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NYC Teacher Selected to
Present Lessons From Antarctica


Middle-school science teacher Shakira Brown encourages her students to take part in hands-on learning. She will be following her own advice as part of an eight-week expedition to Antarctica. Brown plans to teach lessons for U.S. students live from the ice. Included: A description of an expedition to Antarctica and topics for lesson plans.

The icy, barren landscape of Antarctica is about as different as you can get from the crowded streets of New York Citys Harlem. A New York City science teacher, though, is determined to show her students and others from around the U.S. the value of studying science and learning about Antarctica, wherever they live.

The teacher, Shakira Brown, is planning to take a leave of absence in October from her position as a middle-school science teacher at Promise Academy Charter School in New York City and spend eight weeks living and working on the ice of Antarctica. Brown is part of an expedition called the Offshore New Harbor project funded by the National Science Foundation.

The expedition also has set up an educational outreach program that includes lesson plans and links to blogs, video conferences, and Web casts.

Brown will be part of a team that includes professors and students from several colleges, including the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queens College of the City University of New York. Dr. Stephen F. Pekar of Queens Colleges earth sciences department is the principal investigator for the expedition.

The purpose of the trip is to collect geoseismic data samples of the Earth layers in that region and other data to learn about the depository history and climate changes in Antarctica. Some of the information may be used for a future drilling expedition. The expedition is part of the ANDRILL Program, described as a multinational initiative with the objective to recover stratigraphic core records for the use of interpreting Antarctics climatic, glacial, and tectonic history for the past 50 million years.

Team members will travel between McMurdo Station, a U.S. Antarctic research center, and tents set up on the ice where they will be staying while they are working. (October is early spring in Antarctica, so temperatures usually dip below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit).

Brown will be participating in the research, but also will be promoting science literacy by presenting lessons from the site of the expedition. Schools around the U.S. will be able to take part in video and audio conferencing as well as link to video and written blogs sent to Web sites of organizations to which thousands of students have access.

Brown talked with Education World about her goals for the expedition and her desire to get students, especially minority students, more interested in science.

Scott DeTore
Shakira Brown

Education World: How did you get recruited for the Antarctica expedition?

Shakira Brown: Dr. Pekar heard about Promise Academy at a fundraiser in summer 2007 and then he saw the school president Geoffrey Canada on 60 Minutes sometime later. Dr. Pekar decided that Promise was the place to find his next teacher. Dr. Pekar met with the director of curriculum and development at Promise who invited him into to speak with the schools three science teachers. He interviewed all of us and in the end decided that I would be the perfect fit.

EW:What is your primary role in the expedition?

Brown: My role is primarily educational outreach. Ill be teaching lessons from the ice via video conferencing, keeping in touch with students all around the country, answering e-mails, and updating students on our progress.

EW: How are you preparing for the trip?

"My students have been asking questions like: Where will you sleep? What will you eat? What will you do with your hair?
Brown: There are several stages of preparation. Physically, I am training to prepare for working on the ice eight to ten hours a day in very cold temperatures. Then there is educational outreach. Dr Pekar and I are pooling our resources and are expanding this project from just reaching students in New York to reaching children around the nation.

EW: What are your goals for the trip?

Brown: My goals for this trip are to reach out to as many students as possible to involve them in this remarkable expedition, and so illustrate the importance of global science collaborations. [Also], to be a role model who will inspire underrepresented children [to see] that there are no limits on what they can accomplish.

EW: Will you be communicating with your school while youre gone? If so, what types of lesson plans are you developing?

Brown: I will be communicating with my students using video conferences, e-mail, and blogs. I am developing lessons plans with several organizations including ANDRILLs Research Immersion for Science Educators (ARISE) Program that will cover basic geology, the implications of global warming in polar/arctic regions, and the biology of organisms that live in extreme environments.

EW:What questions have your students been asking about the trip?

Brown: My students have been asking questions like: Where will you sleep? What will you eat? What will you do with your hair? They also want to know if I will see whales and other organisms.

"My goals for this trip are to reach out to as many students as possible to involve them in this remarkable expedition, and so illustrate the importance of global science collaborations.
EW: How do you hope this trip will influence your teaching?

Brown: This trip will influence my teaching by broadening my knowledge as a middle school teacher in this field. [The trip] also will present me with a personal challenge to improve my [teaching] techniques and strategies, since I will have to reach hundreds of children across the nation.

EW: What can educators do to get more students -- particularly minority students -- interested in science?

Brown: Educators can interest more minorities in science by bringing real science into the classroom. Fostering relationships with local universities, museums, and labs help bring the communitys resources to the classroom. Also, [teachers should try to] make classes as fun and interactive as possible. Most middle school students are not as disciplined as they need to be to grasp concepts by strictly lecturing. A teacher must consider the multiple intelligences that children possess.

This e-interview with Shakira Brown is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Published 09/17/2008


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