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Creating Google Photospheres

We are just experimenting with Google Photospheres as part of the digital media toolkit we use to bring the world to the classroom. More soon!

Field science: water sampling

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“There’s no point in doing oceanography if you don’t know what the temperature and salinity are doing. It sets the scene for all the other measurements and samples you take,” remarks Dr Helen Findlay.

We are out in the boat again on Kongsfjorden, the inlet running from the Atlantic Ocean to the Kongsbreen glacier and edging past the science village of Ny Ålesund.

It is easy to forget that the ocean is not just a massive bathtub, but contains different layers of water with different properties at different depths. Internal waves ripple through it and internal rivers run through our seas and oceans. There are two main instruments used for water sampling and they allow scientists to map the water column.

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The first instrument is a niskin bottle. To the untrained eye, it looks like a length of drainpipe with elasticated ends. The niskin bottle has been used for sampling in the polar waters since 1910, when it was designed by Fritjof Nansen and Otto Sverdrup.

The bottle is lowered into the cold dark waters of the fjord on the winch, ends held back, to the desired sampling depth. At each waypoint along the fjord, Helen would take samples at a variety of depths, surface, 15 metres, 25 metres, etc. When the niskin bottle is at the desired depth, a small brass weight, known as a ‘messenger’ is sent down the wire to snap the ends closed and capture a sample of seawater at specific depths.

This is then drawn back to the surface and carefully decanted into obsessively labelled bottles. Helen is studying the carbonate and nutrient (e.g. nitrates and phosphates) content of the water samples. Helen adds mercuric chloride to the samples, which kills any microorganisms, to ensure that the levels of carbonate do not change after sampling has take place.

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The other instrument that is used is a CTD, standing for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth. Again lowered over the side of the boat using a winch, the CTD is used to create a profile of the water column and its important physical properties.

These samples and data sets will then be analysed later to give Helen and the team a better understanding of the waters of Kongsfjorden.

Interactive krill lab

Reflections on field science

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We head out on a small research vessel. Spray hits the deck riming instantly. Views slide past, slightly bleached in the head-on sun. Busyness and chatter. Helen and Alexey, two of the researchers at Ny Ålesund, labelling bottles for the water sampling that we’ll be collecting.

It will be good to get up further into the fjord beyond the vicinity of the base. A mini-expedition in itself. Small team, set purpose, easy camaraderie cut with reflective silence and concentration.

Normality and extremity nestle naturally. The cabin is warm. The table strewn with the necessities of our job. Radios, log-book, balaclavas, tea and biscuits.

The windows are salt sprayed and the pristine view grimy, but it will be a pleasure more so to step back into cold and clarity. A sharpness for all the senses.

The scene still resides in the realm of academia. Talk of funding applications, grant programmes, pan-European initiatives and studentships. For those who come here on a regular basis, this must seem normal, no distractions by the landscape. Maybe a pod of beluga would turn eyes and imaginations for a moment.

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It’s their focus that is admirable. Single-minded, chirpy, rhythmic filling of sample bottles, obsessive labelling, routines whetted through hard-won experience. No complaining, no drama, a quiet everydayness about their actions.

This is how your newspaper science headlines are made. Through a series of measurements taken by very unassuming men and women going about their daily work in extreme places.

The head of the fjord is divided into sections, the crystal blue sharp-edged snout of the main glacier, peaks, ridges and cliffs. More bird life out here and the waters are gently rippled. Auks, fulmars and eiders scud along the waves, searching for food.

The rumble of the generator, a constant acoustic judder, even when stationary and engines off. There was a short time knocking against bergy bits, a mildly alarming thwack, but Trond, our skipper laughs and noses carefully on.

Alexey comes into the cabin every couple of minutes with a small sample bottle that is then hidden under a black polystyrene lid, Norwegian Polar Institute, Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems emblazoned on the side.

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Helen has her bottles. Small difficulties caused by the cold. The roll of insulating tape to bind up the samples has frozen and the plastic is now brittle and snaps. Almost impossible to peel a strip without it just becoming a collection of black plastic flecks under your fingernail. Trond looks to help and holds the tape in the warmth of the generator exhaust, but the problem persists.

The warmth of the cabin and the lull of the waters, allow me some much needed rest, and then it is out again, filming, photographing, recording. Making some sense of this extraordinary routine.

Real science: searching for krill

The science team are investigating the impact that ocean acidification might have on the krill population in the Arctic. Investigating small marine invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain is important as these lay the foundation for all the larger life in the marine environment here.

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The first step for the research is to find the krill. Then in the next days and weeks they will be exposed to different pH levels, replicating potential future changes caused by ocean acidification. The first couple of trawls hadn’t been great, and the team need between 350-400 individuals to make sure that the sample size is large enough.

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The support team at King’s Bay (the managing company for the science bases at Ny Alesund) had a boat ready at short notice, and so with Helen, Piero and Theresa, we headed out into the waters of Kongsfjorden. It was eerily calm, and still light from 6.30pm through to 9.30pm to search for krill. The first two trawls yielded a few, thirty at best, but the last has given the science team a decent batch. There is a fair bit of luck involved as no one on the boat was an excellent krill fisher.

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The krill were carefully collected from the net and placed in sample boxes to be transported back to the lab. Over the next few days, we’ll be following the science experiments.

See Digital Explorer resource bank for more classroom resources and background on ocean acidification.

Flying north

The Arctic is a long way away both physically and in the lands of the imagination. From the Digital Explorer offices in London to the science base at Ny Alesund is a one and a half day journey, flying via Oslo and then to the Svalbard archipelago and a night in the town of Longyearbyen.

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At this time of year, with the Arctic sun not due to set again until the end of August, the journey is odder still. Growing up in temperate climates like the UK, I have etched on my mind that the North is cold and sunless, dark days and nights and endless winter. Likewise, the sun is something that rises in the East and sets in the West, transcribing a high arc through dawn, noon and dusk.

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The flight from Oslo left towards nine in the evening and the sun had already set. But flying north over the land then sea, the sun got brighter and brighter as we neared midnight. This was so contrary to all my experience. Flying north towards the sun.

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We look forward to having you with us on the #FrozenOceansLive journey as we share life and science with schools around the world.

New multimedia web app launched

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Digital Explorer has just launched a new multimedia web app, the [de] Student Player. The web app hosts 100s of photos, videos and graphics from a variety of expeditions and projects around the world. The [de] Student Player is designed to be used on desktops, laptops and tablet computers.

It is designed both for front of classroom use by teachers and independent learning for students.

Media items are grouped around themes relating to the resources…

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And are labelled using common hashtags both for curriculum subjects and topics…

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Clicking on a media item shows additional information – great for that extra background on a new species or for student-led learning…

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When photos and videos are added to the lesson area, they can then be played full-screen for perfectly personalised lessons…

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Oh and did we say it’s free?

Create Share and Explore

Here at Digital Explorer we are always looking for new ways to encourage a more interactive learning experience.
Today we have been playing around with Thinglink.

Thinglink is a free website that helps you create and discover rich images. Every image can be linked to create a pathway for information. This way of tying together information in a creative and interactive way makes Thinglink a perfect tool to be used in education.
So we thought we would give it a go…

Thinglink is a simple tool that enables a fun and explorative way of learning.

Its free to sign up. All you need is an email address/ twitter account. There is also a section specifically designed for education which enables you to store an unlimited number of images. This means you can always save your creations for next year!

1) So the first step is to select an image that you want to create as your base. This can be a graph, a map, or a classroom display.

2) Once you’ve chosen your image you can upload it from your hard drive, facebook, flickr or a URL. Once your image is uploaded you can give it a title.

3) So you’ve got your picture and a title, now you can start editing. Click on the element of your image that you want to link. Then you can copy and paste a URL to link it to an online resource, article or another image. Bellow this box there is a description box, you can use this box to explain the link to the image, or include facts and information.

4) The top left hand corner of the image box shows a search bar where you can link in videos, photos and music on your image.

5) Once your finished editing remember to save and then you can share your image on many different social media websites. You can also email your image or copy and paste the link into a PowerPoint and use in conjunction with your lesson. Simple!

It’s definitely worth checking out the browse function in the top right hand of the screen. You can search for specific images that relate to your lesson if you don’t want to create your own or just need a few ideas.

Thinglink enables teachers to create imaginative and unique experiences. This can be done through the annotation of graphs, or embedding the images into student blogs. Alternatively Thinglink could be used in lessons or as homework for students to design and demonstrate their own personal understanding of a topic.

Maybe we should have lobbied for wonder and not sustainability…

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“Why do you want to go back to the Arctic if it’s so cold and difficult?”

A very good question.

During a wonderful session with Hackney Pirates, an amazing after-school youth group, round the corner from the Digital Explorer office, I had recounted tales of life on the Catlin Arctic Survey, and this question caused me to reflect.

“Because on a still day the air is a cloud of fairy dust, like walking through a cloud of speckled diamonds, and when it snows cartoon flakes settle on your many layers of clothing, their perfect symmetry lasting a lifetime of seconds before dissolving. The light bends and shimmers, inverted rainbows cradle the sun and at night its never-setting rays turn the blown snow candy-floss shades. It’s a land of magic and mystery and nowhere else I have been compares.”

I am more careful now not to speak of the possible destruction of these fragile ecosystems when with primary school aged pupils. The schemes of work we now produce on the Arctic and soon the coral reef, leave the threats to the end. In this move, I have been much influenced by the work of David Sobel’s ‘Beyond Ecophobia’, George Monbiot’s ‘Feral’ and David Louv’s ‘Last Child in the Woods’.

During the hiatus of debate around the new curriculum and specifically the clamours for explicit teaching about sustainability, maybe we got it wrong. I don’t want to have to share today’s news of rapid decline in coral reefs or the Gazprom vs Greenpeace conflict in the Russian Arctic with primary school children and lay at their feet the burden of creating a better world.

I believe that there should be more place for wonder and that perversely, the new science curriculum, which many groups aimed to change (including Digital Explorer) provides these opportunities. With its emphasis on the local, on nature found in the school grounds, of growing and observing plants of understanding the life cycles of the creatures found under rocks or on the seashore, there is much we can work with.

It is unlikely we would have got ‘wonder’ into the curriculum, just as it was unlikely that sustainability would have been a core theme. But we have the chance now to subvert and support.

Subvert the proposed rigour into wonder and support all those primary school teachers in creating those moments of wonder for their pupils. Sustainability can wait and maybe the ‘adults’ could show some leadership before pushing the need to change on our children.

With all the talk of ecosystem services, do we lose track of magic? Let’s fight for wonder in the classroom.

EMSEA Conference 2013 presentation

Here are the slides for the presentation given by Jamie B-D at the EMSEA conference in Plymouth…