Standing on the Shoulders of Giants Educational Outreach Placement: British Antarctic Survey Archives

Placement blogpost by Elizabeth Lewis Williams, CHASE funded student at UEA.

Ely College Students at the Scott Polar Research Institute after their performance.

Ely College Students at the Scott Polar Research Institute after their performance.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of Operation Tabarin, the secret wartime mission which saw the establishment of the first permanent British scientific research stations in Antarctica.  My placement with the British Antarctic Survey Archives was designed to share some of the fascinating material in the archives with school students, and to raise their awareness of Antarctic science.  Long term datasets from Antarctica, dating back to the 1950s, famously enabled the identification of the hole in the ozone layer which facilitated subsequent remedial action – and much current Antarctic science owes a debt to this early work.  My role was to develop educational materials, and set up a series of school visits and workshops, which would set up a dialogue between students and scientists, and develop the students’ understanding of the science and conditions of work on the continent through poetry, drama and discussion. 

I worked with three different secondary schools in the Cambridge area, and each school worked on a different scientific base, and a particular research area:  Halley (Empire penguins and remote imaging of penguin colonies), King Edward Point (whaling, sealing and sustainability) and Port Lockroy (heritage and conservation).  Two scientists from British Antarctic Survey, one who had worked on the particular base in the 1960s and one with contemporary experience, visited the schools to present various aspects of their science, and discuss conditions of work peculiar to Antarctica.  In the case of Port Lockroy, the leader of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust visited along with one of the operators of the ‘penguin post office’.  The idea was to take a multi-disciplinary approach, and activities ranged from presentations to drama, role-play and creative writing.  A composer visited two of the three schools to work with students on creating an Antarctic soundscape.  Two schools opted for a full day of workshops, and another developed poems and drama over the term and performed their final piece at the Scott Polar Research Station.

This placement - quite apart from being rewarding in itself, and (I hope) positive for the students - was useful in helping build on previous teaching and research skills, giving me a very useful insight into the different challenges of co-ordinating a project from outside school.  I am interested in education and outreach.  It also provided an excellent opportunity to make new contacts, and give something back to the Archives office who have been very supportive of my own research.

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