Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Southern children experience far north reindeer virtually

On Dec. 15, while the sun was shining in Goldsboro, North Carolina, a team of reindeer researchers tromped through the pitch black Alaska morning to share their work day.

George Aguiar talks to North Carolina school children about reindeer while Erin Carr offers a lichen treat.
Using a smartphone and Zoom Business, Research Professional George Aguiar showed second graders in Chelsea Sasser's Rosewood Elementary School what life is like at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. A herd of 70 reindeer are studied by the Reindeer Research Program to help promote the industry in Alaska by improving nutritional standards.

The children got to see "live" the mill where reindeer feed is prepared and then journeyed to the pasture to see the animals.

Sasser said, "With Christmas coming up,  I have been searching for a topic that I could use to reach many of our Common Core Standards  and allows my students to become independent learners.

"I felt like the topics of Santa and the many different Christmas traditions were being covered in other grade levels so I decided that reindeer would meet all of my requirements while also being creative material to teach," Sasser said.

"Once I decided on the topic, the search for reliable resources began and that is when I stumbled across the Reindeer Research Program," she explained. "The Reindeer Research Program's website allowed me to find reliable information to aid my students in their research. The past couple of weeks the students have been learning how to research topics and take notes. They also wrote a short research paper in what they learned during this experience. Monday was an add-on technology component that allowed my students to experience Alaska and the reindeer on a different level than what they could do just by research and pictures.

"I was very excited to be able to collaborate with George and bring Alaska and their knowledge to my students firsthand."

Rosewood Elementary second graders watch Alaska reindeer on the screen.
After the one-hour exercise Sasser said she was ecstatic that everything went smoothly. There were a few moments of technical difficulties with the phone when the crew first arrived at the farm but other than that the students and RRP staff were strongly connected. As Aguiar walked toward the reindeer herd, he asked the students, "Do you feel like you are here?"

He urged the students to consider moving to Alaska and through the phone, could hear excited exclamations of interest.

Aguiar was thrilled to bring the Alaska experience to North Carolina children and was pleased with the virtual aspect because the students were able to ask questions and get answers from him right away. This is the first time the RRP team has attempted this experiment and though they don't have the manpower to do it often, Aguiar said it's great to know that it can work.

Among the things demonstrated:
  • Reindeer love lichen!
  • The winter coat of fur keeps reindeer warm up to 40 below zero and they shed this heavy coat in the summer.
  • The animal's nose is a spiral so the air is warmed before it gets to the lungs.
  • Reindeer eat less in the winter and more in the summer.
  • The male antlers fall off this time of year and females lose theirs in the spring after calving.

"Each one of my students left with a completely different aspect on Alaska and the wonderful reindeer," Sasser said. "A huge shoutout to George and everyone working in the background."

Erin Carr and Tom Cheney run a reindeer through the squeeze chute.

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