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"Poles Together" Outreach and Education Workshop for International Polar Year (IPY)

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Breakout Sessions

The core activity of the workshop was a series of three breakout sessions that allowed people to self-select the group they wanted to participate in based on their interests and background. See recommendations below.

The first round of breakouts was focused on the six scientific themes identified through the ICSU and WMO planning process. These themes are:

1. To determine the present environmental status of the polar regions by quantifying their spatial and temporal variability.

2. To quantify, and understand, past and present environmental and human change in the polar regions in order to improve predictions.

3. To advance our understanding of polar - global interactions by studying teleconnections on all scales.

4. To investigate the unknowns at the frontiers of science in the polar regions.

5. To use the unique vantage point of the polar regions to develop and enhance observatories studying the Earth's inner core, the Earth's magnetic field, geospace, the Sun and beyond.

6. To investigate the cultural, historical, and social processes that shape the resilience and sustainability of circumpolar human societies, and to identify their unique contributions to global cultural diversity and citizenship.

The second round of breakouts focused on key audiences identified through the IPY planning process. These audiences are:

Scientific Research Community: promoting polar research within the scientific community; building inter-disciplinary or bipolar links

  1. Young and Potential New Polar Researchers: recruiting new and future research scientists and collaborators; increasing awareness at post-secondary
  2. Pre-university Education Community: Infusing learning and creating interest for science with the excitement of discovery of the polar regions.
  3. Arctic Communities: Strengthen dialogue and links between Arctic communities and the research community in general.
  4. Decision-makers: Informing decision-makers, parliamentarians, legislators, policy-makers and other organizations on the role and importance of the Polar Regions ; informing research activity decision-makers.

The final breakout group themes were determined after an open discussion by all the participants on the last day. These groups were:

    • Data in IPY Education and Outreach
    • Field Experience Exhibitions
    • Visual Media
    • K-12 Education Audiences
    • Expeditions
    • Encouraging Young Scientists
    • Umbrella Group (overarching organizational issues)

In addition, many of the international participants met informally on their own on Friday afternoon to discuss the potential for a similar planning meeting in Europe.

Throughout the workshop, an online tool called a SWIKI was used for organizational purposes to provide guidance for facilitators and allow note-takers to report on the group’s discussions and recommendations. Access to the password-protected SWIKI is available upon request.

After each breakout session, the entire group convened and listened to representatives from each breakout report-out about their discussions. Many of the discussions and recommendations parallel those from the Bridging the Poles workshop:


Following are some of the key highlights and recommendations from the breakout sessions:


Funding uncertainties
A recurring concern in many of the breakouts was the issue of funding for IPY education and outreach. Renee Crain from the National Science Foundation had cautioned during her presentation in the “Funding Futures” panel discussion that $1-2 million would be likely available for IPY education in the forthcoming solicitation. (Note: The IPY solicitation, which was released in January, 2006 with a May 1, 2006 deadline, will be in the $12 million range for fiscal year 2006 including research, education and outreach for IPY, and $62 million has been budgeted by NSF in 2007 “to address major challenges in polar research.” In Canada, $150 million Canadian has been allocated for the entire IPY period.)

Leverage existing programs and networks
Many of the breakouts discussed the need, given the tight time frame and uncertainties on funding, to leverage existing programs and materials whenever possible. For example, the Teachers Exploring Antarctica (TEA) network, while no longer funded, still have many enthusiastic science teachers who could become ambassadors for IPY education efforts. The GLOBE program was mentioned in many breakouts as being a natural partner for IPY education. Also, online resources identified in the Bridging the Poles workshop or available through digital library collections such as DLESE should be highlighted. The numerous scientific projects and organizations involved with various aspects of polar research should likewise be linked to education and communication efforts.

Scaling expectations
Informal science education projects, such as exhibits, often require sizeable budgets and years of development. Likewise, formal science education programs, such as curriculum development, may require years of development and testing. Several discussions focused on developing small, traveling exhibits instead of massive projects, and adding-value to existing curriculum rather than attempting to develop entirely new programs. Polar film festivals could also be developed and shared with other communities in a cost-effective manner.

Polar ambassadors
Developing a cadre of IPY ambassadors, including members of polar communities, who are willing and able to give presentations about polar regions and IPY, was identified as a strategy for helping to spread the word about IPY.

Coordinating center and website
The recommendation for a national level center and website to help facilitate “one-stop shopping” for IPY education and outreach materials was a recurring theme. David Carlson mentioned in his keynote address plans for an IPY education and outreach coordinator who would be based in the United Kingdom at Cambridge, where the IPY Programme Office is located, who would assist efforts at the international level and assist national committees and coordinators. The above-mentioned NSF solicitation requests proposals for a US IPY coordinating center for formal and informal education. On a related note, a collection of existing polar resources, reviewed for scientific accuracy and currency, as well as a central archive of video footage from IPY field activities was considered a priority by the visual media breakout and others.

Polar Literacy
One of the recommendations that emerged from the umbrella group was to encourage NOAA and other relevant agencies to support through broad community involvement the development of a framework for polar literacy. Such a framework will help formal and informal education efforts as well as broader outreach and communication in conveying polar dynamics and their global linkages. Misconceptions about polar regions and their seasonal and environmental extremes will need to be considered in developing such a framework. Questions should be part of that discussion include: What are some of the key concepts relating to polar science in general and IPY activities in particular that need to be conveyed, especially to education audiences? How does polar literacy relate to the broader theme of environmental literacy, science literacy and on-going efforts to define ocean literacy?

Polar Snapshot
IPY offers an opportunity to capture the current status of polar regions using a wide array of modern technologies. Much of the excitement that can be conveyed to broad audiences during IPY will be generated by using digital media to communicate the findings, through television programs and potentially involving celebrities who can help communicate IPY activities to broad audiences. But in order to show change, such as in seasonal sea ice or glacial melting, the snapshots need to be compared to past baseline data, including past IPY data and more recent studies, in order to provide perspective.

Polar Canaries and Global Linkages
Participants discussed the use of metaphors in communicating the global linkages of polar regions, and it was suggested that they are like “canaries in a coal mine,” warning the world of dangerous climatic and environmental changes. However, not all metaphors translate well, whether from one language or one audience to another. Being able to simply and clearly communicate, through metaphor, visualizations and activities, why polar regions are integral to the Earth system and relevant to people no matter where they live will be one of the biggest challenges for IPY EOC. There were discussions on themes and messages for IPY, such as “Two Poles, One Earth,” and one participant developed an alternative IPY logo using an Arctic tern. After the workshop, individuals familiar with the difficulties in the process of adopting the existing logo cautioned that it would be difficult at best to replace the existing logo.

The Great Unknown
IPY offers a timely opportunity to showcase scientific inquiry in action, and to demonstrate the process of how researchers examine the known in order to probe the unknown. The inherent mystique of the polar regions of the world, one of the final frontiers on the planet, can be captured and conveyed to global audiences using modern digital technology and tools. However large the potential for IPY to reach broad audiences, the biggest unknown remains what will be feasible with so little time left to prepare and limited availability of funds.

Data stories and strategies
Explaining how data are collected, analyzed, modeled, reviewed and communicated is an important component of science education. The wide range of research questions, technologies, and projects covered in IPY are ideal for showing the “who, what, where, how, when, why” of scientific inquiry to education audiences. A number of ideas were explored for linking IPY data with education during the Poles Together workshop, including one that resulted in an IPY proposal entitled “Integrated Communication, Education and Evaluation,” or ICEE:

Evaluation and assessment
In order to gauge the effectiveness of a strategy, it is crucial to measure progress (or lack thereof) on a regular basis. The Poles Together workshop’s evaluation provided an initial “snapshot” of who was attending and why, daily feedback allowed some aspects of the workshops to be revised, and the final evaluation given the planners, participants and others a sense to how successful the workshop was in meeting its goals. The importance of evaluating programs and strategies, and assessing the needs of target audiences, will be key to the success of IPY efforts.

IPY should ideally engage diverse audiences as well as show the diversity of jobs, professional backgrounds and experience of those directly participating in IPY activities. Scientists with non-traditional and/or unusual backgrounds may help inspire students to pursue science education or careers themselves. Moreover, engaging underrepresented individuals, especially from non-polar regions, will be key to broad outreach and education.

Umbrella Group
A large breakout group on the final day discussed how to continue the momentum of the workshop by working with the IPY Programme Office to develop key messages and themes for IPY education, outreach and communication, to seek funding from private foundations for related activities, and to encourage the development of key concepts relating to polar literacy (see below). The group met several times in the fall of 2005, and notes of these meetings are available upon request. Currently the group is inactive pending developments and guidance from the IPY Programme Office.

The organizers of the workshop were largely unsuccessful and overly optimistic at having the final breakout groups develop action plans that were in theory to include considerations on diversity, logistics, integration of efforts, user services, management and funding, marketing, and infrastructure.