Lessons from the Ice
Teacher Glen Schulte travels to Palmer Station to teach students in Cincinnati about a bug's life in Antarctica
Posted February 4, 2007
Ten months ago, I was sitting at my desk grading papers at the Zoo Academy – a Cincinnati Public School on the grounds of the Cincinnati Zoo where I’m a botany and physics teacher – when I received a phone call that would change the focus of the next year of my life.
Richard Lee, from Miami University of Ohio, asked me if I would like to join his team going to Antarctica in December 2006. I have worked with Rick for 10 years, teaching in a master’s program for teachers at Miami, so we knew each other well.
I was stunned to think about the possibility: leave my family for six weeks, leave my job for six weeks? Was it even possible? My family and teaching teammates assured me that is was possible, and it was an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. My wife and kids, in particular, have supported me throughout this trip.
Rick explained that my job would be to focus on the educational outreach component of the trip, as well as assist in research. Our team is studying molecular and physiological mechanisms of stress tolerance in the microarthropods (mites, ticks and insects) of the region.
This is the third consecutive year he has included a teacher as part of the team. The team includes Rick; David Denlinger from Ohio State University; Mike Elnitsky, a doctoral graduate student in Rick’s lab; and Josh Benoit, a doctoral graduate student in Dave’s lab.
After some investigation, I decided that the best way to reach the most kids was through the Internet. Over the course of the next several months, I worked with the information technology department of Cincinnati Public Schools to develop a plan that would have the greatest impact for the most kids.
Lora Folger, IT manager, and Curt Smith, network engineer, at Palmer Station were a great help in getting all of the kinks worked out.
We decided that a Web site would be the way to go and Education on Ice (www.edonice.org) was born.
To make the site appealing to kids, we involved a Web design and computer support firm in Cincinnati. Rather than have a specific target audience, the site offers general facts about the trip – packing, deployment process and so on – and then progresses to specific information on the current research we are doing.
The format is simple and navigation is easy, with pages dedicated to pictures and video, the trip down, ongoing research, teacher resources, and, most importantly, personal interaction with students and teachers.
Having a Web site to look at is nice, but having a live person to talk with is better. And so we created “Antarctica Live.” We incorporated two ways for students and teachers to contact me directly. A dedicated e-mail address was created (firstname.lastname@example.org) so anyone could e-mail questions.
There have been questions from second-graders in Las Vegas, seventh-graders in Smithfield, R.I., and high school students from Cincinnati. The students like the immediate feedback, and they like seeing their names come up in the news section of the site.
The second component of Antarctica Live makes use of the iChat feature of the new Macbook computers. The outcome is similar to a video conference. People around the station have been a little startled to see me walking around talking to my laptop!
The day starts early. I try to be online by 7:30 a.m. Palmer time, so I can post answers from the previous day’s questions. That way the students will have their answers when they get to school in the morning.
The rest of the day varies. Some days our research team goes to nearby islands and peninsulas to collect samples. I go if that’s the plan. Everyone is needed to make sure we collect enough specimens for the research in the labs, both here and in the States. If it’s a “lab day,” I may help sort larvae or mites, edit photos and video for the site, go out with other research teams to see what they do, or wander around Palmer to talk to people about what they do and get new ideas for photo and video galleries or future lesson plans.
Responses to the Web site have gradually been building and are now rapidly coming in. People are asking more and more questions and requesting photographs of certain things.
One topic that many people ask about is the staff here. Who they are, how did they get these jobs, what do they do, how long do they stay? That’s the next photo gallery. With the technology available at Palmer, maintaining and updating the site has been a breeze.
Once the trip is over, the site will continue. More resources will be developed and added. We will write lesson plans, student projects and articles for publication in teaching journals. Articles in refereed journals as a result of our research will be posted on the site for anyone to access. We plan to maintain the site as a resource for quite some time.
Glen Schulte is the team leader at the Zoo Academy in Cincinnati.