5 February 2018

A win-win teacher-researcher partnership: teachers working with IceCube at the South Pole

Posted by shanlon

 By James Madsen

Summer 2017 UWRF UB instructor team: UWRF student Jon Incha, and teachers Kate Miller, Lesley Anderson, India Carlson, Steve Stevenoski and Eric Muhs. All except Carlson and Incha have Antarctic experience. (Photo by Kate Miller)

What’s it like to live and work in one of the most remote and extreme places on Earth? Thanks to a partnership between the IceCube Collaboration and PolarTREC, six teachers in the last decade now know. Our goal is to make the South Pole deployment as productive as possible.

PolarTREC, an NSF-funded program that pairs 12-18 teachers with polar researchers annually, nurtures a growing community of people interested in the Polar Regions. PolarTREC helps recruit and train the teachers and hosts their project pages that including, blogs, videos, and pictures from the field as well as bios and classroom and/or informal science activities.

Training for deployment includes a week in Alaska with the new cohort of PolarTREC teachers, and two weeks in the summer at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF) working with previous IceCube PolarTREC teachers. Together, they design and teach a two-week science enrichment course for high school students in the UWRF Upward Bound (UB) program. This keeps alumni teachers engaged; they pass on their knowledge about deploying to the South Pole, about IceCube science, and about creative ways to bring this cutting-edge science to the classroom.

Working with teachers has taught us a lot about how to bring astrophysics to students in an engaging way. Together we developed a narrative arc approach that ends with neutrinos but starts with more accessible, familiar topics.

UWRF UB students working on their fashion creations. (Photo by Kate Miller)

Last summer the UB theme was designing and building, with the students making a garment with embedded LEDs. They learned how to make a pattern, to sew, and to program microcontrollers to produce a light show. My job was to show the connections to IceCube Neutrino Observatory research. I focused on the process, describing the similar approach that scientists and engineers use, and managed to sneak in some neutrino physics as well.

Many of the principles we use when working with the teachers who deploy to the South Pole can be applied to any outreach effort. Find strong partners, build on efforts over time, and allow people to be creative, connecting what they know to the science you do. It is a formula that allows everybody to win.

 – Jim Madsen is Associate Director of Education and Outreach with the IceCube Collaboration. He thanks to IceCubers Jean Demerit and Silvia Bravo Gallart for help with this blog.