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Teachers Explore Antarctica and the Arctic!


Curriculum CenterDo you have the spirit of adventure? Would you like to work on a groundbreaking research project with top scientists? Have you ever dreamed of going to the North Pole or the South Pole? Learn about a unique program that gives K-12 teachers the opportunity to travel to the ends of Earth to participate in polar research expeditions! Included: Links to activities inspired by the teachers' polar experiences and information on how you might join the next expedition!


When teachers Sharon Harris, Robert Schlichting, and Betty Trummel teach about Antarctica and the Arctic, they share more than information from textbooks-- they bring their own polar research experiences into their classrooms!

Harris, Schlichting, and Trummel are three of a host of teachers who have participated in the Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA) Program, a unique science exploration project for educators. This ongoing program gives K-12 teachers the opportunity to work with scientists conducting innovative research projects in the polar regions.

  • Harris, who teaches environmental science and chemistry at Mother of Mercy High School, in Cincinnati, Ohio, worked on a microbiology study in the Dry Valleys area of Antarctica, a small part of the continent not covered by ice and snow.
  • Schlichting, who teaches high school physics, chemistry, and biology at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, worked with a team studying the Kennekot Glacier, in Alaska.
  • Trummel, who teaches fourth grade at Husmann Elementary School, in Crystal Lake, Illinois, worked on a drilling project at Cape Roberts, in Antarctica.

"The TEA program is experiential education in its pristine sense," said Arlyn Bruccoli, TEA production coordinator for the American Museum of Natural History.

Each year, 12 to 16 teachers participate in the TEA program. Bruccoli said the expeditions follow the summers in Antarctica and the Arctic. At the end of October, eight teachers travel south to Antarctica on a staggered rotation; in spring, eight teachers head north to the Arctic, again on a staggered basis.

Bruccoli said that teacher participants post live journals almost daily to communicate with their students and other classrooms. In schools that have RealAudio capability, the teachers can share their experiences with up to 100 classrooms at a time!



What was it like to be part of the TEA program? Education World asked Sharon Harris, Robert Schlichting, and Betty Trummel to talk about their experiences.


Education World: Why did you decide to participate in TEA?

Sharon Harris: I applied, never really thinking that I would be selected. The concept of being involved in a research program in a remote area of the world was appealing. I enjoy challenges. Antarctica proved to be a challenge physically, mentally, and spiritually!

Robert Schlichting: I decided to participate in the TEA program at a time when I was returning to teaching after a three-year break and concluding a graduate degree in Earth science. I was interested in bringing "researchlike" experiences into my science classes and in making science inquiry much more real for students. When I heard about TEA, I strongly connected to the notion of the chance to engage in field-based research. I knew that it would sharpen my understanding of science as a process and, in turn, I would be able to more effectively facilitate relevant and exciting science teaching with my own students and other students as well.

Another compelling aspect of TEA was the notion of a "learning-teaching community." Polar research provides the context of this community. The idea of connection to a group of educators from around the country and sharing ideas on a long-term basis was very attractive to me. TEA is not about a one-time experience. The expectations and involvement of teachers with TEA span many years. This long-term commitment to a program from both those administrating the program as well as the teachers was also a big draw for me.

Betty Trummel: I am very interested in science education. In addition to teaching fourth grade, I also teach a science methods course for pre-service teachers at a nearby university. I believe that science is often a subject that elementary teachers feel uncomfortable with; children love it, however. There are so many connections between science and other subject areas. I love the fact that TEA connects teachers with science research and gives us the opportunity to bring that home to other teachers in a way they can relate to students. It makes teachers less fearful of science, and it sets a great example while helping us continue our own professional development. Little did I know when I applied that this would turn into a full-time job-- along with my full-time job. I spend time with mentoring, which I really enjoy, and lots of time doing presentations to other schools and teachers. I knew it would be challenging, and I like a challenge. I knew it would help me as an educator, and it has definitely done that.

EW: What was the most exciting part of your assignment?

Harris: Everything was exciting! The first time I laid eyes on Antarctica, squinting in the incredibly bright light reflected from the ice and snow, tears came to my eyes! To be in such a remote place! Being involved with wonderful, intellectual teammates was terribly fun and taught me so much about working under stress, within a short time frame, and under not-always-perfect conditions! There wasn't an unexciting moment!

Schlichting: To be honest, the most exciting part was the fieldwork. I was involved in all aspects of the work in the field from designing and implementing data collection instruments to lifting and moving heavy equipment. To work closely with a team of scientists and graduate students-- warm and friendly people at that-- toward a common goal was an incredible learning experience. Not everything went according to plan. It was fascinating to see how the group would deal with and adapt to unexpected occurrences, such as breakdowns of equipment, missed deliveries of equipment, injuries, and inclement weather.

Trummel: The fact that the Cape Roberts Project was a multinational effort involving more than 50 scientists from Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom excited me. I not only worked with American scientists but also had the chance to meet and work with many other people. My immediate team included two men from New Zealand who teach and conduct research in England, my principal investigator, and two Italian researchers. The scientists treated me with the utmost respect and included me as a full, working member of the team. Being part of a science research team was fascinating. I enjoyed the many tasks they gave me, and even though I didn't have a background in geology before the Cape Roberts Project, I sure learned a ton while working on the project.

EW: What did you learn from your assignment?

Harris: As I mentioned above, I appreciate the efforts of a team working together to accomplish a goal. I found that I was capable of exceeding limitations that I had unfairly placed on myself. It truly was a growth experience for me. I have greater confidence in my abilities to take on a challenge and in my knowledge of Antarctic science-- although I must say that this newfound knowledge is but a glimpse of everything that is happening in this area.

Schlichting: In terms of my time in the field, I learned a lot about how critical it is to be flexible and helpful. I also learned that fixing technical and logistical problems does not require years of graduate school and numerous experiences as a field researcher. When in the field, success in solving the most compelling problems usually involves a creative mind and the initiative to act on a solution.


How to Be Part of a TEA Expedition

Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA) started in 1992 as a project that sent high school students and a teacher to Antarctica. The program expanded to include the Arctic in 1995.

The Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education in the Directorate of Education and Human Resources and the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation fund TEA. Rice University, the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, and the American Museum of Natural History facilitate the program.

Participating teachers remain on salary in their school districts during their TEA experience.

Read more about the program and how you might join it at the TEA Web site.

Trummel: I learned a lot about basic geology and about the many different areas of geology this project included. We had sedimentologists [scientists who deal with the description, classification, and origin of sedimentary rock]; paleomagnetologists [scientists who study Earth's magnetic field, present in fossilized rocks]; paleontology experts; and many more. I also learned that I could go without sleep, type more journals and letters than I ever thought possible, and work seven days a week for six weeks and love it!

EW: How did your students react to your participation in the project?

Harris: They were so excited for me and for our school. I teach in an all-girls Catholic high school. It was so wonderful for them to see someone that they knew-- a woman!-- able to travel so far from home and live without the creature comforts to which I was accustomed! I think it did them a world of good f! They will still interrupt class to have me relate stories!

Schlichting: My assignment occurred during the summer when my school was not in session. In spite of that, numerous students followed my journals on the Web site. When I returned, a number of them and their parents told me that they had enjoyed this aspect of the project. A small handful of students and a fellow teacher continue to express interest in glaciers and other polar topics and want to know when I will be teaching more about the topic.

Trummel: They were very excited but missed me. They wrote constantly, and I had an hour and a half radio interview where the CBS contact hooked up a microphone to the phone they installed in my classroom for the interview. How exciting it was for the kids to be talking to me in Antarctica and asking me questions! They loved the daily journals and digital photos. They could know what I was doing right away and feel connected. This whole program is about making connections in so many different ways. At peak, I was answering 40 to 60 letters a day, not only from my students but also from classes all over the United States and some in New Zealand.



In addition to their project work, the participating teachers, called associates, developed lessons for their students and other classrooms connected to their projects. Sharon Harris and Betty Trummel shared with Education World some of the lessons they designed.

Harris developed two lessons based on the oxygen and temperature tolerances in bacteria. "Because we worked on Lake Bonney, a permanently ice-covered lake, studying the bacteria that lived there, I thought that it would be appropriate to do a laboratory activity, planned by the students, about bacteria and environmental conditions required for growth," said Harris.

Trummel designed an activity that mirrored the core-sampling project she worked on at Cape Roberts. "It involves using an edible sediment core," said Trummel. "It teaches children to make scientific measurements and record their data in a table similar to what the Cape Roberts Project scientists used." Read more about these and other lessons at the TEA Classroom Materials page.

Harris encourages teachers to provide students with information about the polar regions. She has shared her experiences with groups ranging from kindergarteners to senior citizens. "They are fascinated by the adventure and science of it all," she said.

Trummel describes the TEA program as "a life changing experience." She said that being away from home was difficult, but she received much support and many e-mails from her family and friends.

"This program will do more for your teaching style than any other professional development," said Trummel. "I would encourage any teacher to apply. It is worth the time and effort. I wouldn't trade my experience for the world!"

Read more about the experiences of Harris, Schlichting, Trummel, and other TEA associates at Meet the Teachers at the Poles.

Lois Lewis
Education World®
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