Yes, it was off to the Arctic again, but this time in much more challenging circumstances, with 90+ pupils and their teachers and TAs from seven, very different, local primary schools. The Crypt Teaching School very kindly offered to host the event and I was well supported by my usual contingent from the charity, Wicked Weather Watch, and highly competent freelance consultants, namely Sarah Shaw and Kathryn Minchew.
The day began shortly after 9.00 am. After registering and being allocated a ‘country’ group (relating to those found within the Arctic Circle or with close connections to the area), pupils made their way to the front of the main school hall with their accompanying teachers and TAs. They were challenged to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of the Arctic region whilst awaiting the arrival of all schools ready for the exciting, jam-packed day ahead. Following a formal welcome, brief introduction of consultants and volunteers and housekeeping necessities, I outlined the learning objectives for the workshop. I then made use of Google Earth to take participants on a virtual trip to the Arctic, asking them to contemplate the direction that we would have to head, how far it would be, how long it would take to travel there and by what means you could do so. Pupils were forthcoming with contributions and had some interesting guesses in terms of distance and duration! I used my inflatable globe to provide a different perspective of the Arctic region, before encouraging them to congregate around the huge, interactive, physical, circumpolar map that was laid out towards the back of the school hall. This had been loaned to me by the Canada-UK Foundation as part of their Arctic Alive package (http://www.canadaukfoundation.org/arctic-alive/). I invited some youngsters to remove their shoes and join me on the map, so that I could point out a number of key physical and human features, as well as share some interesting facts about this incredible region of our planet.
At this stage, each country group was now amalgamated with two others to form a larger group in preparation for our morning’s rotation of ‘hands-on’ activities. Such groupings and the format of the day were displayed and briefly discussed, before we all went our separate ways.
Some followed me into the ICT Suite and a neighbouring classroom to consider two enquiry questions in depth, namely:
- What are the challenges facing the Arctic today?
- What will the Arctic look like in the future?
Firstly, the children were given the opportunity to access Google Earth themselves and ‘zoom in’ on the Arctic with the aim of developing their place and locational knowledge. It was suggested that they conducted a search for their ‘country’ and then double-clicked the map to gain a more detailed ‘bird’s eye view’. They were also encouraged to click on various icons to gain further information, access images, view movie clips, etc. The children found this fascinating and could have easily continued exploring with Google Earth for another fifteen minutes or so. Each having their own PC was a novelty for some too.
We also analysed two satellite images, taken of the same place, at the same time of year, but a few years apart (September 1984 compared with September 2016) and played ‘spot the difference’. The children were very observant, noting that the extent of the ice had changed significantly (shrinking from nearly 1.9 million square kilometres to 109 000 square kilometres), the shape of the land area was different as new islands had been revealed and coastal or low-lying regions had been submerged due to ice melting and sea levels rising; and that the ice varied in colour, from blue-grey (youngest) to pure white (oldest).
We then moved into a neighbouring classroom to attempt a card sort and mix and match caption and image activity, in order to ‘drip-feed’ further factual detail about the Arctic and challenge their preconceptions of the region. This provoked some lively discussion. Pupils were surprised by the size of a polar bear (up to 4 metres when standing on its hind legs and having paws measuring 30 centimetres by 20 centimetres) and the fact that they are not white (they actually have black skin and hollow hairs that reflect the light and give them a white appearance); the number of people that live within the Arctic Circle (between 4 and 5 million, of which just 10% are indigenous peoples, such as the Sami and Inuits); the areas of green and trees that are visible and quite ‘normal-looking’ villages with traditional houses to be found on the island of Greenland despite much of it being covered by a huge ice sheet.
Towards the end of the session, I encouraged the children to think about what they now knew about the region and the various images that they had seen and challenged them to come up with ten words that best described the Arctic. Each row recorded their ideas onto a postcard. These were then collected in and a whole group word cloud created to clearly display their selections. The children had some fantastic words on their lists, e.g. magical; inspirational; barren, as well as recalling a number of key physical and human features, e.g. permafrost; tundra; Northern Lights. Hopefully, teachers will be able to make use of the word cloud below in follow-up literacy/English work in school next week.
Meanwhile, three ‘country’ groups had great fun with Sarah Shaw in the main school hall. Sarah never fails to surprise me with what she achieves with the children in such a short space of time! Once again, she expertly transported students to the Arctic, where they became explorers, setting off over snowfields and across great glaciers. On the way, they met wildlife on land and in the sea and came to appreciate how their habitats are under threat due to climate change.
Just along the corridor, based in the D&T Food Technology room, Kathryn Minchew a former semi-finalist on MasterChef, and now a professional chef running her own company, Gloucester Studio (http://gloucesterstudio.com/), investigated the different states of water with the children, had them doing a spot of cooking, contemplating the source of the required ingredients, discussing their own carbon footprints relating to their consumption of food and introducing the concept of food miles. As you can well anticipate, their refrigerator biscuit footprints did not linger around for long!
After each large group had experienced all three of the above sessions, it was time for lunch, which was much needed and well deserved at this point! The children also had a chance to chat informally with Hazel Richards, who had not only trudged 65 km across the snow pulling a sledge, but also taken part in the world record-breaking Polar Ocean Challenge, led by highly experienced adventurer, Sir David Hempleman-Adams. Hazel also displayed some of her kit, which the children were able to view or handle. Later, she talked to a highly attentive audience about her first-hand experiences of the Arctic and then set aside a few minutes to answer the youngsters’ questions. It was a shame that we had to draw things to a close at this point as they had some really interesting questions, which Hazel was able to answer both comprehensively and confidently. There is so much to be said for integrating a personal approach into such themed days.
It was intended to give the youngsters a postcard and ask them to sum up the day in five words or a sentence or two and encourage a degree of reflection by posing the following questions to youngsters:
- What do you think the Arctic will be like in 2050?
- What now needs to be done in order to secure a positive future of the Arctic?
- Is there anything that you could personally do?
I had also hoped to use the ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’ approach to review the learning outcomes. However, we were pushed as teachers and pupils needed to return to their respective establishments in time for the end of the school day. Nevertheless, when asked if they knew more about the Arctic now than they did at the start of the school day and had something to share with parents/carers or siblings when they returned home, they all shouted ‘Yes!’. In addition, a number of pupils came up to me to say a personal thank you for such an exciting and enjoyable day. Simple comments and actions like this make all the time and effort involved in organising such an event truly worthwhile.
I must add my own thanks here to everyone involved in making the day a huge success, including the handful of model sixth formers from The Crypt School, who volunteered their services willingly. Hopefully, we will be able to repeat the workshop in the near future, so that more local pupils, their teachers and TAs can have the same impacting learning experience.
Feedback from teaching staff and consultants to date:
‘The students appear to have had a great time. Thanks for all that you did putting this together.’ (Member of SLT, The Crypt School)
‘My thanks to you for organising such a successful day.’ (Head Master, The Crypt School)
‘I spoke to one teacher, who said it was wonderful, and the children had so enjoyed it.’ (Head Master’s PA)
‘Just to say thank you for organising the Arctic experience for our children. They had an enjoyable and valuable learning experience – plenty for us to follow up with our current topic. Please pass our thanks to everyone involved.’ (KS2 Phase Lead, multi-academy trust)
‘Thanks for a great day on Friday. My children really enjoyed it.’ (Geography Subject Leader; KS2 teacher)
‘The event was extremely well organised. All the staff were helpful and engaging with the children. The children knew where they were meant to go, what was expected of them and learnt a great deal about the Arctic. They learnt about it through a variety of subjects and are still talking about their visit. They particularly enjoyed the dance aspect and meeting a real life explorer! The quality of support received was excellent. A very worthwhile visit.’ (KS2 teacher)
‘Regarding the sixth formers, I was really impressed. The lads were not just polite and helpful, but demonstrated real leadership. In any group, there is often a few children who are not naturally engaged and need a little convincing of the task. What I had asked the sixth formers to do was put spoonfuls of treacle and cocoa into the children’s bowls and help with washing up. What happened was, as well as doing this, when they saw children not focusing on the cooking, they went over to them and started asking them questions and encouraging them. The boys I met are an absolute credit to the school and were excellent role models for the children doing the workshops.’ (Freelance consultant)