Life on the Ice (Cube)

This nonfiction article is written for use with upper-elementary students (grades 4-5). Modified versions are available for students in grades K-1 and grades 2-3, or any student needing a simplified version. As always, consider the reading level and needs of your students when selecting a version for classroom use.

At each grade level, the article is available in three forms. Printable pdf files allow you to print this story in either text-only or a foldable book format. A partnership with Content Clips has allowed us to create electronic versions of the articles. Your students can read along as they listen to the text – a wonderful way to support struggling readers! Literacy templates and related resources provide suggestions for integrating this story with your science and literacy instruction.

Interested in other nonfiction articles for your students? Browse all twenty sets from the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears collection on our Stories for Students page!


Right now, trillions of invisible bits of almost nothing are passing through your body. They are called neutrinos. Neutrinos are everywhere. Yet it is almost impossible to catch one.

Scientists want to understand neutrinos. To learn about them, scientists have built some of the strangest telescopes ever seen. One of these telescopes is at the South Pole. It is called IceCube.

Laura Gladstone is a scientist working at IceCube. Laura is a student at the University of Wisconsin. She helped design a machine that spots neutrinos moving through ice. Laura tested this machine at IceCube.

What’s it like to do science at the South Pole? Laura wrote about placing her machine down a mile-long hole in the ice. She wrote about cables that got so cold and icy that she needed a blow dryer to make them work. She wrote about working 18 hours a day (after all, there’s no nighttime for half the year at the South Pole). But Laura also wrote about everyday life in the coldest place on Earth.

One day in December, some of the IceCube scientists made ice cream. They mixed powdered milk and water. They put their bowl outside. The ice cream froze in just three minutes! Laura said it was delicious. She had to be careful, though, not to touch the metal spoon to her lips, or else the spoon would stick!

Laura also wrote about the clothing she wore while working at IceCube. Each day, Laura wore a heavy parka filled with down, three pairs of socks, and boots with four-inch soles. Altogether her clothing weighed 13 pounds. It’s a lot of work just to go outside even for a short time, so Laura needed to plan carefully.

Many things we take for granted are missing from the South Pole. Laura wrote about how wonderful it was to have strawberries with a holiday dinner. At the Pole, where all food had to be flown in from far away, fresh strawberries were a rare treat.

Hot showers were a rare treat, too. Laura was allowed two showers a week – each to last just two minutes! Not much time to wash your hair. But water and the fuel to heat it up are valuable. Everyone at the South Pole has to follow the rules to keep from running out of fuel.

At the South Pole Laura lived in a temporary building with around 15 other people. The temporary building is only used in the Antarctic summer. No one could live there in the winter. Even in the summer, though, staying warm was a challenge. Laura wrote that she slept wearing long pants, a sweatshirt, and a hat, with three blankets and her coat draped over her. Not only that, but she had to wear a mask over her eyes to keep out the sunshine that kept coming – even in the middle of the night!

Finding ways to have fun at the South Pole is more important than you might think. It keeps the scientists and other workers interested in their tasks. It also gives the 250 or so people working at the South Pole a feeling of tradition.

One tradition is the Race Around the World. It is a two-mile race around the South Pole. Some run, some walk, and some ride in parade floats they’ve built for the occasion. Laura described her favorite, a steam-breathing dragon that lumbered its way around the course.

One activity missing from the South Pole might surprise you. There’s no ice skating. Why? Skating requires flat ice. Flat ice comes from water that has frozen over a lake or a pond. At the South Pole the ice never melts, so there’s no water to freeze. No water means no flat ice, and no flat ice means no skating.

Other than the humans working at the Pole, there’s no animal life at all. That means no mice or mosquitoes, not even a butterfly or a squirrel, and no birds singing or flying overhead and no dogs barking.  There was one animal that made it to the Pole with Laura, though. Her stuffed penguin PJ kept Laura company every step of the way.

Most scientists don’t stay at the South Pole for long. Laura is now back in Wisconsin, but the work on IceCube will go on for many years. And the neutrinos Laura studied just keep coming.


Down – soft, fluffy feathers, used to stuff clothing for warmth
Lumbered — moved in a clumsy manner
Parka – a warm jacket
Tradition – an activity repeated year after year
Trillions – a very large number of something

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 4.8
Modified versions of this text are available for grades K-1 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 1.9) and grades 2-3 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 3.5). See below for links to all three versions in text, book, and electronic book forms.

Printable Files

Print the text-only version of this article for grades:
Print book versions of this article for grades:

Notes for assembling the books:

You can put this book together a couple of different ways. You can print out the pages, cut them in half and then order the pages back to front. Fold the stack in half and then staple the spine of the book. Pairs of pages can then be stapled or glued along the right edge.

You can also assemble the book as a foldable book.

To assemble the book this way, print the four pages and align the document pages so that the following book page numbers are in the lower right-hand corner: front page, page 6, page 2, and page 4. (The cover page should be on top and page 4 on the bottom.) Set your copier to copy single pages into double pages and run the four document pages in the order specified. Cut along the dotted line in the center of the double-sided page, place the book pages in order, fold, and staple along the spine.

Electronic Books

A partnership with Content Clips has allowed us to provide electronic versions of our expository articles. Students can listen to the articles as they read along on the screen.
These versions require Adobe Flash to view. If you don’t have Flash, you can download it for free from the Adobe web site. You will also need to turn off your pop-up blocker to use Content Clips.

In each book, the play button (in the top right-hand corner) will play an audio file of the text on that page, while the icon in the bottom right-hand corner will turn to the next page.

Please note that the audio files take a moment to load on each page. Once the file has been loaded, a play button will appear in the top right-hand corner of the page. To minimize the delay on each page, you can open the file and read through the article first. Once each page’s audio has loaded, it remains loaded until you close the browser window. By preparing the article ahead of time, you can have students start at the beginning of the book and read without delays.

Grades K-1 electronic book
Grades 2-3 electronic book
Grades 4-5 electronic book

We’ve also created a literacy set that includes all of the illustrated and electronic books in one convenient location!

Content Clips is an interactive web environment designed to help K-12 teachers supplement their curriculum with compelling online resources and activities. By creating a free account, you can save resources and activities (such as the electronic books and set) to your own collection. You can also create your own interactive activities to use in your classroom. If you follow the links to the electronic books listed above, you will enter the site as a guest and will not be able to save them to your own collection. If you wish to save these stories in your own collection, create an account, login, and then search for “Life on the Ice (Cube).”


In this month’s literacy content knowledge article, we discuss how to help students think about the text as they read. Print and use the Q+V+C template to help your students question, visualize, and make connections as they read “Life on the Ice (Cube)!”

Q+V+C Template
This template helps students ask questions, visualize, and make connections while reading.


The web site of the IceCube project contains information for the “casual visitor,” a multimedia gallery, and a section devoted to educational outreach. The site is updated frequently with the latest news regarding the project.

This article was written by Stephen Whitt. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Stephen at
Copyright April 2010 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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