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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Modeling Arctic Exploration

This past week I went to Sioux Falls for a few days to present at the Sioux Empire Water Festival. Doing these sorts of things is one of the favorite parts of my job.

My presentation was How Hot Is Ice? This was an introduction - when you only have 20 minutes almost everything you do is an introduction - to the Arctic in general and sea ice and glaciers in particular.

I showed them video and photos from my expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland. I used to think no one but my nearest and dearest would ever want to see these but changed my mind after several conversations on social media where we talked about how the photos we saw as children from our teachers impacted us. And, indeed, when I was 10, I saw a photo from my 5th grade teacher's trip to Europe that made me realize the world was bigger than what I knew. That photo made a lasting impression.

In my photos and video we looked at sea ice and glaciers, talking about how scientists are very interested in these things. I showed them my walrus on sea ice photo to explain how sea ice is habitat not just for walruses but seals and polar bears too.

We then looked at the Elementary GLOBE What in the World is Happening to Our Climate book which features the GLOBE kids. There wasn't time to read the whole thing so we only looked at a few pictures. This was part of connecting students to being explorers themselves.

We looked at the Glacier picture

We looked that picture of the GLOBE kids on sea ice.

And we ended with students at the research station, taking surface temperature data. I pointed out the infrared thermometers that the kids were using and then showed them the IRTs we would use for our research.

I then explained how I did my own research with an IRT on open water and ice.

One of the challenges I faced was how to replicate the surface temperature research in this Water Festival setting. Since taking them all to the Arctic or even outside was prohibitively time consuming, I chose instead to use a model of the sun, open ocean and ice. We use models in science, I explained, when things are too small or big or far away for us to actually study. When you use a model you don't need to have all the parts. You only need the parts that you study.

I showed them how this model had an energy source that represented the sun (the heat lamp), the open ocean (blue sheet) and the ice (white sheet). 

After a few instructions on how to use an infrared thermometer, each child wrote the data on the board where we analyzed it as a group looking for patterns and relationships.





And, indeed, even though my readings were different, the relationships between the open water and ice data were the same. The open water was warmer than the ice.

I would have liked to have gone deeper into the lesson but that was my 20 minutes. My objective was to make the Arctic and some of its issues more meaningful through storytelling, literature and experiences with real world instruments and data collection.