Saturday, December 27, 2014

Day 10 – Our Final Day in Antarctica

As fate would have it, the four of us ended up in our own zodiac for the ride out to our last landing at Jougla Point in the Melchior Islands this morning.  The feeling was bittersweet knowing that this would be the last time we would set foot in Antarctica, and we chatted about how quickly time seems to have gone by.

We landed and walked around the Gentoo penguin colony there, stopping to observe the highlight of the location—a giant whale skeleton on shore.  A few of us were also able to catch sight of a few baby blue-eyed shags on this site.

Back into the zodiac we went for our trip around the island to our official final stop, Port Lockroy.  This British research facility has been in operation since the 1950’s, when it was originally created as a military surveillance area.  The staff in this outpost spend their summers here maintaining the area, reapplying coats of weather-resistant paint and cleaning up the space, as well as collecting data about penguins.  We toured the museum on-site, learning about how the original visitors to this area lived during their stay here.  It also serves as the southernmost gift/souvenir shop in the world, and a drop off point for mailing postcards from Antarctica.

The highlight of this location was the baby penguins, which was such a cute way to end this part of the trip!

In the afternoon we took a cruise around the Gerlache Strait looking for whales.  Out in the sparkling blue waters, we discovered a family of three humpback whales playing and diving along the surface.  Without a large camera lens it is difficult to catch them in action, and so I made a few images of their tails flipping in the water.

We also spent some time working with some middle school student on board the ship.  Lindblad Expeditions has hired staff for this expedition to serve as naturalists and as teachers in the “Young Explorers” program here.  Since many students are being pulled out of school for this extended holiday, their schools often will excuse their absences if they can provide evidence of their learning.  We led an activity that involved identifying all of the marine mammals we had seen on our expedition and gave the students time to reflect and journal about their experience here in Antarctica.

Working with these students helped me visualize what learning will look like in my own classroom when I return.  Having been a participant, myself, in this learning experience has reinforced my assertion that integrated, field-based education is the most powerful form of education, and I am envisioning the unit I will create from this experience. 

In my classroom, I envision recreating this entire expedition, to the extent possible.  I want to use videos, interviews, photos, and various kinds of text to take students to Antarctica. 

My first thought is to create a unit in which students are sent out “on assignment” to a natural environment in our own neighborhood to collect data, make observations, and design research questions that involve making a connection between an aspect of our environment at home and the Antarctic polar ecosystem.  

My goal is to get student thinking globally about how our world is interconnected and that there are unifying themes between local ecosystem issues and the polar ecosystem.  They will then act as investigative journalists who have to present their findings for an audience that is not necessarily familiar with their topics.  The challenge of making complicated issues comprehensible to the average person is an assessment of how well the students understand the concepts.

Just like our naturalists give presentations in “The Circle of Truth”, a round presentation station in the middle of the ship’s lounge, my students will have to investigate a topic, collect observations and data, synthesize information, and draw conclusions that they will then present to a larger audience.  This would serve as an authentic way to evaluate their learning.

The unit is far from written, but the boat has begun to rock, the shore has disappeared, and I must retire to my cabin for some much-needed rest while we once again cross the Drake Passage.  The long trip back will provide me plenty of time to further design the curriculum I am beginning to envision.

At Port Lockroy -- With a penguin on my head!
Photo by: Nina Page


Humpback Whale Watching

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