Discovery Time

The Tribune, Ames, Iowa. November 16, 2002

by Beth Anderson

Peggy Lewis, parent and certified teacher,
explains about the temperature in Antarctica to sixth-graders,
at Fellows Elementary School. Photo by Nirmalendu Majumdar/The Tribune.

Fellow students explore Antartica from classroom

kidsThe sixth-graders at Ames' Fellows Elementary School are anxiously awaiting snow - not just for the fun they will have, but for the data they can gather. As part of a scientific team, they have work to do.
By a stroke of good fortune - a fluke of time and circumstances - the class is on a vicarious journey to the South Pole with a team from the United States International Trans Antarctic Scientific Exhibition.
"It's an opportunity that doesn't come along every day," said Principal Carol Allgood.
Led by parent Peggy Lewis, the students are tracking the explorers through Internet logs, analyzing data and will even receive a telephone call from the South Pole next month.
"Teachers who explore this program get very excited," Lewis said. "It contains geography, science, math, chemistry, meteorology and lots of earth science."
Students make topographical maps out of tortillas and modeling clay, graph the temperature difference between Ames and Antarctica and will soon analyze the density of Iowa snow.
For teacher Michele Cooper, the program is "amazing."
"It integrates almost all the elements of our curriculum," she said.
One of the primary goals of the trans Antarctic team as it travels by tractor-pulled trains to the South Pole is to drill three-inch plugs of ice about 80 yards deep.
Reading the ice cores like rings on a tree, the scientists can analyze 200 years of history and hopefully learn more about weather patterns and global warming.

Meanwhile, the Fellows students travel along from their classroom.
"It makes science real for the kids," Lewis said. "Here we are in Ames, connected to those people at the farthest end of the world. It makes science real for kids ... it makes scientists more than people who sit behind a desk or look through a microscope."
The adventure began when the Lewis family moved to Ames from Bangor, Maine, this summer.
John Lewis took over as the new director of dining services at Iowa State University.
Their son Derek entered Ames High School as a freshman, and son Aaron joined the sixth-grade at Fellows.
Peggy Lewis has a dual career. She has been a sixth-grade teacher for the past 11 years but decided to put that on hold so she could help acclimate her family to the Midwest.
But she is also in charge of developing curriculum and offering teacher support for the Teachers Experiencing Antarctica program with the trans Antarctic team through a grant from the National Science Foundation.
She could do that work from home, but there was a problem - Lewis could develop the curriculum, but the projects could only be fine-tuned in the classroom.
Lewis approached Fellows about bringing the program into the school.
"She was excited," Lewis said of Principal Allgood. "She could see the possibilities and that it was too thrilling to pass up."
That openness wouldn't have happened in every school district, Lewis said.
"It shows an emphasis on learning rather than turning the pages of a book," she said
The project has gone well on all accounts.
Lewis has had the chance to refine her work, the staff of Fellows is more than pleased with the program and the children have reached that fevered pitch of excitement that comes with new discovery.
But the ultimate test has been Lewis's son, Aaron, who is in the sixth-grade classroom.
"He made me promise not to be boring. He said, 'You can come in (the classroom) if you do fun things,'" Lewis said. "So far, he says I'm doing fine."
Online information on the trans Antarctic team, including current entries of their logbooks and the classroom projects designed by Lewis, can be found at