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Connecting to the Poles through TEA E-Mail

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Author Contact Information

Steve Stevenoski
Lincoln High School
Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin

Stephanie Shipp
Rice University
Houston, Texas

In this activity, students examine on-line journals to become familiar with polar research. Based on their readings, students pose questions, research possible answers, and communicate via e-mail with Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic parcticipants at the research locations.

Students will:

  • use the Internet to access on-line journals
  • select a science or exploration topic that interests them based on their reading
  • pose questions about their selected topic
  • investigate their questions and extend their original exploration
  • compose and send to a TEA parcticipant, an electronic letter in which they ask the question
  • communicate the TEA responses to the class

    Grade Level/Discipline
    Appropriate for all age levels. Interdisciplinary science, language arts.

    National Standards

    Pre-activity set-up

  • test your connection to the Internet
  • examine on-line journals at ../../ to become familiar with projects and people at the poles


  • access to Internet in the classroom
  • access to library
  • paper
  • writing implements
  • large poster paper

    Time Frame
    1 day to 1 week of class time depending on teacher emphasis of in-class investigation. Note that there may be a delay in receiving a response from the field.

    Engagement and Exploration (Student Inquiry Activity
    1. Ask the students:

  • What it would be like to travel to the poles?
  • What questions do they have about the poles?
  • Why might people be there?
  • What type of projects or jobs might be necessary?

    Keep a list of student ideas.

    2. Explain that the students are going to investigate polar research and exploration through the journals of Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA). TEA teachers parcticipate in polar research and share their experiences through on-line journals and letters.

    3. Have each student visit the TEA site. Ask them to select a teacher who’s research or experience interests them. Why does a parcticular teacher capture their attention?

    4. Ask each student to write a series of questions they wish to ask the TEA before they explore the TEA’s journals in detail.

    5. Provide the students with the reproducible masters and ask that they review the procedure and fill in the information for teacher background.

    Ask each student to read the journals of their selected TEA. What new questions interest the students? Do they find answers to their original questions? Remind the students to use other resources, such as the library and Internet searches to investigate their questions further.

    As the students continue their investigations and reading, what questions remain unanswered?

    Explanation (Discussing)
    6. Ask each student to share a summary of the research project and experiences of "their" TEA with the class. Some students may select the same TEA; have them present together.

    7. What were the student’s original questions?. Can the class answer the questions? Have the student share the answers they found with the class.

    Remind the class that all questions are valid - but that many questions may have been answered! Calling in the "specialist" should be done selectively - when the student has exhausted the resources to which they have access.

    8. Explain that the students are going to write a pleasant, formal letter to the TEA to ask their questions. Ask the students what needs to go into the letter? Some areas for discussion include:

  • How should the letter be addressed?
  • What should the greeting and sign-off include?
  • What is the tone? Should a letter be friendly and inviting? Formal? Are different tones appropriate for different types of letters? What are some examples of different types of letters (letter to a family member, a friend, a member of Congress, a store owner.....).
  • What impression does proper spelling and grammar leave with the recipient? What about poor grammar and spelling?
  • Why might it be important to indicate that you are familiar with the materials written by the recipient?

    9. Have the students write their letters and then exchange them with other students for a critique. Does the letter have a proper address and date? Is it polite? Does it demonstrate that the student has some knowledge of the TEA’s research and experiences? Are the questions phrased clearly and concisely? Is the letter easy to read? Is the salutation and sign-off appropriate?

    10. Ask that the students rewrite their letter incorporating the comments of their colleagues. Review the "final" letter and assist the student in sending it to the TEA through electronic mail.

    Note that there may be a delay of several days for the responses; the TEA may be in transit between field stations, at a remote field site, or out of town. If a TEA has not responded, you may wish to resend the letter and contact another TEA.

    Elaboration (Polar Applications)

    Exchange (Students Draw Conclusions)
    11. After the responses have arrived, have students present their "final" questions to the class. Can the class think of possible answers? Ask each student to share the responses from their correspondence with the TEA with the class. What other questions may arise from the new information?

    Evaluation (Assessing Student Performance)

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