Skyping with an Arctic Explorer

Drawings of polar bears and maps of the Arctic region decorating the hallways signal the arrival of March at our school. So when I read the announcement that teachers could sign up to Skype with one of the polar explorers at the UK Arctic Research Station in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, the most northerly permanent settlement in the world, I registered immediately. I am a teacher-librarian and know from many previous Skype sessions that an experience like this would be an inspiring launch activity for the first grade study of the Arctic habitat. The first grade teachers when our application was accepted.

To prepare the students we told them that they would be speaking with a polar explorer who would tell them what it’s like to work in such an extreme location. The students prepared questions they wanted to ask Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, the Director of the Digital Explorer program. The questions needed to be ones that weren’t readily answered on the internet.

On the day of the call, my students learned a lesson about time zones that they didn’t expect. When you Skype in the morning from the west coast of the US with a person who lives nine hours away, you can’t see anything outside because it’s already the early evening. While the students were disappointed that they couldn’t see the landscape, they were thrilled about the question and answer experience.

Jamie started off our Skype call explaining that the polar scientists were researching how glaciers are changing over a melt season and how they might change in the future and the impacts that might have for sea animals in the area.

Then we started our question and answer segment. One boy about the thickness of the sea ice we were surprised by the answer. There is no sea ice at all around the island at all. In fact the temperatures are so warm this year that their most difficult problem is not bone-chilling cold, but rather rain.  The rain, fog, wind storms and murky days are affecting the equipment and causing a completely different set of problems.

Jamie answered numerous other questions about how they protect themselves from polar bears, working in the extreme cold, and their recycling and composting procedures during our twenty-five minute Skype call.

When one boy asked if they put ice in their drinks there, we learned some fun facts about iceberg ice. Jamie’s answer got lots of giggles from the crowd. Apparently iceberg chunks make a fun hissing sound when the ice melts in water and the air is released after being trapped for thousands of years.

For many children, that single ice chunk story will be the one the children remember from the experience and that’s okay. These conversations with scientists thousands of miles away highlight the impact of virtual field trips. The likelihood of any of us actually traveling to the Arctic is slim at best. However, through Skype virtual field trips, students can have the next best thing. They can virtually be in Svalbard, talk to the experts in the field, and experience science as it’s happening in the moment.

We ended our call with cheers and claps. Comments like “That was awesome!” “It was fun!” “The best day ever!’ “I loved it because he (Jamie) can explain things to us.” let us all know the impact of the experience.

Indeed, the lessons from this virtual Skype field trip extend beyond the call. The Digital Explorers have created frozen ocean resources which teachers can download and use in their classrooms. When our students started studying  polar glaciers in class this week, they were able to view a 360 view of a scientist rappelling into a glacier from the UK Arctic Research Station in Ny-Ålesund. As One little boy told me, “It was fun because we actually saw him and didn’t just see it in a book.” Skype in in the Classroom can bring learning to life!

This post was cross published on the Skype in the Classroom Blog.

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World Read Aloud Day 2017

Read Aloud. Change the World.

That’s the message of World Read Aloud Day. Today we celebrated the joy of reading — the joy of listening to a book and the joy of talking to authors.  We were so fortunate and we took action on behalf of the 758 million people who cannot read.

If you have visited my blog before, you know I’m passionate about spreading the love of reading throughout the world in events like this and through my Books to Africa Partnership. Today we Skyped with two authors- Dan Gemeinhart and Robin Yardi.

Dan Gemeinhart is the author of the middle grade novels, The Honest Truth, Some Kind of Courage and Scar Island.

Dan spoke to us from his home in Washington state and shared his reading and writing story to an audience of 4th and 5th graders. Nearly everyone in the room had read at least one of his books and they were completely enthralled with his presentation. Dan shared how he moved a lot when he was young, and while that was difficult, he found that he always had one thing no matter where he was….BOOKS!

Nobody could take away the stories from him and he always had a book in hand. In fact, like many authors and readers, he got in trouble for reading TOO much. Only readers know how painful it is to hear parents beg them to go outside and get stop reading. By second grade, he knew he wanted to be an author, but he didn’t do anything to make that dream come true until much later as an adult. His message that you have to make your dreams come true – that they don’t come true magically on their own was especially powerful. Even more powerful when that message is coupled with the fact that he had a very hard time getting published.

Dan was very candid about the fact that he wrote for 8 years and tried to publish 5 and I quote – “terrible” books, but was rejected 99 times! Then letter #100 came back with a big YES, and The Honest Truth came to life. Now there’s The Honest Truth, Some Kind of Courage and Scar Island with two more books in the works.

As soon as our call ended, there was a mad dash of students trying to be first to nab one of his books. You know it’s a successful author visit when you have to figure out a way to safely hand out books! thank you Dan for so generously sharing your story with our readers for World Read Aloud Day.

In the afternoon, we hosted Robin Yardi, author of The Midnight War of Mario Martinez and They Just Know: Animal Instincts.

Robin read They Just Know Animal Instincts to my Thursday 1st and 2nd grade classes in an interactive presentation. The students let Robin know when they saw silly and real illustrations as they read the story together.

Afterward she shared photos of cool animals like the pygmy seahorse and a species of bats. They learned the words adaptation and echolocation. she shared some of her new favorite books with us as well before we had to end our call. The children loved being to talk to an author almost in person. They were super excited to checkout their own book and bring it home. I am so grateful to the Microsoft in Education Skype in the Classroom program for our Skype visit with Robin.

World Read Aloud Day 17 is nearly over, but the message remains the same. We can all take action on any day to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. We can all dream  and imagine a world where everyone can read. As Dan said in our call, dreams take work, and we can all make a difference.

Since I began celebrating in 2012, I’ve noticed the numbers of illiterate people advertised in the handout literature are going down. The handouts in 2012, stated there were 793 million illiterate people in the world.  The 2017 materials have 758 million people. That’s a reduction of 35 million in 5 years! We are making this dream come true for millions of people. Keep advocating locally and globally!

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