Children warm to Antarctica

By Jarrod Booker

School field trips ain't what they used to be.

In the heated comfort of a classroom yesterday, a group of Christchurch primary-school children joined a group of schoolchildren from Malaysia in being beamed into Scott Base in Antarctica to see and hear about life on the frozen continent.

Prime Minister Helen Clark, on a tour in Malaysia, was even able to drop in and share her Antarctic experiences.

The "virtual field trip" has become a popular way of exploring all manner of locations the children would otherwise not experience.

Yesterday's video conference hook-up, using web cameras in Christchurch, Malaysia and Antarctica, enabled the Christchurch children to view and speak with the children at SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom school in Malaysia, which was also hosting Helen Clark.

The enthralled Christchurch students weren't quite sure what to make of the Malaysian children and their head scarves and accents.

But they relished their chance to ask questions of Glenn Powell, who was sitting out in the dark in minus 20deg C outside Scott Base.

"Without sunlight, how do you know when to sleep and when to wake up?"

Mr Powell: "You just have to live and plan your day by your clock and your watch."

"Without sunlight, does your skin get very pale?"

"With no sunlight, the pigment in your skin does reduce and you become very white. And in Antarctica, your skin doesn't take moisture out of the air, so your skin gets very itchy and very red."

"What's for tea tonight at Scott Base?"

"Crumbed schnitzel and mashed potatoes."

Christchurch-based company Learnz provides over 300 virtual field trips for schools in New Zealand.

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