What’s been happening since I got back from Antarctica?

It has been a busy few months since I got back from Antarctica. Even though the expedition is over there has been a lot to do.  After all, the whole ethos of the Fuchs Foundation is to encourage more young people to take an interest in science and geography.  So what have I done to give feedback from the fantastic experience that was the Fuchs Foundation Antarctic Expedition 2007? I have been busy doing talks and lectures including those to my own students, staff and the Parent Teacher Association who all kindly supported me in the build up to the expedition and while I was there.  I have visited other schools including Longley Park Primary School, Ballyclare High School, Ecclesall Infant School, and did an evening lecture as part of National Science week.  Also, I did a talk at my running club, Totley AC who supported me with my fundraising.  Phil and I led a session at the Geographical Association Annual Conference and all four of us (the teachers) fed back some of our findings to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.  I am hoping to get some Y12 students into the labs at Sheffield University in the not too distant future to analyse some samples that I collected and to raise their awareness about science and geography related courses at university.  Finally, we have prepared resources based on our science projects and these are available on the Fuchs Foundation website www.fuchsfoundation.org under ‘Educational Resources'. 


One to watch! Antarctica Week on Teachers TV

As part of Antarctica Week (31st March – 6th April), Teachers TV is featuring the Fuchs Foundation Antarctic Expedition.  As well as the expedition itself, the films follow our preparations including fundraising and training. Also, there are four Antarctica-related pupil programmes, featuring footage and video diaries from our expedition, which cover science, geography and citizenship at different key stages.  You can watch them on Teachers TV or online by following the links below.

Sub-Zero Teachers – Preparing for Antarctica

The episode follows our preparation for this once in a lifetime experience and includes includes fundraising and training sessions on Europe’s largest ice-cap in Norway. Click here to watch it. http://www.teachers.tv/video/25246  

Sub-Zero Teachers – Surviving in Antarctica

In this programme, we come to terms with living in gruelling conditions of -65 degree temperatures and how we can complete our science projects in such a harsh environment. Click here to watch it.  http://www.teachers.tv/video/25249

A Future in the Balance

This programme is designed to encourage discussion in citizenship lessons.  It is a pupil programme that explores the key political and environmental issues that continue to surround Antarctica. Click here to watch it. http://www.teachers.tv/video/25212  

Science Teachers in the Freezer

Why is the continent of Antarctica perfect for scientific research? Find out by watching two of our science experiments.  Click here to watch it. http://www.teachers.tv/video/25266

Geography Teachers in the Freezer

Using case studies from both Norway and Antartica, this pupil programme explores the geology of glaciers and reveals the many challenges of undertaking fieldwork in extreme climates.  Click here to watch it.  http://www.teachers.tv/video/25270

Teachers in the Freezer

This programme demonstrates how humans are able to live in Antarctica. What is the climate like, and what does it take to live in the harshest conditions on the planet?  Click here to watch it.  http://www.teachers.tv/video/25202

Some great programmes and teaching resources so get watching.

Teachers TV Programmes – Monday 31st March 2008

You are all keen and eager to see us on Teachers TV.  Although the times will remain the same as in the previous blog entry, the programme titles have been revised so watch out for the following in TV listings…

Antarctica Pupil Programme: A Future in the Balance

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Science Teachers in the Freezer

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Geography Teachers in the Freezer

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Teachers in the Freezer

These programmes will be repeated on Saturday 5 April from 4.00pm to 5.00pm (Freeview).


Fuchs Expedition on TV

A few of you have asked about when we will be starring on TV. Well, the good news is that it’s not that far away.

Antarctica: Sub-Zero Teachers (Episode 1) will premiere on Teachers TV, the digital channel for those in education, on Monday 31 March 2008 at 4.30pm (available on Freeview).  It will also be shown in primetime on Monday 31 March 2008 at 8.30pm.  Antarctica: Sub-Zero Teachers (Episode 1) will transmit the following day in the same time slots, on Tuesday 1 April 2008 at 4.30pm (available on Freeview) and 8.30pm.

There will be four 15-minute pupil programmes.  These programmes will premiere, back-to-back, on Monday 31 March 2008 between 9pm and 10pm, as follows:

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Secondary Citizenship  (Monday 31 March 2008 at 9pm)

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Secondary Science (Monday 31 March 2008 at 9.15pm)

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Secondary Geography (Monday 31 March 2008 at 9.30pm)

Antarctica Pupil Programme: Primary Science and Geography (Monday 31 March 2008 at 9.45pm)


Settling back into ‘life as a teacher’

I’ve been back at school for just over a week and people keep saying “I bet you feel like you haven’t been away?”  I definately feel like I have been away but it’s amazing how quickly you settle back into old routines.  The response since I got back has been fantastic and it was clear that people were following my progress and wishing me well even though I didn’t speak to them.  Some people looked exceptionally surprised (and disappointed) when they saw me and realised that I still have all my fingers and toes and have no real ailments.  I thought I would have more time to myself now that the expedition is over but I was wrong. I’ve been busy doing interviews and giving talks and presentations.  I am heading to Sheffield University next week with my samples and I will plan how to get school students into the university to help with analysis.  I have finalised details of the ecological footprint and hope to develop some resources fairly soon.  We’ve been on Channel 5 News last week and there is a chance I will be on Yorkshire TV next week.  The programme for Teachers TV is due out in March so the pressure is on to get resources developed in time for that.  Also, we are presenting some of our findings at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge in March so it’s fairly busy. I’ve had a chance to read through lots of the questions and jokes and come to a decision for the competitions.  The prize for the best question goes to Silvan in Y7.  Silvan actually emailed several good questions including some about how to work out the local time.  One of the posters in my classroom says “The best learners ask the best questions” and I keep stressing to students that it isn’t about knowing the right answer, it’s about asking the right question.  The prize for the best joke goes to Georgia with her mathematical joke (see jokes page).  All the jokes made me laugh but this was one that I hadn’t heard before and I thought it was clever. Also, I read it at a time when I was quite low (tired, cold, fed up) so it made me laugh and raised my spirits. You both need to see me to get your prize – as a clue it’s fluffy and penguin like. The next blog entry will be when I have more science results.

Home at last

I have finally made it back to Sheffield, 54 days after leaving for the trip of a lifetime.  I’m glad to say that I am fit and well with no signs of illness or injury – except perhaps a little tired after all the travelling and the science testing in Portsmouth yesterday.    I’ve spent several hours doing my washing the worst part of which was removing all the dirty kit from my bag.  Things don’t really smell much in the cold Antarctic conditions and nobody is really that bothered anyway but under normal conditions that we are used to in the UK dirty kit really mings.  I had planned to do my Christmas shopping in Chile but due to our delay in Antarctica, presents will have to be from the UK and bought tomorrow! 

Now that the expedition has come to an end I won’t be updating the blog as regularly.  However, there will be some more entries.  There is still lots to do such as analysing the science results and giving talks to share my experiences.  I already have three booked in so over Christmas I will be sorting my photos.  Also there is the excitement of the ‘best question’ and ‘best joke competition’ which ran at Tapton School.  I will have a think about the winners over the Xmas holidays and post results on the blog. 

I’ve had a look at the Tapton School website www.taptonschool.co.uk and would like to say a huge thanks to all the students who wrote updates – for the website and Wednesday letter.  You have been fantastic so make sure you see me in school as I have a small present for each of you to say thanks.  Finally a huge thanks to everyone who has been so supportive.  I won’t mention everyone by name but particular thanks to Angus, Tapton School and Dr Smith, Ballyclare High School, Andy Hodson at Sheffield University, Steve Bull, Ann and Peter Fuchs and finally Phil, Ian, Amy, Carolyn and Carl who I shared such a fantastic experience with.

Thieves spoil Portsmouth testing

When I woke up this morning I couldn’t work out where I was.  It took me several minutes to realise that I was in a hotel in Portsmouth on the last day that we would be together as a team.  It was an early start (7.30am) as two days of testing had to be condensed into one because of our delay in Antarctica.  We did the same tests as before, with the idea that we would be able to compare our physiology before and after the expedition.  How (if at all) would or diet, the climate and our physical exercise affect our bodies?  Would these things affect the male and female members of the expedition team in the same way?  So what did we find out?…  Well, really it is too soon to say without full analysis of the results but for me there were some interesting results.  The first test was a thermal sensitivity test.  I sat with my finger on a metal pad and as it was warmed and cooled I had to say whether I could feel the changes in temperature.  Mike Tipton who ran the experiment altered the changes by different increments to see whether I could detect very small changes in temperature.  Chatting to Mike it appears that I have become much more sensitive! to changes in temerature.  I will have to wait and see if this was common among the other teachers.  Such a test is interesting because if for example I had got a frostbite injury, I would have become less sensitive – so that’s reassuring news for my mum and dad!  On the VO2 max test I appeared to have much the same level of fitness.  However, what was interesting was that for the same level of work (on the exercise bike), my heart gave a lower BPM (beats per minute) reading and this appeared to happen to Phil, Amy and Ian too.  Mike will help us analyse if there is significance to these results.  The anthropomorphic profile looks at the shape of your body.  Overall I gained 2kg in weight.  Further analysis will reveal if this is 2kg of muscle or 2kg of fat.  The skinfold measurements showed that I had lost weight on my thighs and put on weight round my waist.  Finally, the dreaded null zone test in the freezer where you cycle until you sweat and then sit there until you shiver!!  The most unpleasant thing about the experiment is not that you have to sit in the freezer for over an hour but that you have a thermometer inserted into your bottom.  All in the name of science I kept telling myself.  This test revealed that, under the same conditions, I started to sweat after 20 minutes of cycling in the freezer as opposed to after 40 minutes before the expedition.  Again I will have to wait for further analysis to see if these results are significant and common among all four teachers.  We left the university to head home only to find that the minibus containing some of our kit had been broken into.  The thieves took nothing of any value to anyone except us and we were devastated to find that Amy’s lichen samples that she had worked so hard to get had been taken.  We are hopeful that they will be returned although someone finding the rucksack containing them may not realise their significance.  It was a sad end to what has been a fantastic expedition and the bus was silent as we drove north.

Arrival in the UK – Hurray!

When is the true end of this expedition? Is it now that we are back on UK soil? We still have to travel to Portsmouth for a final round of tests before we can really begin our Christmas break and there are still many things to do to process and analyse the results of all our experiments and to study the materials that we have collected.

It was a strange experience to leave Santiago in midsummer with temperatures over 30 degrees and to arrive back to an English winter. I still find it odd to experience darkness again after nearly 40 days of continuous daylight. Our 12 hour flight from Santiago to Madrid was enlivened by the in-flight movies, reading, writing, doing puzzles and attempts (with various degrees of success) to sleep. The newspaper headlines announcing impending chaos on Road, Rail and Air didn’t help our mood when we were delayed at Madrid. In the end we touched down at Heathrow at 5.33 pm. Family, friends, Steve Bull (the organiser of the expedition), Peter and Ann Fuchs and our intrepid cameraman, Richard Wyllie, and his colleague from Brook Lapping, came to see us arrive. It was a great arrival on our home ground at last. The best bit was the ‘surprise’ of my boyfriend being there.  While in the baggage reclaim I phoned my parents to say hello after almost two months.  My dad asked me “Was it a nice surprise to see Angus?”  When I said he would be at work there was a long pause and then I realised so I speeded up through customs and gave him a huge hug.  It was fantastic to see him again.  People have said to us that it is sometimes harder for friends and family who are left at home as they go about their usual daily lives, whereas for us it’s all new and exciting with different challenges to meet.  I can understand that and so I am exceptionally grateful to all my friends, family and colleagues who have offered so many words of encouragment.

Best Antarctica Moments

20071219ruthlabelling.jpgDespite severe tiredness and the impending doom of 35 hours of travelling (culminating with the M25, at rush hour, on the Friday before Christmas!!) the entire team are busy packing. Our personal kit is lying like a layer of dust across two dormitories and the group kit has filled the landing, the hall and the garden. Slowly it is being sorted, packed and labelled so that at later today we are ready to head for Punta Arenas airport. From there we will fly to Santiago, then to Madrid, then onto Heathrow, arriving at about 16.30 tomorrow. However, even once we are back in the UK it’s not home time; we’re heading straight to Portsmouth for physiological testing all day on Saturday. Finally, once the testing is over, the team will, for the first time in 53 days, head their separate ways.

As we prepare to fly back to the UK it is time for me to reflect on what we have achieved. After 8 days of delay due to the bad weather I am heading my way back to the UK arriving back at Heathrow tomorrow. Despite the recent bad weather and confinement to our tents I am glad to say that it has been a fantastic experience. My top three moments have been: 

1) Stepping off the plane in Antarctica on the 10th of November and getting a big hug from Carolyn, our expedition leader. Finally after almost two years of preparations I had made it to Antarctica. Thanks to all of you who have supported me and made it possible.

2) Speaking to students on the phone on the 4th of December. The whole ethos of the expedition is to encourage more young people to take an interest in science and Geography. Actually speaking to students who asked some excellent questions made me feel that we were achieving that. 

3) The Twin Otter flight into Henderson Glacier on the 16th of November. Getting a view from the air for 20 minutes of the vast expanse of the Antarctica made me feel humble. I have come to learn over the last week that this is one of the few places in the world where mother nature is still in control. 

I am hoping that my top moment number 4 will be getting on the plane later today and making it back to the UK in time for Christmas to be with friends and family. I am really looking forward to seeing you all. 

I will be travelling for most of tomorrow getting back to London and then straight down to Portsmouth for a full day of testing (yes more sitting in a freezer!). Thank you for all your messages including Bob, Sue, Andy, Chris and Susan. I hope Y12 have mastered nearest neighbour analysis and that the Christmas decorations look good. Finally, Happy Birthday today to Matthew 9WW and Alice 8IA.

Punta Arenas

20071218theteachersdepartantarctica.jpgAfter 39 days on the ice we have finally arrived back in Punta Arenas. It was a close call as I woke to strong winds which blew snow over Amy’s footsteps in a matter of minutes. She got up to take a call at 5.30am from the Leister Mercury and reported back that the atmosphere was tense in the mess tent but that they were hopeful for a flight. I went to experience the atmosphere myself and sipped on a cup of coffee as people paced up and down, ran their fingers through their hair and watched as anyone came through the door – waiting for the crucial decision. At 9.30am we were told that the Ilyushin was in the air with an ETA of 13.05. Hurray!! Now that I am back in Punta, it is a fantastic feeling to have my feet back on tarmac and know that I will be back home in time for Xmas. However, I was sad as I packed up my tent for the last time. It had been my home and safe haven for the last 37 nights, providing shelter and relative warmth, and I couldn’t have wished for a better tent partner. We said our farewells to the ALE staff and other clients who we have come to know well over the past eight days of delay. I will miss their company, humour and endless string of stories of life, love and adventure all over the world. As we touched down in Punta and the doors of the plane opened I smelt the rain – the first in over 40 days. I then had the pleasant experience at the airport of sitting on a proper toilet and later the first shower for 40 days! Tomorrow we will start heading back to the UK and all being well arriving back at Heathrow on Friday afternoon/evening. Happy birthday today to Eliot 13BB and Eleanor 11DO