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Take A Virtual Trip
To Antarctica


Take a cool Internet tour of Antarctica in the warmth of the classroom. Included: Fifteen Antarctica teaching activities for across the grades and across the curriculum.

Looking for a cool place to take your students on a field trip? There's no cooler place than Antarctica! And you and your students can go there. You can take a trip to the coldest place on Earth via a handful of hot Internet sites!

Check out some great Web sites that offer "virtual tours" or personal journals of previous trips to the icy land way down under! For starters, and best for younger students, check out the Virtual Tour put together by the folks at the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA). Your tour will start where most every Antarctic expedition begins, in New Zealand. You'll fly from there to McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica and then on to the bottom of the Earth -- the South Pole. At each stop you'll learn some cold, hard facts and a little bit of history. Click on the postage-stamp-size photos for a clearer look at images of the important sites at each location.

In New Zealand, take a look at all the gear you'll need for your trip to the South Pole as you wait for your plane to McMurdo (Antarctica). Your flight is bound to take off on short notice due to the ever-changing nature of Antarctica's weather. And the flight conditions aren't exactly first class! See the photo inside the airplane to get an idea of how cramped conditions will be for your 8-hour flight!
The excitement builds as you see McMurdo from the air. (McMurdo is Antarctica's largest community, with more than 100 buildings!) See a bunch of photos here, including a couple shots of the hut built here by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who established a base here in the early 1900s. Check out the link to lots of other McMurdo photos before heading to the cold ol' pole.
Finally. You made it! You landed at the South Pole in your ski-equipped airplane. Here you'll learn what it's like to live at the South Pole. Learn that South Pole Station is located about 350 feet from the actual geographic South Pole -- but it's moving closer to the Pole all the time! So how cold is it here? You're probably visiting in December or in January, when it's summertime at the South Pole. The average summertime temperature here is about 20 degrees below zero (Centigrade). While you're here, be sure to check out the link to "more cold facts"!


If it's a "tour" of Antarctica you're looking for, check out some of the other available sites while you're strapped into your chair at the computer. 

  • Rob Holmes has been to Antarctica three times. You can read his journals [archived copy] from those three trips on his Web page, The Ice. Don't miss a special page with Holmes's answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Working In Antarctica [archived copy]. Holmes works at the Antarctic Automatic Weather Station at the University of Wisconsin.
  • Be sure to check out Diana Steele's Journal [archived copy]. Steele, a journalist from the University of Chicago, made the trek in 1995.
  • Middle and high school students might also be interested in looking over Christina Gray's Antarctic Log. Gray, a high school freshman in 1995, wrote this log to document her "Virtual Antarctica" trip.
  • Matthew Lazzara, a meteorologist at the Antarctic Meteorological Rsearch Center, kept an Antarctic Journal while on a repair mission there in 2005.
  • Read tales and adventures from Ross Island, Antarctica, in this Antarctic Journal blog.

Interested in learning about additional Antarctica-related Web sites? If you aren't interested in additional online resources, skip immediately to Cool Antarctic Activities.


Antarctica-related sites galore can be found on the WWW. I've selected a handful of excellent teaching resources. But these are just "the tip of the iceberg;" these sites are indicative of the wide variety of available online material.

  • Weather Maps. Want to know current weather conditions in Antarctica? Check out the live view from Mawson Station (an Australian outpost). The image is accompanied by a paragraph describing current conditions. Or check out the up-to-the-minute weather maps from the Antarctica. You can look at the temperature, pressure, wind speed, direction and relative humidity.
  • At The New South Polar Times Web site [archived copy] you can read all 29 issues of The New South Polar Times, a newsletter written by the staff of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, South Pole, Antarctica. Here you can also find some nice teaching lessons (including some nice hands-on science activities), a couple Antarctica histories of varying lengths, a Q&A page, bios of the South Pole crew, and much more. An excellent resource.
  • If you missed the link in the opening section of this story, be sure to check out Cold Facts About Antarctica. Here you'll find answers to some FAQs including So how cold is it?, Is it windy?, How thick is the ice sheet?, How many people live there?, and How many South Poles are there?
  • Is it penguins that your students are interested in learning about? You'll find a bunch of resources on the Web for learning about these interesting creatures. Take a look at The Penguin Page for information about different species of penguins and penguin behavior, reproduction, predators, and friends. The Antarctic Journal Web pages [archived copy] are full of interesting information about penguins. On these pages you can read journal entries from wildlife audio recordist Douglas Quin as he travels the southern polar reaches of the world. If your computer is sound-equipped you can even listen in to the sounds of penguins.
  • Read Richard Byrd's story, Alone. Byrd spent five months in absolute isolation in a tiny hut far south of Little America in Antarctica. This is his story, originally published in 1938 by G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Can a spit of coffee freeze in mid air in places like Antarctica? You'll find the answer to that and other questions on USA Today's Ask Jack page.
  • If you're looking for news updates about Antarctica and links to additional sites, be sure to visit USA Today's Antarctic Index.
  • Finally, Information Documents About the Antarctic offers an interesting collection of documents related to the continent, adaptation to cold, environmental issues, tourism, treaties, and much more.


What Do You Know About Antarctica? Before students begin their study of Antarctica, trace an outline map of Antarctica on a large sheet of mural paper. (White mural paper would be great!) You might trace a copy of an Antarctica Outline Map found online onto a sheet of acetate; then that tracing could be placed on an overhead projector to enlarge the map. Invite students to tell things that they know about Antarctica. Write each of those "facts" on the mural. Then, as your study proceeds, new facts will be learned that can be added to the mural. (All facts might be written on colored cards to add color to your mural.) During your study, some facts on the mural might be discovered to be untrue. The corrected fact could be written on a sheet of colored paper and pasted over the misinformation.

Math. Older students can convert temperatures shown on the map(s) and on their tables (see activity above) from Centigrade to Fahrenheit.

Geography. Print out for students a copy of the Antarctica Outline Map. Invite students to locate on the map some of these places: Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the Antarctic Circle, the Antarctic Ocean, the geographic South Pole, the Indian Ocean, McMurdo Station, Mount Erebus, Palmer Station, the Ross Ice Shelf, the South Pacific Ocean, and the Weddell Sea. Add to this activity any other locations that are part of your classroom study of Antarctica.

Hands-On Science. What kinds of clothing best protect visitors to Antarctica from the cold? Try this experiment: You'll need to get four thermometers. They should all be of the same kind and each should record the same temperature at the start of this experiment. Three of the thermometers should each be wrapped in a different kind of material. For example, one could be wrapped in a cotton T-shirt, another in a wool sock, and the third in a sheet of polyester material. The fourth will not be wrapped. Next, place each of the four thermometers (three wrapped and one not) into a paper cup and place the cups in a cooler with ice in it. Wait ten minutes. Remove the cups. Record the temperatures on each of the thermometers. Which material was the best insulator? (See another experiment for Investigating Insulation [archived copy], which includes a discussion of the layers of clothing needed for cold-weather protection.)

Safety. This is a good time of year to review safety rules for keeping warm and preventing frostbite. Take a look at the Surviving the Cold Weather fact sheet from the National Safety Council. Students might create a fact sheet of their own to take home to keep posted on the refrigerator.

Hands-On Science #3. This experiment will demonstrate the insulating properties of the layer of blubber that a penguin has.

  • Ready a large bucket of ice water.
  • Provide a student with a rubber/plastic glove to put on each hand hand. (Your school nurse might have a ready supply of them.)
  • Coat one of the gloves with a good layer of vegetable shortening (fat); the other glove gets no coating.
  • The student places each gloved hand into a plastic food storage bag.
  • The student makes a fist with each hand and places both hands into the bucket of ice water.

Which had gets cold first? How does this experiment demonstrate the properties of a penguin's protective layer of blubber?

Read a Wind Chill Table. Provide practice for students in reading a simple wind chill table using the Teaching Master provided.
ANSWER KEY: 1. t, 2. f, 3. t, 4. t, 5. f, 6. 15 degrees, 7. -9 degrees, 8. 40 mph, 9. 25 degrees, THINK ABOUT IT! The 10 degree day with a 10 mph wind is colder (-4 degrees) than a 20 degree day with 20 mph winds (+4 degrees).

Telling Time. Invite students to take a look at a world time zone map. (Check out a World Time Zones Map online.) What time is it now in your classroom? Invite students to figure out what time it is in Antarctica. (Note: According to the online time zone map, Antarctica is two hours ahead of EST at this time of year. However, it's interesting to note, that scientists and visitors to Antarctica tend to follow New Zealand time, because New Zealand is the most common point of takeoff for Antarctic exploration. If my calculation is correct, New Zealand would be 17 hours ahead of EST.)

Geography/World Map. Invite students to take a look at a map of Antarctic Territorial Claims (scroll down the page to the second map). On an outline map of the world have students color any country that has staked a claim on Antarctica. The colored map will give students an idea how much worldwide interest there is in the icy land at the bottom of the world.

Career Education/Language. Take a look at the list of members on The Antarctic Team [archived copy]. Talk and learn about why each member is needed and what that person's responsibilities might include. For instance, why would the Antarctic team include a dermatologist, a marine scientist, a radio operator, a helicopter pilot, an astronomer, and a mechanic? Invite each student to choose the role he or she might like to take on a trip to Antarctica. Ask each student to write a brief explanation of what his/her responsibilities would be and why he/she would choose to perform that role.

Riddle. Just for a laugh: What's the largest ant in the world? (Ant-arctica!)

For another Antarctica teaching resource you might check out the Table of Contents from the Live from Antarctica 2 Teacher's Guide.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 12/08/1997
Last updated 12/02/2010