From Los Angeles to the Arctic Tundra: a Teacher Transformed
By Steve Lux and Dianna Bell
Steve Lux has been a math and science teacher in the Los Angeles area for 28 years. This past April, he found out he had been selected as an Earthwatch Teach Earth Fellow – a fully-funded opportunity to conduct research alongside leading scientists in the field. Just two months later, Steve traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, for the expedition Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge to study the effects of a changing climate on this important ecosystem. Here is the account of his experience:
Prior to the trip, I imagined the sub-Arctic tundra to be a frozen wasteland, mostly devoid of life. Flying in to Churchill, Manitoba changed my perspective before we even landed. The entire area is free of ice in the summer, and covered by circular ponds of many sizes and colors as far as I could see. I quickly learned the tundra is a vast complex ecosystem, with an abundance of life adapted to survive the harsh conditions – quite the opposite of what I had expected.
One of my biggest concerns is that humans are changing our environment in fundamental ways without any understanding of where these changes are taking our planet. Humans need to study our planet diligently and make informed decisions based on the results of our research. I was surprised to find that the frogs and fish in the tundra ponds freeze during the winter and come back to life when thawed in the spring. I asked Dr. LeeAnn Fishback, lead scientist on the expedition, to explain the biochemistry behind this. Turns out the frogs have a chemical antifreeze that prevents blood from crystallizing at low temperatures. This chemical has been isolated, and is now used in the frozen food industry to prevent freezer burn in foods. This tiny little frog in the subarctic has a chemical that can enhance the longevity of food for human consumption. Who knew?
The Earthwatch experience confirmed my understanding of the importance of these issues. In Los Angeles, climate change is a “hot” topic, as Southern California is now in the midst of its worst drought ever recorded. The climate itself has become less predictable and more humid over the past several decades (I’ve lived here 51 years). What I will be relating to my students is the importance of scientific research to understand climate change and other conservation issues.
Going to Churchill, Manitoba affected me on a personal level. First of all, the other 10 teachers on the expedition, as well as all the other researchers and staff members at the Churchill Northern Science Center (CNSC), were incredibly kind, caring, intelligent, and fun to be around. Dr. Fishback and her assistants Amanda, Stephanie, Kimberly, and Daniel were all so very patient and knowledgeable. They taught us well, making sure that we all had a positive, fun experience even with the long days of research. We trudged through ponds in the morning, tended to lab work in the afternoons, and attended lectures in the evenings. Seeing how scientists handle research in the field really changed my perspective on the scientific method and how I have been teaching my high school students about science.
The majority of what I learned from this expedition will be incorporated into my science courses. In fact, climate change is going to be the underlying theme to everything I do in all the courses I teach next year. My school is opening a new $20 million science educational facility this fall, and we have purchased a great deal of research grade equipment to be utilized in the new science building for student labs and research projects. I was initially intimidated by all of this new high tech stuff my school purchased, but was gladly surprised to find that almost everything I learned how to use in Churchill were items we have purchased for our students. I can now utilize nearly every piece of equipment my school purchased for our biology and chemistry students. This is very exciting for me!
As far as what we learned about climate change, I will be exposing my students to all of the lecture materials I received from Dr. Fishback and her staff. They gave us everything they had including power points, charts, graphs, images, and even all the data from our research and the methodologies of the research as well. All of this will be incorporated into my future lesson plans.
I returned to Los Angeles rejuvenated and inspired to teach my students about all of the first-hand climate change experience I gained. I cannot thank Earthwatch enough for this life-changing experience.
Earthwatch’s Teach Earth Fellowship Program takes K-12 teachers of all subjects who are passionate about their profession and excited about making a difference in the classroom and puts them directly in the field with scientists and fellow teachers. While on their expedition, teachers learn valuable information and skills that help to promote conservation, environmental sustainability and lifelong learning. When teachers return from the field, they share their experiences with students, colleagues, family, and friends through stories, lessons, and community action.
Can you picture yourself collecting water samples in Manitoba, Canada, or trekking through Arizona studying the effects of climate change on caterpillars and then taking the knowledge you learn back to your classroom and community? If so, fill out our interest form as the first step on your Teach Earth journey!
Check out this video profiling 3 Teach Earth fellows and how they brought their experience back to the classroom: