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Cycling to the South Pole

Topic: 3C Characteristics of materials

Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton has become the first person to use a bike on part of an expedition to reach the South Pole. It was a journey of 500 miles (805km) across Antarctica and she cycled for large parts of it, as well as snow-kiting and walking. This trek was for Sport Relief. In Jan/Feb, the average temperature in Antarctica is -25C, but can drop to -50C. Severe coastal winds come from cold air flowing down off the interior ice sheet. Wind speeds can reach up to 125mph (201km/h) and average about 80mph.

In this activity children will consider the features of a bike made for these conditions and what materials might be used and why.

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Click to Download Cycling to the South Pole activity
Cycling to the South Pole activity

Click to Download Cycling to the South Pole teacher notes
Cycling to the South Pole teacher notes


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that different materials have different functions

Children will demonstrate this by completing the task on page 3 successfully.

that different materials behave differently in the same conditions.

Children will demonstrate this by completing the task on page 3 successfully.

how new materials have been developed over time and that these can be more effective than those used originally

Children will demonstrate this by completing the task on page 4 successfully.

Curriculum Link

Assessing Pupil Progress in Primary Science (APP)
This activity is useful for each Assessment Focus (AF), but is particularly relevant for:
AF2 - Understanding the applications and implications of science

Describe some simple positive and negative consequences of scientific and technological developments
Recognise applications of specific scientific ideas
Identify aspects of science used within particular jobs or roles

Also, AF4 - Using investigative approaches

Decide when it is appropriate to carry out fair tests in investigations
Select appropriate equipment or information sources to address specific questions or ideas under investigation
Make sets of observations or measurements, identifying the ranges and intervals used
Identify possible risks to themselves and others

QCA Unit 3C: Characteristics of materials
that materials are suitable for making a particular object because of their properties and that some properties are more important than others when deciding what to use

Scientific enquiry
ask questions that can be investigated scientifically and decide how to find answers
plan a suitable approach
collect and record evidence in an appropriate manner
explain results using scientific knowledge and understanding
evaluate the evidence collected and consider its limitations
consider what sources of information, including first-hand experience and a range of other sources, they will use to answer questions

Running the Activity

Introducing the activity
Display Page 1 through a projector or as an OHT. Discuss the image with the children. An expedition including Blue Peter presenter, Helen Skelton, attempted to be the first to cycle to the South Pole, but on no ordinary bicycle.

Leading the main activity

Display Page 2 through a data projector or on an OHT. Discuss the conditions in the Antarctic: Ask the children what they think it would be like. Compare the temperatures to the average temperature in our winters (4.4˚C), in a domestic fridge (3˚C) or freezer (-18˚C).
Talk about the features on the bicycle that is used by Helen Skelton. See the notes in the Science at Your Fingertips section below.

Display Page 3 through a data projector or as an OHT. Discuss the purpose/function of each of the bicycle parts. Ask children to consider what materials they are made from. Consider what other materials they can be made from (think of their own bicycles).
Children to cut out labels and stick in place before labelling each picture with the material it is made from.
More able pupils to consider reasons for those material choices in relation to the Antarctic conditions

Display Page 4 through a data projector or on an OHT. Discuss how science and technology has enabled the development of new materials that are lighter, stronger and more durable. The children are to decide, in their groups, which of the objects are modern and which are not. They should consider their reasons carefully, thinking about materials, design and style.

Web Links

Story behind the activity

The National Strategies
Website for Assessing Pupils' Progress (APP)

Follow the expedition online with this regularly updated diary by Helen Skelton

BBC Nature
Describes the habitats to be found in the Antarctic

BBC News
A detailed article describing the features of the bicycle and discussing the challenges ahead for the riders

British Antarctic Survey
Website contains resources for schools and useful links to other websites. They also offer visits to schools where children can learn more about conditions in the Antarctic.

Cool Antarctica
The website introduces some facts about Antarctica. Answers some commonly posed questions. Describes the region's landscape and climate amongst others.

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