Catching permafrost in the Zwickau classroom

Georg.Schwamborn [ at ]


Earth’s Polar Regions are not included in the school curriculum in Saxony, SE Germany. However, in the media their role in climate change is often emphasized. Understanding the related connections is difficult for the pupils and therefore has little influence on their climate relevant behavior. Climate change and the connection to the Polar Regions could be approached multidisciplinary as a comprehensive topic in various school subjects. At the KOMPAKT School in Zwickau, twelve pupils of grade 6 were interested in permafrost as a subject and dedicated several weeks to the topic. The goals included understanding basic principles, build on those to gain specific knowledge and finally find possibilities to use this knowledge in school. In the first part of the project, the students built a simplified model that allowed studying permafrost thaw and the related consequences. These studies were accompanied by observations of thawing and freezing of different soil and vegetation samples. The students reported their observations becoming familiar with keeping records of the setup and the experiments’ outcome. They used their protocols to create a documentation of the experimental work. The cooperation with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam then allowed the pupils to connect to scientists working on permafrost, to learn about the scientific questions those scientists address, and how and where they worked on. The pupils had the pos- sibility to ask questions about fieldwork and follow up lab work during a visit at AWI in Potsdam. An additional part of the project was the collection of information from permafrost related articles in newspapers and journals. The pupils are not used to long, scientific texts, the extraction of relevant content and relating this information to their own knowledge was very difficult. One key insight of this part of the project was that results of scientific research can lead to vastly different interpretations. Complete answers, as the pupils know them from class, are not provided. Rather, scientific research means to discuss results from different perspectives to struggle together for realistic explanations of nature phenomena. In the final stage of the project, the pupils took part in an excursion to Westerwald around Dornburg, where phenomena related to freezing processes could be observed in- situ. The pupils were encouraged to find explanations for their observations themselves. Some theories were astonishingly accurate. During the project, we always discussed the respons- ibility that each of us has towards the protection of nature. Do we have influence on nature at all? Are children and teenager also affected? This discussion is carried on beyond the project. All participating students are now encouraged to take part in the dis- cussion with their new insights from the classroom exercises. They can also better relate to the public discussion of climate change. They learned new ways to pose questions and that at times, it can be dif- ficult to obtain answers. They have worked on one specific subject during a long time and are now able to stimulate discussion in class whenever permafrost or Earth’s climate are topics. They can resort to the results of their own model and experiments and their observations as well. They can give information to others and maybe intrigue them with the subject. From this point of view, the project was a complete success.

Item Type
Conference (Poster)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Publication Status
Event Details
XI. International Conference On Permafrost, 20 Jun 2016 - 24 Jun 2016, Potsdam.
Eprint ID
DOI 10.2312/GFZ.LIS.2016.001

Cite as
Weidlich, M. , Schirrmeister, L. and Schwamborn, G. (2016): Catching permafrost in the Zwickau classroom , XI. International Conference On Permafrost, Potsdam, 20 June 2016 - 24 June 2016 . doi: 10.2312/GFZ.LIS.2016.001

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