A few weeks ago students on a LEARNZ field trip were backstage at an opera; last week they were in the Wellington Mayor’s office talking Smart Motorways. Next week they’ll be searching for kea nests in the Southern Alps. All LEARNZ field trips are journeys to the unfamiliar.
Travelling to Antarctica is another step-up in unfamiliarity. Inside Scott Base life is mostly familiar; but outside presents a new normal. It’s common to see people walking and skiing at one o’clock in the morning. For students and us, it’s a new frame of reference.
Right now Shelley and I are preparing for an Antarctic science virtual field trip. Students on this trip will join a NIWA science team trying to find out why sea ice in Antarctica is increasing while it is disappearing in the Arctic.
An opportunity to learn about frames of reference
In guiding student learning to prepare for this virtual journey, we are exploring ideas around frames of reference. The things that make us what and who we are and give us our point of view define our frame of reference. Our reality. One person’s reality may be very different from another.
Two people stand facing each other on either side of a street. A car drives past. One person sees the car moving to the right. The other person sees the car moving to the left. Two different frames of reference; two different observations. Our frame of reference determines how we see and understand the world. It’s influenced by our geographic location, who we live with, our beliefs, our education, our culture.
Our frame of reference can limit our ability to understand issues and to think critically. Part of a picture only tells part of a story; what you see is not always what you get.
Why is Arctic sea ice disappearing while Antarctic sea ice is increasing?
The Arctic sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate1. This is seen as clear evidence of climate change in action.
In January 2015, the largest ever Antarctic sea ice extent was recorded2. Is this a sign that climate change in the Southern Hemisphere is happening in reverse?
It’s a conundrum. The growth of winter sea ice is one of the largest annual geophysical changes on the surface of the Earth3, affecting the world’s energy balance. It’s vitally important we understand what’s happening so we can adjust to a changing climate. This might include reducing carbon emissions, adapting to changing weather systems, relocating coastal towns and modifying primary production.
What it will be like being “embedded” with a NIWA ocean science team
Students on this year’s virtual field trip will be embedded in K131, NIWA’s ocean science team trying to figure out what’s going on.
After a few virtual days at Scott Base, the Antarctic environment will become more familiar. Students will look out the window on a typical day and know it’s probably about -20°C. Looking southwest they will see a white expanse over which they will virtually ride skidoos and know that this is, in fact, ocean. Looking southeast they will see even more white space and know that, although it looks the same, it’s a glacial ice shelf the size of France. Their frame of reference has been extended!
In laying down some foundation knowledge to support this Antarctic inquiry, we also need to help students (and ourselves) extend their current understanding of how the world works. In the world we’re most familiar with, water freezes at 0°C, and boils at 100°C. A critical piece of evidence in this Antarctic conundrum is that water exists as a liquid below 0°C when it’s deep underwater. (Pressure affects how water behaves when approaching boiling point and freezing point, for eg at the top of Mt Everest water boils at 72°C). Making this single observation a familiar part of our thinking so it exists inside our frame of reference is critical to understanding what’s happening with Antarctic sea ice.
The challenge of educators in a globally-connected world
One of CORE’s current ten trends is global connectedness. Our challenge, as educators, is to prepare our learners to not only take advantage of living in a globally-connected world and all that this offers, but to encourage them to question, investigate, and act as global citizens. Being a responsible global citizen means extending our frame of reference to see the biggest picture possible. For us, as educators, that means deliberate strategies to actively engage students with the unfamiliar. LEARNZ field trips are a great platform for developing the digital literacies required for students to usefully and purposefully navigate the unfamiliar, populating their extended frame of reference with new experiences, memories, and points of view.
Oh … you want to know why Antarctic sea ice is growing? The flight leaves on Friday 23 October. Enrol now!
Latest posts by Pete Sommerville (see all)
- Global connectedness and frame of reference - September 22, 2015
- Virtual learning: a springboard to restoring the broken bond between children and the outdoors - May 26, 2015
- Reflecting on 20 years of innovation in New Zealand education - November 14, 2013