Science teacher brings lessons from summer arctic expedition to middle school students


PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — A science teacher at Cele Middle School is starting the new school year Thursday with a wealth of firsthand knowledge of arctic ecosystems and the changes they’re experiencing.

Terri Skinner, an eighth-grade science teacher in Pflugerville ISD, spent eight days on a research ship this summer, sailing around the Norwegian island cluster of Svalbard.

She got the chance when a utility company contacted the district to find a middle school teacher to sponsor on the trip. She left for Norway in June and sailed with the group of researchers and professors for more than a week, learning about the arctic and how climate change is affecting the sensitive region.

Now she’s ready to bring what she learned back to her students.

“I got to see this, guys. I actually saw this. I heard an iceberg, and I want you to hear an iceberg. Or, I saw a polar bear and I want you to see polar bear,” she said.

Skinner kept a blog while on the ship to catalog wildlife sightings, the sound an iceberg makes and an encounter with a pod of rare bowhead whales. Former and future students kept up with the blog over the summer.

“It was so super-duper cool to see all the environmental changes that are happening right now,” said Ashlynn Waeltz, a rising freshman who had Skinner for science last year.

She kept up with her former teacher’s blog as she recorded what lead up to the trip and the days she spent on the ship. One of Skinner’s teaching moments was asking her students what questions they had about the expedition and the arctic generally.

She recorded a video with famed conservationist and explorer Robert Swan, also on the expedition, and recorded his answers for a video on her blog.

Ashlynn’s was one of the questions Swan answered. “I asked if he was scared about bringing his son along” on some of the trips, including trekking to both the north and south poles.

“Thirty years ago,” Swan responded, “I wouldn’t have taken Barney. I nearly didn’t go myself because we had no radios, no GPS on your watch…no communication. So if you made a mistake, you were dead.”

The video was one way Skinner tried to bring her students on as much of the trip as she could. She knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and not just for her.

“What am I going to do with this?” she asked herself. “It’s great, and it’s awesome, but I need to tell people about this.”

Now that she’s back and ready to start classes, she hopes she can communicate what she learned about conservation and how a warming climate is impacting more than just the arctic.

In addition to class work, she plans to start a service club at her school. One project she’s excited about is a tree-planting initiative to help pull carbon dioxide from the air.

She can’t physically take her kids to the arctic, but she can bring lessons from the region back with her.

“I want to inspire kids to care about their piece of the world,” Skinner said.

She’s already inspired Ashlynn: “It would be awesome if I could have one of these opportunities in the future.”

The student also hopes her former teacher can encourage her younger brother when he starts 8th grade science at the school in a couple years.

“She was such an inspiration to learn more about the world around us,” Ashlynn said.

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