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D-Lib Magazine
January/February 2009

Volume 15 Number 1/2

ISSN 1082-9873

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears

Contributed by
Jessica Fries-Gaither
Elementary Resource Specialist
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University

Photo of Pancake ice in the Bellingshausen Sea

Pancake ice in the Bellingshausen Sea. Glenn Grant, National Science Foundation. Used with permission.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears is an online magazine for elementary teachers that brings polar science into classrooms nationwide.

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.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online professional development magazine for elementary teachers, focuses on preparing teachers to teach polar science concepts in an already congested curriculum by integrating inquiry-based science with literacy teaching. Such an integrated approach can increase students' science knowledge, academic language, reading comprehension, and written and oral discourse abilities.

Science instruction in the elementary years has historically been limited or even omitted entirely. However, new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandated testing in science will increase pressure on schools and teachers to devote time to quality science instruction. The intersection of mandated science testing, the International Polar Year, and a growing awareness of worldwide climate change makes Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears a timely and relevant undertaking.

Launched in March 2008, the magazine is published monthly. Each thematic issue relates elementary science topics and concepts to the real-world context of the polar regions and includes 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). The magazine has covered many common earth and space science topics (geography, seasons, rocks, minerals and fossils, the water cycle, energy, erosion) and is now turning to plants, animals, and other life science topics. The indigenous peoples of the Arctic, climate change, and polar research and explorers will round out the twenty planned issues.

Photograph of Gentoo penguins and the Research Vessel LAURENCE M. GOULD

Gentoo penguins and the Research Vessel LAURENCE M. GOULD near Petermann Island. Christine Hush, National Science Foundation. Used with permission.

In addition to highlighting and contextualizing existing digital resources such as science and literacy lesson plans, the magazine also includes multimedia such as images, video clips, and podcasts. A monthly column, Featured Story, provides a nonfiction article written for students that is available at three grade levels as text, printable books, and electronic books with narration. The Virtual Bookshelf, written by a children's librarian, recommends quality children's literature to complement and extend the science activities. A regular column details commonly held misconceptions and provides assessment tools for classroom use.

A companion blog is used to report on polar news, and research and professional development opportunities. Additionally, blog posts feature multimedia content and direct viewers to new articles and features of the magazine. Viewers can use the RSS feed or Feedburner subscriptions to automatically receive new blog posts, including a monthly announcement of the magazine's latest issue.

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 the planet's well being.

Photograph of Beacon Valley field camp, located in the Dry Valleys of southern Victoria Land

Beacon Valley field camp, located in the Dry Valleys of southern Victoria Land. Josh Landis, National Science Foundation. Used with permission.

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, Ohio is conducting ongoing project evaluation including teacher focus groups and usability testing that will inform iterative design going forward.

See the magazine homepage at, and the Blog at .

Copyright© 2009 Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears

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