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M. L. King Academy students virtually visit polar bears
polar bearIt’s not every day that students in San Antonio, Texas, get to explore the Arctic tundra. But thanks to Discovery Education and Polar Bears International, 23 students from M.L. King Academy for Arts Integration had the chance to video chat in real-time with scientists studying polar bear migration in the frozen tundra of Manitoba, Canada. 

SAISD’s M.L. King students received the unique opportunity thanks to Trustee Alicia Perry. Perry attended the Great City School’s Conference last month and won the VIP experience for a classroom of students. Kimberly Williams’ fifth-grade science class was selected to participate and video-chatted live with scientists who are currently studying the polar bear population in Canada. The students had prepared questions and got them answered by the scientists, face-to-face.

“I think that this was really awesome,” said fifth-grader Talaysia Jones. “Now I want to have a polar bear as a pet!”

The personalized VIP chat session followed a virtual field trip that was live-streamed to thousands of classrooms around the world. 

“They were really excited to see the polar bears and the people actually walking around the tundra so they could see how the climate was,” said Williams, a fifth-grade science teacher at M.L. King. 

During the 20-minute VIP session, students chatted with Discovery Education Scientist Kyle Schutt and Stephanie Pank, a graduate student at the University of Toronto who studies the energetics of polar bears. Students asked questions ranging from, “How old do polar bears get?” to “How big is the tundra?” The scientists answered all of their questions and showed the students a live view of the tundra and the tundra buggy where the team does its research. The temperature on the tundra was minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit, making the 40-degree weather in San Antonio seem balmy. 

“I am really happy that Discovery has partnered with SAISD to generate student interest in STEM,” said Cheri McNeely, SAISD science specialist. “Those real-life connections are really important for students to inspire that curiosity and love for science.”

Since 2010, Discovery Education has teamed up with Polar Bears International to host a series of shared learning experiences to engage students and inspire their interest in studying the science of polar bears and their Arctic habitat. 

“We love our partnership with SAISD,” said Jimmy Neitzel, manager of educational partnerships with Discovery Education. “We have such great respect for the leadership, the curriculum team, the schools and the teachers are doing such a great job for the students. We count SAISD as one of our special and important partners and we love working with them.”

virtual learningWhen the students were done with their questions, the VIP experience wrapped up with Schutt and Pank taking a selfie with the kids. 

“I think this was amazing,” said Trustee Perry of the VIP session. “This allowed the students to see a part of the world they would have never ever get a chance to see otherwise. They were highly engaged and it shows that their interest goes beyond the classroom.”

Fifth-grader Jaylen Robinson said he thought the experience was really cool, and he learned a lot. 

“I want to go there one day,” he said. “Polar bears are awesome!” 

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