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Contact: George Hale
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Science teachers see NASA IceBridge research

Teachers Mark Buesing and Jette Poulsen aboard the NASA P-3B during an IceBridge survey flight on Apr. 8, 2013.
Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen

Getting students interested in science means going beyond facts in a textbook. By giving students a look behind the curtain at real scientific research, educators can motivate and inspire them to study and possibly even pursue science-related careers.

NASA's Operation IceBridge gave three teachers—one each from the United States, Greenland and Denmark—an inside view of research by hosting a field research experience during part of the 2013 Arctic campaign. IceBridge achieved this thanks to collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, the education ministries of Greenland and Denmark and a U.S.-based program that pairs teachers and polar science expeditions known as PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating).

Each year PolarTREC receives hundreds of applications from science teachers who want to bring real-life polar science to their students through field research experiences. After a lengthy selection and interview process, Libertyville, Ill., high school physics teacher Mark Buesing was paired with IceBridge.

Meanwhile, personnel from the Copenhagen embassy worked with the governments of Denmark and Greenland, who selected Jette Rygaard Poulsen, Aalborg, Denmark, a physics and mathematics teacher and science adviser to the Danish Education Ministry, and Mette Noort Hansen, who teaches biology, geography and Arctic technology in Sisimiut, Greenland.

Behind the Scenes

In early April the teachers traveled to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where they would live and work side by side with IceBridge researchers. Being embedded with the team like this gave teachers a chance to see the ice sheet and glaciers from the air, witness data collection in person and, most importantly, interact with scientists and engineers as they worked."

Embedding teachers into an active field campaign requires a balance between giving educators access to researchers while keeping them from disrupting normal operations. To accomplish this, the IceBridge project science office worked with the teachers in the weeks before their trip, answering questions and preparing them for their experience aboard a NASA research aircraft.

Being around IceBridge researchers all day meant that the teachers were able to learn the ins and outs of the mission's different instruments and the science behind what was being studied that day. "It was great to get a first-hand experience that can translate into teaching almost immediately," said Hansen.

Such knowledge can be used to teach basic science principles or as context for a larger lesson, but even the view from the plane's windows proved useful. "I spent one flight in the cockpit, which was a great opportunity to see the morphological features of and around the glaciers," said Hansen, who plans to use these landscapes when teaching geography.

Danish high school science teacher Jette Poulsen enjoys the view out of one of the P-3B airborne laboratory's windows during a survey flight over glaciers in southeast Greenland on Apr. 8, 2013.
Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

The striking views and adventure of flying over Greenland also can serve as a way to inspire students to continue studying. Buesing said that several researchers he spoke to during his time with IceBridge could point to a class or teacher that ultimately led them to where they are today. "If I can motivate my students, then they'll learn the science," said Buesing. This focus on inspiration moves teaching beyond reciting facts and figures. It also recognizes that people working in scientific fields can often name a single teacher or experience that put them on that career path.

Buesing started engaging and inspiring students while still in the field through his journal entries, which included science questions aimed at different grade levels, and through online video chats that allowed him to reach more than 400 students. Outreach like this allowed Buesing to engage students and explain science concepts in a novel way.

Back to School

Soon it was time for the educators to return home and get back to teaching their students. All three educators plan to create new classroom materials using what they learned from IceBridge researchers and each other while in the field. Each of the teachers brought a different perspective with them and shared their experiences, interests and education strategies to find better ways to reach their students. "Like the engineers in IceBridge, teachers don't work in isolation," Buesing said.

Buesing is producing an activity that uses one of IceBridge's instruments as an example for teaching about magnetism. He is also analyzing IceBridge data and working with the National Snow and Ice Data Center to find a way to make IceBridge data more accessible for high school students.

Soon Danish high school students will be able to take a new course that combines geography and physics, and IceBridge will be featured heavily. Poulsen is developing classroom materials that will focus on IceBridge's researchers and pilots, the mission's instruments and the physics behind what they, and the consequences of a warming Arctic. "I want to motivate the young scientists in Denmark," Poulsen said.

High school students in Greenland will similarly have the opportunity to take an IceBridge-inspired first-year science course that ties geography, physics and general science skills together. Hansen will design this new course that will join other materials available online for schools nationwide.

The teachers plan to keep in touch as they develop their new course materials. Poulsen and Buesing, both being physics teachers, will likely continue bouncing teaching ideas off of each other. "He has become a real sparring partner and I am sure we will keep contact in the future," said Poulsen.


To see more about Mark Buesing's experience with IceBridge, visit: