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The Coldest Place at the Bottom of the World

Lesson Objectives
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
  • trace Shackleton's actual route on an area map and estimate the trip miles using a map scale.
  • trace Shackleton's intended route on an area map.
  • describe the altitude changes involved in a trek across Antarctica.
  • present some basic information about Antarctica and how it compares to the student's own state.

Related National Standards
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies)
III. People, Places, and Environments: Social studies programs should include experiences provide for the study of people, places, and environments.

VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
Grades 5-8
    Standard 7: Computation and Estimation
    Standard 13: Measurement

Tools and Materials Needed for each group

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
One class period to complete the map activities (Procedure Steps #1-3) and one class period to complete and discuss the chart in Step #4.

Teaching Strategy
Background information
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent and is approximately 10 percent of the Earth's land surface. East Antarctica is separated from West Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains (also called the Great Antarctic Horst). East Antarctica is mainly a high, ice-covered plateau and is larger than West Antarctica, which is comprised of an archipelago of rocky islands covered and held together by ice. Antarctica has an average altitude of 14,000 feet (6,000 feet of rock and 8,000 feet of ice/snow), which is roughly three times the average altitude of other continents. The Antarctic has 90 percent of the world's ice and 70 percent of the world's freshwater. The terrain is 98 percent ice and 2 percent rock. The Antarctic is the coldest and windiest continent on Earth. It is 11°C colder than the equivalent altitude in the Arctic. The area is also very poor in natural resources.

Antarctica is governed by the international Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which establishes the continent as an area of scientific research. The treaty prohibits military use and radioactive waste dumping in the area. In January, the heart of the Antarctic summer, the population of scientists and visitors may approach 4,000. In winter the population can drop to fewer than 50. Most of the inhabited areas are along the coast. The United States has a large logistical support facility at McMurdo Sound that supports six smaller facilities, including one at the South Pole.

  1. To acquaint students with Ernest Shackleton's journey, have them view the Voyage of Endurance video clip on this Web site. (Requires RealPlayer)

  2. Organize students into groups and provide each group with a copy of the Shackleton's Route activity sheet. Specific longitude and latitude coordinates of Shackleton's Actual Route are given on the activity sheet. Have students mark these locations on their map with an "X" and then trace Shackleton's route in red pen, marking the direction of travel with arrows. Note: it may be helpful if students label all the longitude lines on the map before starting.

  3. Have students use the map scale to estimate how far the explorers traveled. To see where NOVA's expedition currently is in comparison to Shackleton's journey, check out Expedition Maps

  4. Now provide each group with a copy of the Antarctic Map activity sheet. Have students plot the coordinates given for Shackleton's Intended Route with an "X" and trace that route in blue pen. Have students compare the two routes. How far off was Shackleton from his intended journey?

  5. Have students use the Antarctic Altitudes sheet to describe the altitude changes involved in the trip Shackleton intended to take across the continent.

  6. Organize students into groups and have them complete the How Does Your State Compare? activity sheet. Have them identify the biggest differences between Antarctica and their state. How much colder is Antarctica and why? How many times can their state fit into Antarctica? (More advanced students can use the Antarctic Map activity sheet to draw their state in to scale.) Compare the average population density (number of people per square mile of land) by dividing the number of people by the number of square miles. What differences do students feel are the most significant and why? Have students add any aspects about Antarctica and their state that they would like to compare.

Helpful Web Sites
CIA—World Factbook 2000
Features information about Antartica compiled for the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook. Entries include geography, people, government, economy, communication, transportation, military, and transnational issues.
Antarctic Polar Pointers
Includes links to such topics as astronomy, biology, ecology, geology, glaciology, meteorology, and oceanography.
The Ice
Compiled by Robert Holmes, who travels to the Antarctic each year to install and repair automatic weather stations. The site includes section of frequently asked questions of what it's like to work in Antarctica and essays from people who have worked and lived in Antarctica.
USA Today—Antarctic Index

Provides links to basic and detailed information on science and research in the Antarctic, ice and snow, work and daily life, Antarctica in the news, and more. Also includes links to information about the Antarctic Treaty.

Assessment Recommendations
Students may be assessed through:
  • their participation in classroom discussions.
  • their accuracy on the map location activity.
  • the accuracy of their calculations estimating Shackleton's actual and intended trips.
  • the accuracy of their altitude analysis of the continent crossing.
  • the level of detail in the comparisons they draw when comparing their state to Antarctica.

  1. Consider the future of Antarctica. Research and report on the Antarctic treaties. Student groups can give oral reports to the class. Once everyone has presented, have the class devise a future treaty that encompasses the essential features of development and governance that is best for Antarctica. Then have students return to their groups to discuss what they see as a future for Antarctica. What should happen there? Can this be a place for people to live if the world gets too crowded? Why or why not? Who should rule there? Who owns the land and resources? Who should make and enforce the laws? Have each group make a concise presentation to the class as to what they think the future of Antarctica should be.

  2. Research and report on an Antarctic animal. How has the animal adapted to survive in the harsh polar environment? Students can draw a food web that includes the animal.

  3. Design an animal that could survive in the Antarctic. What features would this animal have to have? Have them consider such things as size, fur, movement, metabolism rate, food requirements, and social structure. Students may want to use this Web site's Danger on the Ice to better understand the challenges of the Antarctic environment.

NOVA's Expeditions (1999 & 2000) | Shackleton's Expedition (1914)
Surviving Antarctica | Navigating the High Seas | Dispatches
Mail | Resources | Classroom Resources | Site Map | Shackleton Home

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© | Updated February 2002
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