I am a primary teacher and every year for the past five years I have taught my class a unit of work on Antarctica. In the NSW syllabus the study of Antarctica is part of the Human Society and Its Environment syllabus for Stage 3. The NSW Syllabus documents provide guidelines and expectations on what the students will learn, starting with this:
Current Issues: Antarctica
This unit provides opportunities for students to explore issues and decision-making involved in human interaction with a significant world environment, the Antarctic. The unit focuses on how beliefs about human interaction have changed over time and differ from person to person, depending on their perspective and interest in the area.
Not surprisingly there are many excellent websites, lots of fabulous books, hundreds of worksheets and many units of work to guide one when teaching the topic of Antarctica. Over the past five years I have developed my own inquiry based program, using a matrix of activities created using Bloom’s taxonomy and Gardener’s theories of multiple intelligence. I am the kind of teacher who is never satisfied that a unit is perfect and so every year I have made modifications and adjustments to my Antarctic unit, tweaking and improving it, mostly to increase the students use of technology within it but also to add IWB activities or lessons.
The story I want to share with you today is how this year not surprisingly, I used Twitter to assist me in this. Earlier this term I sent out a tweet that went something like this “I want my Antarctic unit to include more inquiry questions, can anyone help?” Almost immediately @audreynay sent me link to a complete inquiry based unit. If I had been a new teacher or someone who had not taught Antarctica before, or a teacher from an isolated school without support and guidance I would have been set for the term. This unit was fabulous. As it was, I read it carefully, reflected on my current unit, cherry picked a couple of ideas from it and used those to further improve my own work. Just perfect, I was set for the unit.
Last week I sent out two more tweets “Year 5 class seeking Antarctic scientist to skype with” and “seeking stage 3 class to collaborate on Antarctic Tourism voicethread”. To the first tweet I had two responses, unfortunately I cannot now find who they were from but I am eternally grateful, as I followed up their leads and by Monday afternoon I was in email communication with Nick, a scientist wintering at the Australian Davis Station in Antarctica. Communication and assistance from my IT department followed and we were set. So to top our final week of term two, on Friday afternoon my class enjoyed an amazing chat with not one but three Antarctic scientists. Skype does not work in Antarctica, so we had to make do with a land line and a speaker phone with some of his photos displayed on our IWB screen. Nick and his colleagues a physicist and geologist listened patiently and answered questions ranging from ‘what inspired you to become a scientist and go to work in Antarctica’ to ‘what do you eat’. Nick and his colleagues were interesting, informative and above all real. It was brilliant. The students listened intently, they were focussed and engaged throughout
Next term my students have to complete an individual task which they will choose from a variety of options. These include such things as creating a brochure, to advertise Antarctica. Or writing producing and directing a skit retelling Shakleton’s journey. Those who choose to create a podcast describing a day in the life of an Antarctic scientist will, I believe, have a head start over the others. They will be able to draw on our soon to be created podcast from Nick in Antarctica. They will be able to describe not only the science involved but a daily life devoid of trees and greenery. Where the only winter daylight is two hours of twilight. Where the temperature is -20 degrees on a good day. Of a life eating only frozen vegetables and a small amount of home grown salad. Yet one which they described as the most amazing experience of their lives, surrounded by scenery and animals that would take ones breath away and worth every deprivation and hardship.
Now all I need to do is find a school that wants to collaborate on my semi completed voicethread and I will have had complete success with my tweets. Are you learning about Antarctica in your class this year? Will your students consider the question of tourism in Antarctica? If so let me know and we can continue this learning together.
Photographs: Nick Roden