Back to Antarctica

Antarctica icebergs

Stage 3 students will be undertaking a Guided Inquiry exercise this term on the topic of Antarctica. For most classes, the science & technology aspects will be part of the work taught by Ms Stockton, the RFF (Release-from-Face-to-Face) teacher, so the library sessions will emphasise the achievement of HSIE (Human society & its environment) outcomes, and will complement the field knowledge being developed in S&T.

The following useful resources were invaluable the last time the curriculum cycle visited “Antarctica”.

Antarctica (Flickr slideshow), images courtesy of Mrs Coote’s brother

Introducing Antarctica (Youtube clips)

Mawson 100421 around station

Antarctica: Being there (TaLe)

As with last year’s Guided Inquiry units, the brief clips and links will be discussed and consolidated after considering the students’ “Plus, minus, interesting” matrices, which will continue to develop the students’ note-taking skills.

The roll of the die for Stage 3

As noted in my recent post about the culminating activity for Stage 2’s science & technology unit, Bloom’s (Revised) Taxonomy now puts “Creation” above “Evaluation” (as seen in this revised diagram). In the race to the end-of-term activities, this last step can sometimes be easily overlooked, but I was determined to get to this point with both units – and we were successful!

For the culmination of this term’s work with the Stage 3 students – we’ve been studying Antarctic explorers in HSIE (human society & its environment) – I devised a journal-writing activity that relied upon the roll of a six-sided die (ie. numerals 1 to 6) to suggest each new diary entry for our student “explorers”. The students were hopefully able to be creative, while using all the essential field knowledge and skills developed by the unit.

The displayed key to the die was as follows:
1. Team member lost down crevasse
2. Dogs are hungry
3. Frostbite!
4. Sled stuck to ice
5. Clothes wet and frozen
6. Blizzard!

Each student was handed a worksheet with headings for Day 1, Day 5, Day 8, Day 10 and Day 14 (and room for more if the journalist/explorers decided they wanted to keep adventuring and create more entries, or had actually “survived” to make such a decision). Students could elect to be their team’s leader or the member in charge of documenting their expedition for posterity.

It was decided that the first roll would be common for each student in a class, with all future rolls individual to a student as they were ready to write their next entries. One group of explorers, 6D, rolled the dire “Team member lost down crevasse” option for Day 1. 5B began their expedition with the threat of “Frostbite”. 6W got off to a slow start, meeting a “Blizzard!” on Day 1. The teacher and teacher-librarian then made their way around the room, rolling the fates of the explorers for the rest of their journal entries.

It was certainly a fun activity! All three classes were engrossed, and there was a flurry of insightful observations and good use of field knowledge. As the individual journals took on their unique twists and turns, the students began to realise how much they were at the mercy of the elements (and Lady Luck) in the harsh Antarctic environment. Losing team members down crevasses, and having to put their personal reactions into a such short diary entry was often quite confronting, especially if the journal might be the only way that news would get back to loved ones.

Not to trivialise the trials of genuine explorers, there were still a few examples of an ironic, begrudging hilarity, as one student began an incredulous string of bad luck with “Frostbite!”. Another was snowed in by a raging “Blizzard!” for much of his diary (“I paid $30,000 to sail to Antarctica and I’m stuck here in my tent!”) Another student learned of the dangers of ignoring ravenously hungry sled dogs the hard way.

Stage 3 students can often be quite jaded about aspects of their learning, but it was a pleasant surprise today hearing one group, whose teacher had been absent for the simulation game, excitedly remember the highlights of last week’s lesson. Roll on our next term’s (complementary) unit: “Wild Weather and Natural Disasters” for science & technology.

The students write:

Day 1 and we’ve lost a team member. Everyone is sad and nobody wants to talk. We had a quiet dinner and then went straight to bed. Nothing special happened. Just quietness. Captain wrote a letter to his wife. He cried quietly while he did this. We hope it never happens again.”

Day 10: My sled is stuck against the ice again and again. I have an idea! We will unpack some of our equipment and put it into the backpacks…”

Day 5: Today there is a raging blizzard and it is worse than any of us could have imagined. It is freezing cold and we can’t see anything in front of us. I think we will have to stay inside our shelter.”

Elusive Antarctica

With the emptying and storage of our school’s library contents, I’ve only been able to hold back minimal thematic resources to cover us for the next seven months (or so?). Added to that is the fact that the library’s now-invaluable interactive whiteboard (IWB) is in storage, too, and only a few of the classrooms I visit have their own.

The Stage 3 students are studying Antarctica in HSIE (Human Society & Its Environment) and we’ve been keen to revisit an interactive website we found two years ago, but numerous TaLe and Google searches weren’t revealing the one we wanted. I know I had the URL on the C-drive of my library computer, but that is packed away too. The clickable pages, which were motivating enough on small computer screens, would have been very exciting as IWB learning objects.

Last night I found the website! It was, of course, Discovering Antarctica, a UK site.

The most popular page, last time, had been What (not) to wear, an opportunity to dress an Antarctic scientist in appropriate clothing for his unique working environment. I can’t wait to see how it looks on the classroom IWBs.
What (not) to wear

Introducing Antarctica

Stage 3 students will be studying Antarctica this term during HSIE. These Youtube videos introduce the topic.

“Potty pioneers”:
A sketch from the BBC television series, “Horrible histories”, based on the best selling books by Terry Deary. In this segment, Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, checks his equipment before setting off to the South Pole… just to make sure it’s completely useless.

Horrible histories – Scott of the Antarctic

Even the natural weather sounds on the soundtrack on this one is informative:

Onboard The National Geographic Explorer In Antarctica, 2008

Icebergs, glaciers, snow, ice and water:

Antarctica: Icebergs, glaciers, snow, ice and water

Lots of Antarctica information, including the “Race to the Pole”, is at Antarctic Connection.

Cool Antarctica site

Another great TaLe discovery: Discovering Antarctica: Being there!

I used this today with Stage 3 students, having found the site at lunchtime – and it answered my requirements perfectly. the students were actively engaged, and their banter was on-topic. The bridges sites I used this morning with Stage 2 students were simply too wordy (ie. while the information was there, they couldn’t extract it). This site on Antarctica concentrated on highly descriptive adjectives to describe a small selection of stunning photographs.

Ironically, the scope is almost exactly what I visualised doing as a wiki with the Stage 2 students for their investigation into bridges. Our result might not be as flashy (or even use Flash), but it will certainly serve as an inspiration.

Blocked by a firewall!

“I hate Fridays!”

Wasn’t there a children’s book with that title?

Last Friday was particularly frustrating. I’ve boasted here about my excitement and successes using Flickr slideshows, but on Friday it all came tumbling down by the NSW Department of Education & Training’s “Blocked site” firewall thingie, which insisted that my site represented non-permitted “file sharing”. I tried several computers before giving up and telling two poor students who’d been away for the previous sessions, “I’ll have to find you a book with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in it.”

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The beauty of the slideshow was that my photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was (theoretically) on every monitor screen in the library, had my captions on it, plus room for the students’ new information, and was all totally copyright free! I set up the “slideshow” subsets from home, from my own Flickr account, so I could use it at school with groups of Stage 2 and Stage 3 students studying the Science and Technology unit, Buildings and Bridges, and the HSIE unit, Antarctica. The photos are copyright free (for our study purposes) because I created the bridges images myself, and the Antarctica shots are used with the permission of a teaching colleague’s brother, who actually went there. The whole raison d’etre was to avoid having to use my own username and password to let the students access Google images, which is normally blocked to student use by a Departmental firewall.

The slideshows – and the wonderful captioning feature – have worked perfectly for several weeks now, but not on Friday. However, after Stage 2’s lesson was over, I could still get into my general Flickr account and see all of the pics. Using the whole Flickr account is not desirable at all, because it opens up the whole account. Setting up the slideshow, and using only its unique URL, means that the students cannot view any photos outside my designated slideshow.

Doing a “Web filter check” via the NSW DET Portal this morning, my sites seemed to be designated as “Unblocked” for staff, so maybe the whole system was merely hating Fridays, too, last Friday? To make sure, I’ve submitted the slideshow’s unique URLs for wider unblocking. We’ll see what happens…

Meanwhile, I’ve also found a useful set of webpages via TaLe, called Infamous bridge disasters, the format of which might inspire our proposed wiki page about Sydney bridges, with researched captions written by the students. There is also Building big: all about bridges and West Point Bridge design contest. A wealth of online riches, especially useful when the library’s collection has only about four or five useful books on bridges and other structures – and they’ve been out on loan for several weeks now, even the two I was using to orientate students to the topic that first week.

Later the same day, I received two seemingly-unconnected emails, but both providing positive feedback on my recent Scan article (vol 27 no 1, February 2008, pp 7-9), in which mentioned how I’m beginning to embrace use Web 2.0. Neither person was having the same luck with wikis as I have had so far.

Our school library’s wiki pages are unblocked for staff (as far as I know, all PBwiki sites are), but so far my request for the students to view them (under their own usernames) has not been processed. (I just checked out the “Web filter check”, and its still only unblocked for staff, although I’ve requested unblocking for K-6 students as well.) The students use the wiki (with me and their class teachers) in the library under my close presence, but on a computer logged in under my username. We also have the URL listed on My library, the OASIS Web Enquiry facility, as discussed in Scan but, of course, going that route still meets with the text box requiring a username and password to be entered displaying the wiki pages.

However, at home the students and their parents know they can type in the URL (we promote it in the school newsletter) and see their work on their own computers. We haven’t given out the password for the wiki to the students, of course, so they can’t change anything unless I’m with them.

If a school is planning to have NSW DET students writing material on a school-created wiki, and to have them know the password for altering text, it opens up lots of problems. I guess that’s why the powers that be are overly-cautious. Perhaps we are meant to wait until NSW DET develops its own “safe” wiki facility?

Wikis permit students to communicate with each other in ways not too dissimilar to “chat” programs of several years ago. If a student wrote “School sux” (or worse) on the school wiki, they’d eventually be identifiable, but how do you prevent the incident from happening, or guaranteeing that no student would be exposed to inappropriate material?

One alternative would be to capture the HTML from blocked school wiki pages and upload them to the regular school website area. That won’t permit ease of interactivity, though, but school websites are not(?) blocked to students.

Blocked sites are a nuisance, but there are major problems for the NSW DET if it receives parental complaints when/if students stumble across inappropriate online material at school. But is it so different to a student hiding a pornographic magazine in their locker, a stray female breast in a newspaper clipping, a swear word in a novel in the school library, a tiny animated streaker running across a popular computer-based soccer game, or an underage student sneaking a puff on a cigarette behind the shelter shed?

I guess the problem is, how do you guarantee everything on wiki pages is always safe? You can’t, due to their inherent interactivity.

If anything, attempts at censorship at school always seems to shunt away opportunities for students to learn self-regulation. I’d much rather overhear one student telling another, “I decided not to play that game at school any more. It had guns in it”, and/or “Do you think the Kinders like hearing you use language like that?”, as were recently said in the library one lunchtime.

Speaking about wikis: unless your access is blocked by an annoyingly inconvenient firewall, check out the current NSW DET book rap, which has a fun wiki activity. The teachers and their classes are all at early points in their steep Web 2.0 learning curve, but surpassing all of my expectations, and even teaching me new skills.

It pays to network

Sometimes I network with other teachers and students without realising it, and it’s fantastic when it pays off.

One of the advantages of collaboratively programming and planning lessons with each Stage group at school is that I can adapt each library activity to suit the various classes, taking into account the need to share available resources, and how best to complement the learning styles of the students and the teaching styles of their teachers.

Essentially, though, the lessons are repeated several times in a week – albeit with variations. By the end of the week, I’ve usually mastered my patter that leads into the activities. I also like to keep every stage informed about what units other stage groups are studying, simply because one never know when networking possibilities will arise. In fact, in my last school, I kept a large noticeboard in the library foyer – updated, week by week, as to which unit of work, key learning area or KLA, and type of text each class was being focused upon during their library lessons. (I’d do it at my current school, if only we had a noticeboard in the right place.)

Last week, no matter whether intending to use the Chinese New Year Parade photos (taken for Early Stage 1 and Stage 1) or the Bridges photos (taken for Stage 2), I recycled the same jokes with each class (ie. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time on Sunday to get to Antarctica to take some photos for Stage 3…”). I’m so glad I did, because one teacher announced that her brother had just returned from a vacation to Antarctica – and had CDs filled with photographs of… icebergs, Antarctic cabins, icebergs, penguins, more icebergs, humpback whales, and did I mention – icebergs!

What a lucky break! And so, I was able to add a third slide show to my Flickr account, called Antarctica which the Stage 3 students will be able to use this week without worrying about the copyright of other Antarctica photos they may have found on the Internet!

As I said, it pays to network. Or rather, it often pays to be loquacious, because that can lead to very effective networking.