On December 6, our team set off from London for the world’s first ever attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter. The 2,000 mile journey has, for many years, been considered too hazardous to attempt, so we knew we would need to overcome one of the earth’s most hostile environments in order to succeed, exposing ourselves to temperatures close to -90°C and operating in almost permanent darkness.
Having never been attempted before, we saw great potential in this particular expedition, and felt that it offered an opportunity to generate diverse, engaging, real-time educational content for schools that would, hopefully, engage children in a number of subjects, including maths, history, geography, biology and physics.
My colleague Mark Waters focused on setting up the programme with schools in mind, ensuring that they would benefit from what we were offering.
The idea initially came about when I presented a lecture around four years ago to a group of headteachers. Someone approached me about the expedition and said how fantastic it would be for state schools to be involved in some way.
We quickly realised it could be the ideal platform for educating and inspiring millions of school children located across the Commonwealth about the world they live in, and so we wasted no time in putting the plan into action.
The programme was named The Coldest Journey and its main educational aim was to inspire a generation of school children to become the scientists, engineers and leaders of tomorrow.
With the support of the Durham Education Development Service, a UK education resource provider, the expedition scientists, engineers, mechanics, and Anton Bowring, the marine organiser, Dr Mike Stroud and I established a working group with schools to collate and produce the educational resources.
We targeted geographically split schools across the Commonwealth to raise awareness, sending promotional material to each to generate interest.
Microsoft worked in partnership with the Commonwealth Foundation to develop a password-protected platform which was continually updated and managed using cloud technology during the expedition.
For a modest fee, the education sub-site was accessible to more than 43,000 schools in the UK and a further 57,000 across the Commonwealth’s 54 nations.
Materials were produced to match different curriculum needs, and made available through a dedicated education portal which staff and students could log-in to on the Coldest Journey website. This was subscription-based and allowed schools to follow the Ice Team’s progress, take part in competitions, and study fully integrated curriculum modules.
Students were able to identify the current position of the expedition’s ship and follow its progress, using an interactive map which was connected to our on-board Open Port system. They were also offered access to real science data that was collected on the ship and traverse.
Other ways for schools to follow the expedition was through dedicated blogs and a fortnightly infographic newsletter which detailed the latest happenings. They also had exclusive access to regular interviews with the team and received video and photographic material from the ice.
Through the resources, students were able to take part in structured workshops and classroom activities, which involved anything from environmental sciences, history and geography, to team workshops and the fundamental questions concerning the aspirations of mankind. We also considered those with limited internet access; materials were adapted for use in those particular classrooms.
We hoped that through the education programme, students would learn that the challenges which come with seeking out the unknown can be overcome and are worth the risk.
While we’re not all braving the cold of Antarctica, many of us are exploring in other ways; a new school maybe? A new culture perhaps? Whatever the challenge, the principle is the same.
The elements vital to the success, and indeed the survival of myself and my expedition colleagues, include teamwork, leadership, determination, patience, discipline, enthusiasm and creative-thinking, which are all equally important throughout education and in work. This year, our aim is to organise more presentations in schools with the aim of getting our expedition team members to visit and talk first-hand to students about their experiences.SecEd
Further informationYou can hear more from Sir Ranulph Fiennes at Bett 2014. He will speak at 3:15pm tomorrow (Friday, January 24). Bett 2014 runs until Saturday (January 25). Visit www.bettshow.com
Over the last 20 years, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has completed astonishing feats of physical and mental endurance, claiming 10 expeditionary world records as a result. In total, his expeditions have raised more than £14.2 million for a number of charitable causes. During his latest expedition, The Coldest Journey, Sir Ranulph and his team connected with more than 100,000 schools around the world, including 43,000 UK schools.
CAPTION: Aiming high: Sir Ranulph Fiennes on the slopes of The Eiger in Switzerland (top) and at its summit (above). Photos: Stephen Venables (slopes) and Ian Parnell (summit)