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Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Magazine

March 3, 2008

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Magazine

Kimberly Lightle
NSDL Middle School Portal

Carol Minton Morris
National Science Digital Library

Online Magazine for Elementary Teachers Brings Polar Issues Into Classrooms Nationwide

Columbus, Ohio-March 3, 2008 Blockbuster movies and even soft drink commercials have made our planet’s polar regions and their inhabitants popular culture superstars. At the same time many people have either been confronted with what they believe to be climate change weather events, or find themselves wondering about how melting polar ice sheets and rising ocean temperatures might affect their lives in the future. Despite this onslaught of data, scientific discovery, drama and speculation, misconceptions about the polar regions and their importance abound.
As attention continues to turn to polar environments a coalition of specialists from science, literacy and educational organizations nationwide is pleased to announce the launch of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online professional development magazine for elementary teachers. This issue features content-rich web sites, interactive videos, animations, articles written specifically for K-2 and 3-5 students that are available in text-only versions as well as in printable, foldable book versions, photographs that highlight polar beauty and mystery, and even a poetry lesson plan that features work contributed by elementary school students in Anchorage, Alaska. The magazine focuses on developing teacher content knowledge about the Arctic and Antarctica and enabling teaching of polar science concepts in already-crowded curricula. By integrating inquiry-based science with literacy teaching, developers aim to increase students’ science knowledge, academic language, reading comprehension, and written and oral discourse abilities.

Jessica Fries-Gaither, elementary resource specialist and project director for Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears notes, “As a former elementary teacher, I understand the difficulty of finding time for quality science instruction. Yet in the face of issues such as global climate change and dramatically changing polar regions, it is essential that science, specifically polar science, is included. We are particularly pleased to offer this new online magazine that transfers current polar research and best practices in science and literacy instruction to classrooms nationwide.”

Science instruction in the elementary years has historically been limited or even omitted entirely. However, No Child Left Behind-mandated testing in science increases pressure on schools and teachers to devote time to quality science instruction. The intersection of mandated science testing, International Polar Year research and outreach initiatives, and a growing awareness of worldwide climate change make Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears a timely and relevant undertaking.

Twenty thematic issues of the online magazine will include standards-based science and content-rich literacy learning across five departments (In the Field: Scientists at Work, Professional Learning, Science and Literacy, Across the Curriculum, and Polar News and Notes). Engaging science activities, compelling images, rich text, and multimedia resources such as podcasts and videos and even a browseable Virtual Bookshelf that includes quality children’s literature for classroom use are designed to capture the interest of both teachers and students. Strategies for integrating technology, addressing misconceptions, and ensuring equity in the classroom are topics of emphasis.

In a time of observable and measurable climate change, it is vitally important to understand the science of the polar regions. Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears helps teachers go beyond a superficial understanding and foster deep, meaningful scientific understanding at a critical time-both in their students’ development and for the planet’s well being.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears is funded by the National Science Foundation Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator for the NSDL Middle School Portal developed by The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology and also Principal Investigator for the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears magazine coordinates a team of collaborators including an interdisciplinary team from Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology; the Ohio Resource Center for Mathematics, Science, and Reading; the Byrd Polar Research Center; The Columbus Center for Science and Industry; the Upper Arlington Public Library; and the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). Content and education specialists are creating content as well as adapting and contextualizing existing content from NSDL. NSDL is also adapting Fedora-based tools to facilitate editorial workflow, dissemination, and promotion of the magazine. The Evaluation and Assessment Center at Miami University in Oxford, OH is conducting ongoing project evaluation including teacher focus groups and usability testing that will inform iterative design going forward.

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