One of the main reasons I travel is to interact with different people and cultures.  I love learning about them and their way of life.  It feeds my mind.  It has taken me to the ends of the earth, enabled me to photograph, film and document what I see – people, wildlife, landscapes and man’s interaction with each of those.  However, it also acts as a simple way of sharing stories with my friends and family as I go, giving them a glimpse of my life on the road.

But for an expedition to walk and kayak the length of the Amazon River in 2015, I wanted to do more.  I wanted to use it as a way to inspire others to follow a dream; as proof that with a bit of planning and determination, anyone can achieve something incredible.  I wanted to use it as a way to help others learn about somewhere they wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity, desire or experience to travel to, so that they could experience it with their own eyes.  The obvious way to do this was to use blogs and social media, allowing the small expedition team to share stories and pictures with a captive audience.  But how could we spread our message beyond friends and family?  How could we talk to a different audience, kids perhaps?

Doing a little research I came across a number of organisations that facilitate virtual field trips from around the world, teaching kids about geography, science, history, and the natural world.  I contacted Joe Grabowski from ‘Explore By The Seat Of Your Pants’ asking for his help in arranging some classes for our Amazon expedition.  His organisation’s aim is to connect schools to scientists, adventurers and conservationists across the globe.  It gives students the opportunity to connect with meaningful role models and ask some big questions, without having to leave the classroom.

Within a week we’d agreed on a rough schedule for the live Q&A chats and had tested the equipment.  We’d use Google Hangouts, allowing up to 10 classrooms to join the conversation and ask us questions directly, with an unlimited number of others watching on and asking questions via the chat functionality.  Joe was able to help us promote the sessions and build up an audience, while teachers developed ways to incorporate the Q&A sessions into their curriculums.  This often involved getting their classes to do some research on incredible Amazon facts or make a poster of our journey beforehand.

Kids are often excited to have the opportunity of talking directly with the explorer

Kids are often excited to have the opportunity of talking directly with the explorer

The benefit to the students is that it’s a small step towards active learning.  It enables them to see a place with their own eyes and ask questions of an expert who has been there and experienced it.  Students are far more likely to remember a topic when they’ve had the opportunity to engage, participate and experience it themselves, all be it virtually.  It’s also fun and inspiring for them, demonstrating the value of spending time outdoors, having different experiences, interacting with different people and cultures, and pushing yourself as an individual.  The adventurer, field worker or scientist benefits too.  They get the opportunity to share their stories, findings and point of view with people that want to know more, adding purpose to their endeavor and leading to wider awareness of a cause or campaign.

So, next time you’re preparing your lesson plan, have a think about who might be out there in the field that your class could learn from.  I guarantee there will be someone!


Useful links:

Explore By The Seat Of Your Pants – Google Hangouts between researchers, adventurers or conservationists and classrooms across the globe.

Digital Explorer – Co-create a broad range of resources and materials for classrooms, as well as arrange Skype Classroom and Google Hangouts with people in the field.

Skype in the Classroom – Connect with experts, other classrooms, or be taken on a virtual field trip with a researcher or explorer.

Impossible to Possible Foundation – A place-based education experience, combining a mix of education, endurance sport and social / environmental responsibility.


This article was originally written for the HERG / RGS in November 2016.