"Can we go on a field trip to Antarctica?" my eager second graders asked. While they really knew that was not a possibility, I think they were secretly wishing I could be a teacher like Ms. Frizzle in the lively Magic School Bus
series. Ms. Frizzle can turn a school bus into a submarine or a spaceship with the flip of a switch or the push of a button. Since I was not likely to acquire these extraordinary skills anytime soon, I had to find another way to direct my students' enthusiasm and turn it into a learning adventure they would enjoy.
I began with a classroom standard, a KWL chart. On the KWL chart, students first listed what they knew (K) about Antarctica. Next, they listed questions they wanted (W) answered. Eventually, they would list what they learned (L) on the last part of the chart. The students asked some very good questions. Where do icebergs come from? What do blue whales eat in the waters surrounding Antarctica? How tall are emperor penguins? How did Shackleton and his men survive being trapped in ice? Why don't fish freeze in the cold waters? What's on the ocean floor? These were just a few of the questions they listed.
Each student chose a question to research. A variety of resources were used to find the answers to the questions. Some students read books while others used Internet resources. I encouraged them to find more than one source for their information. Students carefully compiled their findings into a few sentences or paragraphs of information to eagerly share with classmates.
Next, we decided we wanted a visual representation to go along with our research. "Our Visit to The Ice" was created to provide us an avenue for artistic expression. We took a large computer box and spray painted the outside white. This would be the "ice" part. Then we cut large circles on either side of the box. The inside of the box was spray painted blue to represent the water under or near the ice. A variety of materials were used to create the 3-D artwork. Soon a wandering albatross was flying over a glacier near a rookery of penguins. A leopard seal, awaiting a penguin meal, was lounging on an iceberg. A blue whale and orca were swimming overhead as sea stars, sea spiders, ice fish, and sponges dotted the ocean floor. Shackleton's ship, The Endurance, was trapped in ice. Dr. McClintock, appropriately wearing scuba gear, was spotted near a zodiac not far from Palmer Station. Wisps of steam vented from Mt. Erebus. Lastly, research information was carefully attached near the corresponding artwork. You never saw a classroom of students prouder of their work!
While Ms. Frizzle remains unchallenged for creating one-of-a-kind field trips, I think my students would agree that "Our Visit to The Ice" was the next best thing to a field trip to Antarctica.