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Boy Scout with Byrd

In 1928, Richard E. Byrd led his first exploration of Antarctica. At the time, the expedition was the best equipped journey to Antarctica to date, and included a total of 42 men who stayed through the winter on the southern continent. One of the members of the expedition was Paul Siple, a Boy Scout who was chosen in a national search to accompany the Byrd expedition. Here, students will examine documentation that was used to evaluate the scouts who applied to go, and assess the reasons why Siple was ultimately chosen.

Instructional Unit: Social Studies Skills and Methods

Grade Level: 9th & 10th

Standards:9.A.2d; 9.B.4a-c; 10.A.1b-c; 10.A.2

Description: In 1928, Richard Byrd decided to allow a Boy Scout to accompany him and his expedition to Antarctica. Through the investigation of primary sources, students will use social studies skills and methods to analyze how the evaluation committee chose a single Boy Scout from the thousands of applications they received.

Duration: Three Days (3 x 45 min.)

Materials and Resources:

  • Pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Colored pencils
  • Ruler
  • Poster board
  • Written document analysis worksheets
  • Group folders
  • Primary sources
  • Final Product rubric

Warm up activity:

  1. Break the classroom into groups.
  2. Assign a scribe, group leader, and time keeper for each group.
  3. Provide a photograph of Paul Siple (7811-43) for each group.
  4. The groups will discuss the following questions (which can be provided or written on the board):
    • How old is the individual?
    • What is he wearing?
    • Describe what you think he does for a living.
  5. As each group finishes the task, the group leaders will write their findings on the board for discussion.
  6. The teacher will provide answers to the questions.

Instructional steps:


  1. The instructor will present the following guiding question to the class: “How did Byrd’s requirements for the expedition and Siple’s qualifications lead the evaluators to decide that Siple was better qualified for the trip than the other Boy Scouts?”

    • The instructor will introduce the flyer "Boy Scouts of America, Byrd Antarctic Expedition" which describes the requirements for Boy Scouts who were applying to accompany Byrd on his expedition.
    • Each student will be provided with a written document analysis worksheet and instructed on its proper use.
    • As a whole class activity (and as a preparation for the following days’ station work), the class will analyze the pamphlet and complete the analysis worksheet.
  2. The instructor will describe the Day Two work stations containing primary sources about Paul Siple and the Byrd expedition:
    • Station one – letters of recommendation
    • Station two – newspapers
    • Station three – evaluations
    • Station four – other supporting documents The instructor will explain that students will be placed in groups and will be analyzing documents using the analysis worksheets.
  3. Instructor will discuss the final project / rubrics/ Q&A and create groups for the Day Two activity.


  1. The instructor will quickly review stations, worksheets and group assignments with the class.
  2. Groups are sent to sit at stations. Each group is given 7 to 10 minutes per station to read documents and complete a document analysis worksheet. Three of the four stations will also have an analysis discussion question that students should discuss in their last several minutes at the station.
  3. The instructor will lead a who class discussion of the following:
    • Group answers to the analysis discussion questions from each station.
    • The kinds of documents that students “wish” were available to them (that would have provided them with more information).
    • Informal observations and “ah-ha’s” that students made during their document analyses.
    • Student questions based on primary sources.


  1. Review group work of prior day(s).
  2. Re-introduce rubric with emphasis on final product.
  3. Given the data collected by group work of the prior day, the students will work individually to craft a response to the following question: “How did Byrd’s requirements for the expedition and Siple’s qualifications lead the evaluators to decide that Siple was better qualified for the trip than the other Boy Scouts?”
  4. Students may choose to answer the question by choosing one of the five formats:
    • Microsoft Movie Maker (comes bundled with most XP operating systems.)
    • Microsoft Photo Story (available as a free download on the Web.)
    • Written Essay
    • PowerPoint
    • Poster w/visual graphics accompanied by supporting text

The instructor should be sure to emphasize that the final product should not contain a simple listing of facts about Siple, but rather a higher level comparison and analysis based on the information students have gathered from the primary sources.

Worksheet for BSA, Byrd Antarctic Expedition pamphlet
Worksheet for Letters of Recommendation
Worksheet for Newspaper Articles
Worksheet for Evaluations
Rubric - Final Product
Worksheet for Other Supporting Documents

Download Lesson Materials

"Boy Scout Call for Antarctic Expedition Applications"

"Boy Scout Selection Letter"

"Boy Scout Letter to Byrd"

"Boy Scout Evaluation Letter"

"Bill Witt: The Applicant That Wouldn't Take No for an Answer"

"Boy Scout Final Selection Memo"

"Paul Siple Application Letter"

"Memo to Accepted Applicants for Final Examination"

"John Doyle Recommends Alden Snell"

"H.A. Wiley Recommendation"

"Paul Siple 1968 Obituary"

"Paul Siple Recommendation Letter"

"1975 Letter About Paul Siple"

"Hometown Paper on Local Boy Scout Selected for Antarctic Expedition"

"Boy Scout Paul Siple Selected for Byrd Expedition"

University Libraries. Byrd Polar Research Center. History Teaching Institute.