A virtual classroom with 3500
This article was published in Good Teacher, Term
Imagine stepping out of your classroom
into a virtual classroom of 3,500 students. Imagine stepping out
of a C141 Starlifter after a five- hour flight into a bright,
sparkling world of ice and snow. Where? Antarctica.
As LEARNZ97 Teacher
I was about to share an amazing experience with students and teachers
in New Zealand and Australia. I was about to become a living resource!
As a strong advocate
of resource-based learning I was in one of the world's most interesting
learning contexts. My role was to be the interface between the
students and the scientists working on the ice - to use audioconferences
to get students' questions answered, and to describe my experiences
in language which would make it come alive for them.
the LEARNZ web diary gave students a sense of real time and real
contact. We were the bridge to reality through virtual reality.
We spent most late evenings reflecting on the day's activities,
then writing the diary and making connections to the LEARNZ modules,
and references back to previous audioconference transcripts on
the website. The digital photos taken during the day were slotted
in. There was satisfaction in knowing many of our LEARNZ schools
could access our days activities when they arrived at school in
the morning. Our families were able to share the trip on a daily
basis too. The sun was still shining when we headed off to our
bunks, diary finished for the day, but daylight never ending in
late October in Antarctica.
This method of learning
involves real people in real places at real times via the WWW.
Link voices via audioconference and it becomes very powerful.
It encompasses the whole range of Essential Skills of the National
Curriculum, lending itself to intercurricular studies. From the
basic IT skills of writing questions on the computer, sending
a fax and using a telephone, sending an email or accessing the
Internet - all were used in real time learning situations.
LEARNZ provided a
purpose for learning, practising and using these skills with responses
and results. The aim is for our students of today to be lifelong
learners, able to transfer their skills from once context to another.
LEARNZ was a good rehearsal.
As LEARNZ97 teacher
I had a Royal Society Science and Technology Teacher Fellowship
for twenty weeks of the1997 school year. I worked with Pete Sommerville,
LEARNZ Project Manager, in the planning, writing and implementing
of the LEARNZ97 programme 'Global Concerns' for schools. Sally
Murray, education officer Antarctic Visitors Centre, and Sue Graham
LEARNZ96 teacher, supported us.
My LEARNZ year began
in March with a planning trip to Christchurch to the International
Antarctic Centre, from then on it became my second home as I worked
between there and Wanganui. The visit to Antarctica was the culmination
of the LEARNZ year, helping to deepen my understanding of New
Zealand's role in Antarctica.
I had been involved
in the XXIV Antarctic Treaty Meeting in Christchurch in May, talked
to scientists and support staff involved in research on the ice,
spent hours in the Antarctica New Zealand library and talked incessantly
to IAC staff about projects, logistics and issues of working in
Antarctica. Total immersion.
to visit schools were rewarding. I had a chance to see the enthusiasm
and wonderment on students' faces. They had the chance to see
me as a real live teacher. I was able to share my excitement,
and answer their innumerable questions. They were thrilled to
try on and handle the clothing, so much of it and so bulky - experiences
to help make it real in their minds.
They had listened
to audioconferences, read emails, viewed the webpage and now the
connections were made, the gaps were bridged; they had become
active participants in mukluks, neckgaiters, nosewiper mittens
The 60 Minutes programme
'Lessons on Ice' made during our first five days in Antarctica
and screened in November, together with photographs, also helped
students expand the ideas gained from the webpage diaries. In
the diaries using analogies was important. We tried to paint word
pictures of our experiences to helped make it real in their minds.
"Looking up at the
roof of the snow mound we had built was like being in the dome
of a cathedral, the ceiling had a beautiful abstract pattern with
little green stained glass windows."
The Condition One
storm was like a " wild raging animal buffeting Scott Base continuously
for two and a half days."
Visiting the Weddell
seals beyond the pressure ridges at Scott Base: "The seals looked
completely disinterested in our arrival. Great grey slugs sleeping
soundly, as if sunbathing."
Meeting the Emperor
penguins on the sea ice at Cape Evans: "The encounter with Emperor
penguins was magical. Their cream and black feathers are sleek
and smooth. They glowed in the Antarctic sunlight. The golden
colour under their chins is like a sunrise."
Walking up onto the
Wilson Piedmont Glacier: "It was a gentle climb and the surface
of the snow had melted slightly then frozen. The sensation was
like walking across meringue. Our mukluks crunched as we walked."
Returning to Cape
Roberts by helicopter at 10 pm: "The sun was streaming down as
we flew along the ice edge. The sea ice had broken out after the
big storm of last week and floated on the surface like thousands
of panes of glass. "
By giving students
the chance to experience learning through a variety of media we
enabled them to become active viewers. They had many opportunities
to make connections between my real life experiences and theirs
from the LEARNZ Live Textbooks. Being a living resource is an
exciting, frantically busy and stimulating experience.
LEARNZ was a 20 week
experience that will stay with me forever. I was teacher-as-learner
with the students one step behind my mukluks.
is a trained teacher-librarian who teaches at St Georges Primary
School in Wanganui