Educators on Expedition: Teaching the Language of Science Through Photos

The following post was written by 2014 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Nichole Von Haden during her expedition to Antarctica. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program is a professional development opportunity made possible by a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Education.

Expedition Location: Antarctica

Shackelton Shot-crop
2014 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Nichole Von Haden onboard National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica. Photograph by H. Mary Place

“If the photograph reminds you of a moment in time, it’s doing its job,” advised Steve Morello, our photo instructor aboard the National Geographic Explorer, as we prepared our cameras for our first landing in Antarctica. “Look for things that tell a story,” he said, “and think of your equipment in terms of what it can do [to make that happen].”

In an environment as incredible as Antarctica, where words often fail to articulate the magnitude of experience, shifting our photographic approach—from that of “taking photos” that capture a subject to “making images” that tell a story—is key. Upon returning home, it has also guided me in bringing this experience to life for students and teachers in our classrooms and in reaching out to our local community in the hopes of connecting them with this polar ecosystem.

Using the images I made and the information I gathered while on expedition to Antarctica as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I have been able to pique students’ interest and generate questions that may guide them toward a deeper investigation of this remote region of our planet. These images have also provided the perfect vehicle for engaging in story-telling about this region. In my experience, telling stories of Antarctica has been a powerful way to connect with others and to feel a sense of responsibility to an environment that exists so far away from our immediate locale.

Day 6 Ice Bridge-crop
The icebergs in this area are beautifully sculpted by the elements. This particular iceberg has been carved into a bridge by the water in which it floats. Photograph by Nichole Von Haden
Antarctic Sphinx at Cierva Cove-crop
The icebergs in this area are beautifully sculpted by the elements. This particular iceberg resembled what we would consider the Antarctic version of the Sphinx. Photograph by Nichole Von Haden

Images of the cerulean streaks across glaciers and icebergs cause students to wonder why the snow looks so different from anything they have seen in their own environment. Their questions have led me to tell stories about hearing the snap, crackle and pop of compressing snow and witnessing the thunder of a calving glacier. This has opened up conversations about compacted ice and light refraction, flowing glaciers, and the impact of melting polar ice on the environment.

Penguin and Baby at Port Lockroy-crop
This penguin is tending to two babies while the partner is off at sea foraging for food. If they are lucky, both will be well-fed by krill or fish and protected from the predatory skuas that hover around penguin colonies. Photograph by Nichole Von Haden

Images of penguins tending to their eggs and babies cause students to wonder about the lifecycles and behavior of these birds, which are so exotic to children living in the United States. Their questions have led me to tell stories of penguins traveling penguin highways to forage for food, of their stealing rocks to build nests for their babies, and of the predatory skuas snatching penguin eggs. This has opened up conversations about penguin colonies, food chains, and the effects of climate change on penguin populations.

Whale Watching-crop
The sun sparkled on the water as we searched for whales in the open water. Photograph by Nichole Von Haden

Images of the pristine seas of the Antarctic region cause students to wonder how the waters are so clear and what kind of marine life calls this beautiful place home. Their questions have led me to tell stories of meeting marine biologists on the expedition and to show videos of the amazing undersea world recorded by naturalists on the ship. This has opened up conversations about exploration, pollution, and sustainability in our ecosystem.

Engaging students in meaningful conversations about this majestic polar region is simply the beginning. As educators, we can use images and students’ questions about them to create meaningful learning opportunities for students. Approaching unit design through the lens of inquiry and student-centered instruction, we can give students authentic opportunities to learn about themselves and the world around them.

Teaching students how to create images that tell a story adds more depth to their studies and opens up opportunities for their learning to extend into the community. Fortunately, with today’s cell phone, camera, and internet technology, making and uploading powerful images is easier than ever! Through photography, students can observe and analyze their local environment. They can document evidence of sustainability and identify areas of improvement in the local ecosystem.

With research and local investigation, students can even become advocates in their own communities, using their images to bring their stories to life for a wider audience. This outreach could extend further to a global audience through public forums in social media, class websites, or blogs. Acting as citizen scientists and using technology that is readily available, our students have the ability to impact policies to protect our environment both locally and globally!

Penguin and Mountains-crop
A lone Gentoo penguin standing in the midnight sun at Danko Island. Having returned from foraging food in the open water, this penguin will hike up the steep elevation to the penguin colony where it will take over nesting duties, if it has a partner and eggs. Photograph by Nichole Von Haden

Learn more about Nichole’s experience and follow her blog here.

This post is one of our selected stories from teachers who have seen incredible environments — to bring the experience back to their students. We thank all of you who applied for the 2015 program, and we look forward to a new year of adventure ahead! 

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