Online Magazine for Elementary Teachers Brings Polar Issues Into Classrooms Nationwide
To fill a national void in the elementary school curriculum and capitalize on student interest in the polar regions, Ohio State University and the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) have launched a new online magazine for teachers in the early grades.
The National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded publication, Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears is designed to help teachers develop their knowledge of the Arctic and Antarctica and to use best practices to integrate science and literacy instruction around polar themes. The materials showcased in the publication are chosen specifically to help teachers understand and to explain the role of the polar regions in the global ecosystem. As the magazine's creators note, elementary teachers seldom have either the preparation or expertise to teach science or the time or resources to learn how.
"As a former elementary teacher in Alaska, I understand the difficulty of finding time for quality science instruction," said Jessica Fries-Gaither, elementary resource specialist and project director for Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. "Yet in the face of issues such as global climate change and dramatically changing polar regions, it is essential that science, specifically polar science, is included. We are particularly pleased to offer this new online magazine that transfers current polar research and best practices in science and literacy instruction to classrooms nationwide."
NSF's Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings funded the new magazine as part of the agency's portfolio of research and education grants related to the International Polar Year (IPY), a two-year, global research initiative in which scientists from more than 60 nations are deploying to the Arctic and Antarctica.
"This project increases the quality and quantity of hands-on polar science activities using age-appropriate material and establishes foundational science skills for the elementary grades," said David Campbell, NSF program director. "It is very difficult to develop high-quality curriculum resources for elementary school students and their teachers. This project fits very well with the mission of IPY."
Among the IPY goals formulated by the U.S. National Committee for IPY, established by the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, is to "excite and engage the public, with the goals of increasing understanding of the importance of the polar regions in the global system and advancing the nation's general science literacy."
NSF's Office of Polar Programs manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and the agency's director chairs the Interagency Arctic Policy Research Committee. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has designated NSF as the lead U.S. government agency for IPY.
According to Kimberly Lightle, the project's principal investigator, science instruction in the elementary grades has historically been limited or even omitted entirely. However, the federal No Child Left behind Act of 2001 mandates testing in science. At the same time, blockbuster movies and even soft-drink commercials have made the polar regions and their animal inhabitants pop culture superstars. Meanwhile, accounts the media prompt children to wonder about how melting polar ice sheets and rising ocean temperatures might affect their lives in the future.
Yet, she adds, misconceptions about the polar regions and their importance abound.
The combination of mandated testing, IPY initiatives, a growing awareness of climate change and its effects in the polar regions, and a host of widely held misconceptions about the Arctic and Antarctica make Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears a timely and relevant undertaking, she added.
Each month's issue will be organized around a theme that reflects common science topics in the elementary curriculum.
The first issue of the magazine centers on the theme A Sense of Place and provides an introduction to the geographic location and characteristics of the Arctic and Antarctica. It features a story about a scientist who helped produce some of the most accurate images of Antarctica and ways to learn about the research-based strategy of identifying similarities and differences. It also features links to content-rich Web sites, interactive videos, animations, articles written specifically for K-5 students that are available in text-only versions as well as in printable, foldable book versions, photographs that highlight polar beauty and mystery, and even a poetry lesson plan that features work contributed by elementary school students in Anchorage, Alaska.
The April theme is "Learning from the Polar Past," and examines the fossils, dinosaurs, and archaeological artifacts of the polar regions.
The 20 themed issues of the online magazine will include standards-based science and content-rich literacy learning across five departments (In the Field: Scientists at Work, Professional Learning, Science and Literacy, Across the Curriculum, and Polar News and Notes). Engaging science activities, compelling images, rich text, and multimedia resources such as podcasts and videos and even a browseable Virtual Bookshelf that includes quality children's literature for classroom use are designed to capture the interest of both teachers and students. Strategies for integrating technology, addressing misconceptions, and ensuring equity in the classroom are topics of emphasis.
Lightle coordinates a team of collaborators on the project including an interdisciplinary team from Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology; the Ohio Resource Center for Mathematics, Science, and Reading; the Byrd Polar Research Center; The Columbus Center for Science and Industry; the Upper Arlington Public Library; and NSDL. Specialists are creating content as well as adapting existing NSDL materials.
The Evaluation and Assessment Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio is conducting ongoing project evaluation including teacher focus groups and usability testing.