AAD brings Antarctica to the classroom

Low Life feared dead, Slippery Characters blaming Mister Bigs, crime scene at the end of the earth ... where else could you be but Classroom Antarctica, a Web site created by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to teach primary school students the wonders of the Antarctic.

Low Life is the alias for krill, an endangered species and the star character in a learning exercise called "Who's eating who?" at Classroom Antarctica. As well as exercises such as this, the Web site - which is primarily a guide for teachers - also contains everything from lesson guides to ideas for class excursions.

Author of the Web site, Elizabeth Haywood, said she had fun putting together the material, which was a side project to her main role as editor of the Australian Antarctic magazine.

In this interview with Computerworld Antarctica, Haywood takes us through the process of putting Classroom Antarctica together.

Classroom Antarctica is quite a comprehensive mini-site, how long did it take to put together?It took me five months to write the Classroom Antarctica materials, which wasn't full time.

After writing the material I had to organise the images. We realised that for it to be appealing to teachers and students that it needed to be image rich. Organising the images, and creating the Web site and the pdfs and working out the logistics of delivery took just over a year.

As Classroom Antarctica is a guide to teaching primary school students about Antarctica, how did you know what to include? Did you need some training in education to put this together?I used to be primary school teacher, many years ago, but it certainly came in handy when putting together the information. And the materials were written in consultation with Tasmanian teachers.

Did you need to have the material approved by the Department of Education?We worked in conjunction with the Department of Eduction, we had a focus group of teachers, mainly science and social studies teachers, and the material fits in with the class curriculum.

What was the impetus for Classroom Antarctica?We are harangued by teachers and students (laughs) perhaps harangued is the wrong word. We have up to 15,000 visitors to AAD every year, which is pretty amazing seeming we are a bit off the track. We are based in Hobart, but even then we are a bit out of Hobart. We receive a lot of letters and emails from teachers and students wanting to know more about Antarctica. There was definitely demand for something like this.

Why did you decide to make it Web-based?When initially putting it together we envisaged creating a printed kit with videos, which we would supply to teachers at a minimal cost. But then I realised the enormous wealth of material on the Web and the benefits of the Internet. Kids can see our stations via Web cams in real time. It became increasingly obvious that it should be electronic.

Are you adding more material, or is a static site?We are always working on it and adding new material. And every couple of months I will go through the content and update it, such as links.

Was the Web site built inhouse?We hired someone to design the Web site, but we built it inhouse. Pauline de Vos designed the site.

You mentioned earlier that in the initial phase of Classroom Antarctica, the plan was to charge schools a small fee for the materials. How do you make money from the Web site, or is that not an issue?No, making money [from Classroom Antarctica] isn't an issue. We feel we have a responsibility to bring Antarctica to Australians. It is very interesting and I think we all have a lot to learn from Antarctica. And the site can be used by kids and adults. It gives the opportunity to use and learn about Antarctica is a non-traditional way.

When was the site launched?It was launched on 15 February 2002, by Dr Sharmon Stone, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. [Dr Stone is reponsible for the Australian Antarctic Division].

How has the feedback been from the teachers?Very positive. Teachers and schools not only in Tasmania and Australia are using the site, but all over the world is using the site too.

Do other countries have a resource like Classroom Antarctica?The British have a ‘physical' schools pack, a traditional resource, but they focus on an older age group - the matriculation level. Some US teachers have come together to build Antarctic teaching resources, but the US government doesn't have a resource like we do.

Are you enjoying your work on CA?It's fantastic, and the kids are so enthusiastic. We are getting enormous positive feedback.

What are your future plans for Classroom Antarctica?We are producing a brochure [outlining the features of the site], and we would like to increase the focus to older-age students. Although I am not sure whether we will do anything quite as big as what is currently there.

Classroom Antarctica can be found at http://classroomantarctica.aad.gov.au/.

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