Antarctica calling

Not every day do you open your inbox and find an email from Antarctica — let alone get a Skype video call from Antarctica. But thanks to the work of Jean Pennycook, educator and Antarctica researcher, classrooms around the globe have had the chance to go on virtual field trips to Earth’s southernmost continent.

With a background in Science Education, Jean Pennycook has been a secondary science teacher in California most of her professional life. She went to Antarctica for the first time in 1999 as the education officer for a science expedition to the top of Mt Erebus. She is now currently on her 14th trip to Antarctica to study Adélie penguin colonies and the impact climate change has on their behavior.

Skype in the Classroom

Pennycook does about four Skype calls a day with classrooms around the world during her yearly trip to Antarctica between November and January — using the penguin colony as a case study to educate the K-12 community on the impact of climate change. This year she estimates she reached about 8,000 students in 3 months.

“I love sharing this fabulous place and these amazing birds with people,” she explains. “Very few people will ever get a chance to come to Antarctica and it is a place that needs to be saved and preserved. If people do not know about it, they will not feel a connection to it. The penguins especially will need our protection as the ice changes due to climate change and more and more fisheries take their food source.”

Skype in the Classroom

During her Skype sessions, Pennycook sits close to the penguins to give the pupils a close look at their unusual “callers”. She explains the scientists’ work, and what the penguins are up to right then during the call.

Describing the kids’ reactions to the calls, Pennycook says:

“Some think I am in a zoo, others think I am on a movie set. Many do not know where Antarctica is, so are amazed when they find out I am really here. They are interested in all the clothes I wear, what we eat and how we live.”

Skype in the Classroom

And since we know you’d be interested too, here is what Pennycook’s typical work day in Antarctica looks like:

“We are up by 7am and in the field by 8:30, watching birds, looking for the birds whose lives we follow (they have a band so we can find them), taking pictures and looking for whales. By noon I am back in the tent updating the webpage and doing camp chores, answering emails and sorting my pictures. Then it is dinner, some reading time and bed by 11pm.”

“Three things I can’t live without in Antarctica? My favorite chocolate bars, my journal, and my camera.”

Skype in the Classroom

Ms Rosenstein’s class from Ardsley, New York had the chance to speak with Jean Pennycook earlier this year and got a private tour of the penguin colony. The pupils also took part in the Design a Flag for the Field Station program: an initiative led by Pennycook in which children get to send the flag they’ve designed all the way to Antarctica to be flown near the breeding colony. Their flag was closely inspected by Slider, the penguin!

Skype in the ClassroomFollowing the call with Antarctica, Ms Rosenstein received this heartfelt thank you note from the parent of one of her pupils, describing the impact the Skype video call with Antarctica had on their son:

“I can’t thank you enough for your amazing teaching skills and incredible approach, through Skype, to teach and engage the kids about geography. My son was so passionate, and excited about his call to Antarctica. He told me about the temperature, the science work that is taking place there, the teams of people, the penguins – he got to see the penguins!!, the fact that there was no electricity but Jean Pennycook was on a tablet, etc. That night, we both went to bed smiling. He was smiling because he learned something so different and so exciting, and not only that, he got to SEE it, and know it’s not just words in a book.”

Jean Pennycook’s expedition to Antarctica is coming to an end for this year, but make sure to keep an eye on the Skype in the Classroom website for more opportunities to connect with her and the penguins during her next trip, or check out other field trip opportunities over Skype.

To learn more about the work of Jean Pennycook and her team, head over to their website. And for regular updates and lots of great penguin pictures, check out their Facebook page.

From the top of the world to the bottom of the ocean, and now from the coldest continent on earth – we’re eager to see where you’ll take your next Skype call from. To share your story, tag us #Skype on social media.