Ted's teaching tips

21st January 2000 at 00:00
This stunning picture of human risk-taking poses a dilemma: do we simply admire people who face dangerous challenges, or should we leave the comfortable armchair in our warm room and join them before we atrophy from inactivity?


Why do people climb a mountain (the mental and physical challenge of pushing to our limits; "because it's there")? Do you know of any famous mountains and roughly how high are they are: Snowdon (1,085 metres), Ben Nevis (1,343m), Mont Blanc (4,807m), Annapurna, (8,091m), Everest (8,848m)? Draw triangles in centimetres (for instance, 4.8cms for Mont Blanc), with a 1cm base, on a sheet of paper to compare the relative heights. How do you learn to climb mountains (only under strict supervision; acquire the proper techniques for rock climbing, crossing snow and ice; use approved equipment and clothing; follow all safety procedures)? Find popular climbing places on a map (Derbyshire, Scottish highlands, Lake District, Snowdonia; Alps, Andes, Rockies, Himalayas).


What are glaciers (icy masses found on high ground or in cold climates: small ones result from compacted snow which never melts; many large ones have existed since the Ice Age)? What do they do (flow slowly downhill, the rocks underneath being ground into a U-shaped valley)? What types are there (glaciers look like frozen rivers, can be several kilometres long, found in high mountain ranges;piedmont glaciers are often frying pan shaped, found at the foot of mountains; continental glaciers, as in Antarctica and Greenland, can be enormous; cirques are small half-bowl shapes in hollows)?


Describe an exciting trip when you and some friends climb your first mountain with a world famous mountaineer. Or imagine you are the first person to climb Everest, recounting how you feel.


The Government proposes camps for 16-year-olds, while businesses send their executives to outdoor pursuit centres for character building. So are "dangerous" activities the ultimate human challenge?

For We need to confront danger to make us tough. Mental challenge is not enough, there has to be physical danger because overcoming fear together gives people more self-confidence and builds trust and teamwork. Fresh air, the great outdoors - what else could anyone want as an antidote to stuffy offices during the day and televisionat night?

Against Taking part in dangerous activities is self-indulgent. When climbers are stranded or injured the emergency services have to be called out at great expense. It is tragic when young people are killed or seriously injured. What do dangerous activities prove? There are plenty of safer physical and mental activities, like sports, that are just as challenging.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter

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