson, the African American explorer who, along with Robert Peary and four Inuit natives, were the first explorers to reach the North Pole in 1909. What challenges and dangers were met by these intrepid adventurers? And how did they gain and use indigenous Inuit knowledge to make their journey a success?

While Peary took credit for the polar achievement and became world famous, Matthew Henson was ignored. Why was Henson forgotten by history for so long?

An 11.5 minute video interview with renowned explorer and Henson expert, J.R. Harris, will immerse students in Henson’s life and journeys. Students will take notes in a graphic organizer while watching the video. Additional short video segments are available for further student exploration. An exciting, immersive 3D game called “Race to the North Pole!” will be played as an enrichment activity. A detailed VR* Walkabout scene will help students visualize and explore the geography of the Arctic regions of the world. (Requires VR* equipment and a license.)


Assessments include an opportunity for students to imagine what Henson would say in an acceptance speech when he was finally inducted into the Explorers Club in 1937. Scaffolded critical thinking questions can be completed in class or at home, and an exit slip sums up what students have learned. Extension activities are offered for students who want to explore Henson, polar exploration, and African American explorers even further.

Class time required: 1-2 class periods.

*PCVR – Equipment and license required.

In the Footsteps of Matthew Henson has the following lessons and activities:

  • “In the Footsteps of Matthew Henson” video (11.5 minutes)
  • Graphic Organizer: “In the Footsteps of Matthew Henson” Video Notes
  • Video Notes: Teacher’s Key
  • Matthew Henson VR Walkabouts and accompanying Leveled Questions
  • Critical Thinking Questions document
  • 4 short enrichment videos
  • Immersive 3D game – Race to the North Pole!
  • Exit Slip: “How did Inuit knowledge and culture help Matthew Henson complete his successful expedition to the North Pole?”
  • Exclusive – 3D scans of Matthew Henson’s actual gloves!
  • Explordle – A journey-specific word game

In the Footsteps of Matthew Henson should be used when your curriculum focuses on...

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