"Here Be Dragons" - and Innovative Ways of Teaching about Antarctic Ice and Scientific Process

DAN DICKERSON (dickersond15@ecu.edu) is a professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Instructional Technology Education at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. PETER SEDWICK (psedwick@odu.edu) is a professor in the Department of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. SHAWN MOORE (mooresha@ecu.edu) is the director of the Center for STEM Education at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. AMBER MEEKS (meeksa15@students.ecu.edu) is a science education graduate student at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. PETROS KATSIOLOUDIS (pkatsiol@odu.edu) is a professor and chair of STEM Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.

In 2017, the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer traveled to Antarctica as part of the Polynyas and Ice Production in the Ross Sea (PIPERS) expedition. The PIPERS expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation, was the first US winter cruise to the Ross Sea in more than twenty years (Ackley et al., 2020). On board the Palmer were Peter Sedwick, Bettina Sohst, and Casey O'Hara, a research team from Old Dominion University. Their goal: to collect seawater and sea ice samples for post-cruise measurements of iron in an effort to understand how iron levels in the Ross Sea are impacted by the vertical mixing and sea ice formation that begins in austral fall and continues over the winter months (roughly April-September in the Southern Hemisphere). This is an important scientific question because the supply of dissolved iron, an essential "micronutrient," is known to limit the amount of primary production by phytoplankton in the Ross Sea during the austral summer growing season (November-March).

The team's PIPERS cruise observations focused on two coastal "polynyas," regions of persistently low sea ice cover near the Antarctic coast. These are often referred to as "sea ice factories": during the winter months, strong, cold "katabatic" winds descend from the high Antarctic continent in so-called "katabatic events" which form new sea ice that is subsequently blown away from the coast. They also drive vertical mixing of the ocean waters that potentially brings iron-rich deep waters to the surface. During the cruise, several katabatic events were observed in one of the polynyas, with hurricane force winds and wind chill below -70°F. These events resulted in vertical mixing to as deep as 600 meters, which was just starting to reach the iron-rich bottom waters. Although the expedition provided new information about the seasonal onset of deep mixing and sea ice formation, it appears that a voyage later in the winter will be needed to fully document the vertical resupply of iron from deep waters to the ocean surface, where phytoplankton grow during the summer.

The Education Context

Looking for ways to disseminate the new science and convey the scientific process, our team developed a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) activity for elementary and secondary school populations. We intend for the activity to be used in the context of best practice pedagogy (e.g., 5E Learning Cycle, Bybee, 2016). Below is an example of how we employed the activity in a cycle designed to enable students to "engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate" the content over time.

High school students took a pretest on winds that addressed standards-based content. In this instance the science content was wind, but the content (i.e., standard) can be altered as needed. The pretest can be based on any assessment items you typically use to measure your students' learning about content. After the pretest, students were provided with pictures of dragon scale ice (Bulthuis, 2017; Whitson, 2017). Pictures can be obtained through an online search. Students were told that the ice forms in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. They were asked to imagine how something called dragon scale ice could form.

Students individually created art pieces (e.g., paintings and drawings) of how they thought dragon scale ice is made. Collaboration with an art teacher to work with students on art standards would be best if possible. After the art pieces were finished, the teacher provided content on how the ice forms using informational YouTube videos (e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMshGo7WadI to explain the content. These videos (and there are many) can be found through an online search. You can explain the content using such videos or any other direct instruction method you choose (e.g., lecture notes, PowerPoint, etc.). The katabatic winds were compared and contrasted to other more local examples of extreme winds and wind events including hurricanes, tornados, and jet streams.

Based on the new content information regarding various winds and wind events, students worked to create digital content that would leverage their artwork into a science communication piece. This work can be done individually or in groups based on the instructor's and students' needs. In our example, students used ZapWorks (https://zap.works/), however multiple QR code/augmented reality (AR) options exist; each has slightly different functionality and cost. Many different products can be found through an online search. For example, QR Code Generator (https://www.qr-code-generator.com/) is a free option that can point the scanner/student to online content. In every case, students must download an app that allows their device to scan an image. This download should be done prior to the lesson implementation. Additionally, this field of products changes regularly so having multiple options is best if possible.

We had students place the ZapWorks sticker on or near the artwork to be scanned by other students' phones. Once a student scanned the sticker, digital content (text, images, video, audio) would appear embedded in the artwork or viewers would be linked to other online content (e.g., YouTube videos). The teachers had to provide instruction regarding how to use ZapWorks, but in general students were able to navigate the process easily. We used the online tutorials developed by ZapWorks and YouTube videos to assist students in learning how to use the app. The artwork can be assessed through the use of a rubric or gallery walk. Lastly, at the end of the unit a few weeks later students took a post-test on winds to measure what they learned about winds.

Through these activities, students were able to (a) address art standards using a particular media, (b) explore the intersection between traditional and digital art forms, (c) address science standards, (d) build computer science skills, and (e) use art to communicate science to others. The use of AR, art, and science content provided a highly engaging and motivating learning experience for students that allowed them to connect local and more abstract global phenomena (Birt and Cowling, 2017).


Support for this work and the PIPERS field program was provided by the National Science Foundation through awards ANT-1543483 to P. Sedwick, ANT-1341717 to S. Ackley, ANT-1341513 to E. Maksym, ANT-1341606 to S. Stammerjohn and J. Cassano, and ANT-1341725 to P. Guest. We thank the officers and crew of RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, and all of the PIPERS cruise participants and support personnel.


Ackley, S.F., Stammerjohn, S., Maksym, T., Smith, M., Cassano, J., Guest, P., Tison, J.L., Delille, B., Loose, B., Sedwick, P. and DePace, L., 2020, Sea-ice production and air/ice/ocean/biogeochemistry interactions in the Ross Sea during the PIPERS 2017 autumn field campaign: Annals of Glaciology, p. 1-15, doi:10.1017/aog.2020.31.

Birt, J. and Cowling, M., 2017, Toward future 'mixed reality' learning spaces for STEAM education. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, v. 25: 4, https:// openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/index.php/CAL/ article/view/12173 (accessed August 11, 2020).

Bulthuis, K., 2017, Image of the Week – The birth of a sea-ice dragon! (European Geosciences Union Cryospheric Sciences blog post), https://blogs.egu. eu/divisions/cr/2017/06/30/image-of-the-weekthe-birth-of-a-sea-ice-dragon/.

Bybee, R.W., 2016, The BSCS 5E instructional model: Creating teachable moments: Arlington, VA, NSTA Press.

Whitson, R., 2017, 'Dragon skin ice' filmed off Antarctica as scientists study winter behaviour of region's waters (Australian Broadcasting Commission News online article), https://www.abc.net. au/news/2017-05-06/dragon-skin-ice-sighted-inantarctica/8502156.

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