International Polar Year, or IPY (2007-2009) is by far the most exciting international scientific and educational opportunity of this century. For the next two years, all eyes will be focused on the physical, social and human dimensions of our planet's polar regions. Watch this blog for news related to Canadian outreach and education efforts related to IPY. Of particular interest to educators! Note: This blog is created independently of any official IPY organization

Thursday, October 11, 2007

University of Alaska creates International Polar Year teaching guide

Read this article online.

A new guide created for teachers by the University of Alaska is aimed at integrating research being done in conjunction with the International Polar Year into classrooms across the state.

"We're sort of taking IPY as an opportunity to really get kids -- people of all ages, but particularly kids in (kindergarten) through 12th -- excited about science, especially science that's relevant to them here in Alaska," said Buck Sharpton, the university's vice chancellor of research.

The International Polar Year, or IPY, is a two-year scientific initiative focusing attention and research money on the Earth's polar regions. IPY started in March and continues until 2009. Scientists at the University of Alaska are participating in a number of IPY research projects studying methane, permafrost, global warming, coastal erosion, shrinking sea ice and even the effects of climate change on language and culture among Alaska Natives.

In addition to that research, one of the goals of IPY is to get the information about the scientists' work and findings into the hands of the public.

"And there's no better place to start than with teachers and schools," said Lynn Weckesser, an assistant principal at West Valley High School and one of the educators who helped the university put together the resource guide.

The resource guide has information on weather, the atmosphere and climate change. The guide contains maps and lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom and directs them to more information online. There's even a section of vocabulary words to help students and teachers learn the language of Arctic science. The guide has terms like ice cap, permafrost, pingo and skua (a large brown gull-like predatory bird that lives in the Arctic and Antarctic).

"We included anything that would help science teachers get the information out and make it available and make everyone aware of the issues that the international Polar Year addresses," Weckesser said.

University scientists worked closely with teachers across the state, like Weckesser, to explain technical scientific research in kid-friendly language, Sharpton said.

"They (the teachers) were really proficient at translating the scientific jargon into terms the kids can understand," he said.

The university sent a copy of the resource guide to every school in the state. In addition, the guide is available online at, where it will be updated as the research continues.

Sharpton said he thinks this is an exciting time to be a teacher or a student in Alaska, especially with IPY unfolding around them.

"It's just a really great opportunity to launch kids off in a direction that will get them interested in science and mathematics and engineering," he said. "We're basically helping to train the next generation of problem-solvers in Alaska."

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