Antarctica blog connects students with science|
by Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Defense Media Activity, Emerging Media
1/7/2011 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Connecting scientists to elementary and high school students worldwide was one of many accomplishments during last year's Operation Deep Freeze, the military's support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.
In 2010, Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan spent 50 days as commander of McMurdo Det. 1 and deputy commander of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group, Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica. There, he braved temperatures that often dipped below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit to support the U.S. Antarctic Program, the National Science Foundation's science mission in Antarctica.
During his time in Antarctica he shared his experiences, "Dispatches from Antarctica," through the Defense Media Activity's blog, "Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military," from Sept. 27 to Nov. 1, 2010.
In Colonel Vaughan's second blog post Oct. 15, he shared his experience of arriving in Antarctica by plane: "Bundled and stiff, lips stuck-dried to smiling teeth, we waddled from the airplane to Ivan, the Terra Bus. Again we were swaddled. Contact frost from airplane breath grew ice fractals on the inside of frozen windows obscuring the 35 minute ride to ... McMurdo Station."
John Ohab, a new technology strategist who coordinated this series for the Defense Department, shared the posts with the Department of Defense Education Activity and an elementary school in Maryland.
One of Mr. Ohab's goals for this series, he said, was to provide an opportunity for students and teachers to connect with Colonel Vaughan during his deployment to Antarctica. Through contacts with DODEA and other schools, he received questions from science teachers in advance and provided them to Colonel Vaughan.
Colonel Vaughan's responses will be featured in three posts on "Armed with Science" in January. Questions submitted by Arnold Elementary School students in Arnold, Md., will be featured Jan. 7. Questions from DODEA students will be featured Jan. 11 and 14.
"Being a bit of a science fanatic, I love exposing my students to anything unique in science," said Jennifer Watkins, a fourth-grade teacher at DODEA's Osan American Elementary School in Osan, South Korea.
She added that DODEA officials frequently share such opportunities with science teachers within the DOD school system.
"I usually read through them and pick activities that are age-appropriate, or ones I feel will enhance science learning for my students," Ms. Watkins said. "To me, it is just another avenue that lets others know how important science is in our everyday life. I teach my students that most of what they have now would not be possible without science."
Ms. Watkins said that prior to "Dispatches from Antarctica," she had never heard of DMA's science-related blogging platform.
She said her students were very excited about the project, she added, and pleased to be a part of the learning opportunity and the "big takeaway" from this type of exchange.
Laurie Arensdorf, who teaches fifth graders at Kinser Elementary School in Okinawa, Japan, said she always is looking for ways to incorporate the technology into the overall DODEA standards.
She added that the timing of "Dispatches from Antarctica" coincided well with experiments her students were conducting in the classroom.
"We had learned how scientists create experiments and variables that might impact the results," she said. "The activity led quite nicely into the work that Operation Deep Freeze does each day. Some of the students' questions represented the work we had done in class and their interest in how scientists in Antarctica operate."
The students were surprised to learn that service members are stationed in Antarctica, she said.
"They were amazed to learn that military members just like their mom and dad are stationed down in Antarctica," she added.
Ms. Watkins said the learning opportunity provided for technology exchange in the classroom.
"This was the first time I have done this type of exchange with a class before," she said.
"My students (and I) learn more about mysterious Antarctica," she added. "They feel important, because their questions were answered by someone who is there doing the research, and they generate more questions and dig a bit deeper.
"We did a class discussion about Antarctica, as we had been working on map skills in social studies and had discussed Antarctica already," she continued. "Then the students just called out questions. I wrote their questions, along with their name, on the board."
Ms. Arensdorf said programs like "Armed with Science" expand the realm of possibility for her students.
"Programs such as those available through "Armed with Science" give our students the opportunity to realize there is more to the world than what resides inside the four walls of a classroom," she said. "I consider myself so fortunate to be able to teach in a time where we can offer these opportunities to our students."
She added that "Dispatches from Antarctica" helped to share the important work carried out by DOD scientists around the world, and that sharing their work highlights the career potential in this demanding, but rewarding career field.
"The students always enjoy doing science experiments, but in fifth grade they don't always realize the career opportunities that could extend from things they enjoy in a classroom," she said. "This activity opened their eyes to such things, and I think that some of their questions reflected an interest in learning more about these types of careers."