Polar Exploration in the Arctic and Antarctic
Recently, I read a harrowing account of a doomed 1912 Arctic expedition, where a ship seeking new hunting grounds became frozen in the pack ice of the Kara Sea. After a year and a half, the author and 13 crewmen decided to leave the ship and the remaining crew, embarking on a perilous 235-mile journey for help via kayaks and homemade sledges, and complete with polar bear attacks, starvation, snowblindness, and mutiny. The book is called In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov, and it’s a great read for high school classes and above.
The thirst for exploration and quests seems an innate part of the human psyche. The Arctic and Antarctic are at opposite ends of the earth, but both have long possessed a mysterious allure that prompts polar expeditions even in current times. In the late nineteenth century, “Arctic Fever” possessed Americans as numerous expeditions were undertaken to locate a northwest sea passage to Asia, and to also reach the North Pole. Although most of these expeditions ended in failure and with heavy casualties, dreams of the Arctic remained strong in the popular imagination, and explorers continued to embark on expeditions undaunted. Early explorations were grueling feats of endurance, with harsh conditions that gave rise to tales of tragedy and heroism. Indeed, the period from the late 1800s through the 1920s is often referred to as the “heroic era,” as polar explorers such as Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Robert Peary, and others were bestowed with near superhero status by an adoring public.
The study of polar exploration has many applications in the classroom. Science lessons can examine topics such as weather conditions, wildlife, marine life, and technological innovations born out of polar expeditions, while social studies classes can explore the geography, historical expeditions, and the personal and government ambitions behind the expeditions. English and language arts classes can review diaries and other accounts of expeditions, and examine contemporary news coverage of the expeditions’ triumphs and tragedies. Math classes can plot the distances traveled by various transportation methods (ship, sleds, sledges, etc.), and calculate and compare the daily progress rates of various exploration teams. There are also a number of excellent books on polar exploration for all age levels, to serve as either reference materials for teachers, or for student reading. Books that I especially recommend include:
- Escape from the Ice: Shackleton and the Endurance by Connie Roop (grades 2-3)
- How to Survive in Antarctica by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (grades 5-8)
- Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong (grades 6 and up)
- Emperors of the Ice: A True Story of Disaster and Survival in the Antarctic, 1910-13 by Richard Farr (grades 6-10)
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (grades 9 and up)
- In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic by Valerian Albanov (grades 9 and up)
This week, I’ve selected three cross-curricular resources on polar exploration for all grade levels. We’ll also be featuring many more resources on the topic all week long on our Gateway Twitter and Facebook pages, so please be sure to check those pages often. Also be sure to check my colleague Peggy’s column (linked below) to read her teaching ideas and suggestions.
Brrrr! Expeditions to the North and South Poles
Subjects: World History, Geography, Writing
The purpose of this lesson is to acquaint students with the first successful explorations of the North and South Poles, through a study of the four men who accomplished them. Students will present the fruits of their research on posters, or with PowerPoint presentations. I like how this lesson presents a very comprehensive overview of polar exploration, including different explorers and their motivations for embarking on an expedition, the hardships they faced, how obstacles were overcome, and the types of supplies they used. This is a great introductory lesson to the topic for elementary students. This lesson was produced by The National First Ladies’ Library, an organization in Ohio that provides physical and virtual resources on the nation’s First Ladies and American history.
Survival on the Ice
Subjects: Physical Science, Geography, Math, World History
In this lesson, students will identify factors that make living in Antarctica difficult. They will explore different types of fabrics, their characteristics and how well they insulate, and compare clothing worn by Antarctic explorers both past and present. Finally, students will design an outfit that would enable survival in Antarctica’s extreme conditions. I like that this lesson takes something that students may well find mundane – clothing – and examines the chemical makeup of various fabrics and their importance to survival in extreme climates. This lesson is a product of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand, and offers resources that highlight its main collections in Art, History, Pacific, Māori, and Natural Environment.
Subjects: World History, Integrating Technology Into The Classroom, Disease, Biological And Life Sciences
170 years ago the Arctica sailed north on a voyage of discovery. It never returned. Can you discover why? This is an online mystery in three parts. The mystery can also be downloaded and used offline. This compelling game is lots of fun, and also aptly illustrates the often harrowing situations faced by polar expeditions. This resource was created by Access Excellence (AE), a virtual educational component of the National Health Museum. AE provides health, biology, and life science resources to K-12 and college teachers and scientists.