People the world over were gripped by yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur's courageous exploits during the recent Vendee Globe challenge as they followed them on the Internet. They feared for her when she clung to the rigging in perilous seas making repairs, and marvelled at how she functioned on so little sleep. It was positive proof that tracking an expedition online fires the imagination and that such sites can have great potential if developed as an educational resource.
David Hassell, head of curriculum and institutional development at the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), certainly thinks so, "provided organisers wishing to involve schools match what they're doing to the curriculum." But he warns: "Some are poorly planned and I feel they could be seen as a way of getting good PR and sponsorship. At Becta we provide guidance on producing classroom materials and are working with the Council for Environmental Education to help organisers provide a more appropriate product, but not many take advantage and I am disappointed they do not go further; for example, by taking the trouble to introduce a contrasting or complementary locality. A couple of quick photos are not enough."
The Vendee Globe competitors may have found their land legs for now, but The Times Clipper 2000 Round the World Yacht Race is still in full sail and its interactive site is well geared up for schools. Eight 60-foot racing yachts, named after the UK cities that have sponsored them, are spending a year circumnavigating the globe, and since last October young landlubbers have been keeping in touch with the crews by email, following their progress and learning about the oceans and their history, ports of call, weather, the perfect storm, navigation, astronomy, the great explorations and natural history through a weekly newsletter, The Explorer, available onsite.
Also circumnavigating the world - this time using pedal power - are Steve Smith and Jason Lewis, who set out from the Greenwich Meridian Line with their bicycles and trusty pedal boat Maksha in 1994 and estimate achieving their objective in 2003. At the website for Expedition 360, Pedal for the Planet, they promote environmental responsibility and cultural understanding, answer pupils' emails and post daily reports. The site's global learning exchange has a classroom expedition section containing lesson plans for young explorers aged 7 to 12 and involves students encountered along the way in real mini expeditions alongside Steve and Jason.
British, American and Australian schools are involved with Teletext CAMELL (Circumnavigating Australia Motivating Environmentalists at Local Levels). Led by Alex Hughes Bannister, the team is halfway toward achieving the first-ever circumnavigation of Australia with camels. The expedition incorporates an online educational project, raises awareness of endangered species and supports the Born Free Foundation and Streamwatch. Eventually Bannister hopes "to start linking all the schools up in a cultural cyber exchange using the expedition as the initial focus". On the site, children meet the camels - Thackeray, Vectis, PeeWee, Burke, Clyde, Moses, Malcolm, Abdul and Jaws - and can access information on animals such as the black rhino, green ea turtle, monk seal and tigers. A monthly electronic newsletter, The Dromedary Digest, updates them on progress.
Some schools not only follow expeditions online, but set up their own websites to plan their own and raise sponsorship. Through its Team Challenge scheme, for example, World Challenge Expeditions encourages schools to organise trekking expeditions to the Andes and Amazon, Borneo, Kenya and Tanzania, India and the Himalayas, from where they email reports back to their site. Challenges might include trekking through virgin rainforest, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or going on safari.
One such school is Newmarket Upper school, Suffolk, where 16 students are planning a month's expedition to Venezuela to explore the local environment and culture, develop leadership skills and work with tribes learning their language and teaching them English. Its site, created by 16-year-old Rebecca Shewry, outlines the itinerary, the team, climate, environment, flora and fauna. Besides informing people, including potential sponsors, about the project, the site is used, she says, as a backdrop for multimedia PowerPoint presentation evening. Once out there, they hope to use cybercafes in Caracas to send emails and images back. Team-mate Neil Ellis, aged 17, has used the Internet to research Venezuelan wildlife "to help reassure team members". His contributions to the site include information about venomous snakes and how to deal with them and the feeding habits of piranhas: "So now we won't be quite so worried about getting eaten by piranhas."
Valerie Hall is a TES staff writer Education site for major round-the-world yacht
raceswww.bt.comictglobalchallenge)www.offshore-schools.comGlobal Online Adventure Learning Skills (Goals) site - houses numerous other expeditions with an emphasis on science, technology, nature, geography and historywww.goals.comexpedition360World Challenge Expeditions. Tel: 020 8728 7222 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.world-challenge.co.uk
Newmarket Upper schoolhttp:atschool.eduweb.co.ukThree Poles Challenge in aid of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Harish Kohli aims to become the first Asian to climb Mount Everest and to reach both Poles on skis. He is communicating with schoolchildren in the UK, India and elsewhere at the website below Tel: 020 8360 2433; Email: Ingrid_cranfield@hotmail.comwww.asiangeographic.com
Chelsea to China 2001. In 1926 Captain Duncan McCallum, his wife and three assistants travelled between Peking and Chelsea in two open-topped Buicks. Seventy-five years later their great-great-great nephew Richard McCallum and colleague Mark Briant-Evans are retracing their wheel ruts. British primary schools are exchanging gifts and emails with schools along the route and Schoolsnet www.schoolsnet.com is creating lesson plans and activities at www.chelseatochina.org to back up daily bulletinsArctic Year Expedition run by BSES Expeditions departs in the summer. Through IBM Education, research results gathered by team members aged 18-20 will be shared with schools worldwidewww.arcticyear.orgSchoolchildren from five continents are following ex-teachers Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen, who have become the first women to cross the Antarctic on footwww.yourexpedition.com