Third-grade students at Roundtown Elementary School had a unique opportunity Monday to talk with a scientist who studies Adélie penguins in Antarctica.
Using Skype, those third-graders could talk with Jean Pennycook from her research tent in Cape Royds, located close to a penguin nesting colony on the southernmost continent.
Amy Musone, a third-grade teacher at Roundtown, said she has used the free Skype in the Classroom program multiple times in the past few years. Her students have video chatted with authors, sea turtle specialists and staff at Yellowstone National Park.
Musone's class was joined by two other third-grade classes for the Skype session, when Pennycook told of the adventurous spirit she had that led to living out of a tent for two months at a time.
"I always wanted to go to the moon," Pennycook said. "But I got to go to Antarctica instead."
Preparation: In the days leading up to Skype session, the students read updates on Pennycook's website and noted the temperatures compared to York. Musone said her students were interested to see, one day, that the temperature in Antartica was one degree warmer than at Roundtown.
The students read about how Pennycook and her colleagues study the penguins, and made lists of what they understood and what they wanted to know more about. Students wondered about the tracking bracelets put on the penguins at infancy, which are kept on to track the penguins' movements across the continent throughout their life spans.
The students also asked questions about Pennycook's own lifestyle: The researcher lives without running water for two months while in the field, and access to the outside world is a helicopter ride away.
Musone said Skype sessions such as the one with Pennycook give students experiences she couldn't provide without the technology, and help students to think about environments different from what they are used to in York.
Blogging, too: The students will use other technology to follow up on the Skype session, too: Two of Musone's students took "field notes" during the session and will write blog posts about the experience. Musone said the blog is patterned after Lewis Miller, a man who lived in York and chronicled his life in the county during the 1800s. In a similar fashion, Musone's students keep a record of the day-to-day happenings in the classroom.
Musone's students also have a separate class blog, which she said they will use to write follow-up entries about what they found most interesting from the Skype session.
In Musone's classroom, technology isn't a distraction. Rather, it's another medium on which students can learn and prepare for what's ahead -- even state testing, which will happen for Musone's students for the first time when they take the PSSAs in the spring.
"If (students are) provided with opportunities to think and learn and grow, they will do fine on the test," Musone said.
And perhaps they'll remember something about exploring in Antarctica, too.
-- Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.