Amid worrying polarization of views on climate change, classrooms link live to real science in the Arctic

Last week, the World Meteorological Organisation published its annual report on the state of the global climate, confirming previously released figures showing that 2016 was the warmest year on record. Yet, attitudes to climate change remain markedly divided.

Research shows that those who are “science curious” are more likely to be able to sort fact from fiction. To this end, a team in the Arctic has been working with schools across the world to bring real science to the classroom.

From the team’s base on the island of Svalbard, the visual signs of climate change are obvious. Glaciers are in retreat and there is no sea ice in the nearby fjord, while February temperatures have been over 6 degrees Celsius above average. The Arctic works like an early warning system dramatic changes occurring there can help predict further impact on the rest of the planet.

It is the combination of being able to speak live to active scientists and expeditions from an area markedly affected by climate change that helps students develop a more curious and critical approach to science.

Live directly from the Arctic

Kids connected via Skype with Jamie from Svalbard
Between 7-16 March 2017 over 10,000 young people of all ages participated in the XL Catlin Arctic Live event. This was an exciting learning experience connecting schools from five continents with members of an expedition team based at the UK Arctic Research Station. From the comfort of their classrooms, students interacted via one-to-one Skype calls and YouTube live broadcasts with the expedition team in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, the most northerly permanent settlement in the world.

I have always wanted to see a real-life explorer. I would like to be one“, said a 6-year-old from the Recreation Road Infant School in Norwich after a Skype video meeting with Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, Director of the UK-based social enterprise Digital Explorer and teacher turned expedition educator.

There’s nothing more exciting for kids in school than getting to see with their own eyes what this fragile environment looks like and hearing from real scientists what they go through during their expeditions. We’re bringing that to life using live chats, virtual reality and new technologies. And by talking to curious minds from the earliest ages, we effectively develop critical thinking and scientific curiosity.”, he explains.

Now in its fourth year, Arctic Live uses the latest communications technology and inspiring education resources to help children get a closer look at this fragile environment and meet the scientists researching vital data on environmental change.

Students connecting with Jamie from Svalbard
We are not always aware of these problems and it is important to consider them. Learning directly from a researcher is a fascinating experience. She has encouraged us so much!”, said a high school student from Estudio School in Madrid. His class connected with Dr Ceri Lewis, an experienced marine biologist at the University of Exeter researching how environmental change and pollution affects marine animals.

A continuous journey

Since 2014, over 25,000 students across 400 schools globally have spoken to polar scientists and explorers based on Svalbard, and in the UK and Norway. They discovered the real science behind this unique environment and found out the challenges of expedition leaders, marine geophysicists, biologists, polar guides and world record holders.

It is a privilege to do this kind of work. I get to share with all sorts of students from all over the world my love for and knowledge of one of the most beautiful and rapidly changing places on the planet.”, said Dr Bianca Perren, paleoecologist at the British Antarctic Survey, who has spent the last 15 years working in the polar regions investigating how ecosystems respond to past and ongoing climate change.

Teachers continue the learning journey by accessing free resources that are developed in collaboration with scientists working at the forefront of these issues. 360 degree virtual reality media, on platforms such as Google Expeditions and YouTube, continue to bring this environment to life.

Arctic Live is part of XL Catlin’s Oceans Education programme which focuses on increasing ocean literacy around the world. It is a collaboration between XL Catlin, Digital Explorer and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), that operates the UK Arctic Research Station supported by NERC Arctic Office.

Photo albums available on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Submarine STEM resources on Digital Explorer


The Submarine STEM resources that were created for the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey this summer are now online at Digital Explorer.

Submarine STEM uses the excitement and adventure of submersible exploration of the deep sea as a context for teaching physics and working scientifically skills for primary / elementary aged students.

The Activity Booklet features fun tasks set by different members of the expedition team and there are a number of badges to achieve to become a ‘Submarine Explorer’.

Learn about sound waves and their use in ocean navigation, or try your hands at operating an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), a robotic submarine, exploring the deep ocean.

There are six activities in total, and all are kitchen-sink science, as easy to do at home as in the classroom. Also have a look at the amazing virtual reality resources that accompany these activities.

Download them now

Launching first full 3-D virtual reality Google Expeditions


Download press release

Digital Explorer are proud to announce that the world of submarine exploration is being brought to millions of students around the world today via the Google Expeditions app. In total, seventeen stunning images of submarine exploration in three new expeditions now feature on the platform. As a world first, these will include full stereoscopic 360 degree views of the Nekton Mission to Bermuda.

These Google Expeditions are the combined work of a team including the Nekton Mission, and California-based virtual reality production company, VRTÜL, brought their specialist 30-camera GoPro rig. This is the only virtual reality camera capable of taking full stereo 360 degrees underwater and has previously only be used for commercial clients such as aquaria. With the support of the Google Expeditions team, the wonder of being able to view submarine exploration in 3D is now available to classrooms globally.

See a preview of the work in YouTube.

Digital Explorer, worked with the expedition and technical teams to design the online learning experience. Digital Explorer Director, Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop explains, “We want to create educational opportunities where students are learning from the frontiers of knowledge and the world. Making a journey to the Arctic or refugee camps in the Middle East is outside of the reach of most school trips and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of students diving in submersibles! Virtual reality makes it easy for students to encounter these places and meet the scientists and others working there from the comfort of the classroom. It’s a chance to change how young people learn from and engage with their world, while allowing educators to deliver the core curriculum.”

Nekton Mission Director, Oliver Steeds, explains the importance of finding new ways to bring the oceans to the classroom. “The ocean is the most critical and unknown frontier on our planet. By deploying the latest 360 camera rigs with divers and on our cutting-edge submersibles, we are able to inspire a new generation of young people to explore and learn about the ocean and help accelerate ocean literacy.”

It is an interesting time for virtual reality in the classroom. Early adopters are beginning to explore its potential. The challenge is how to ensure that this exciting technology becomes integrated into educators’ classroom practice and does not become yet another fad that blooms and then fades.

Nekton and Digital Explorer have further classroom resources in the pipeline that integrate virtual reality technologies such as Google Expeditions into core learning. Next time a 10-year-old student learns about the physics of forces, maybe they will have done so by ‘travelling’ 1,000 feet under the sea in a submersible.

Preview amazing 3-D virtual reality submarine exploration

This video shows a still taken from Nekton’s Google Expedition: Submarine Science. Google Expeditions is an app based platform allowing students to explore the world in virtual reality from the comfort of their classroom.

These preview videos can be viewed in three ways:

  1. Using a compatible browser
    The videos can be embedded and viewed in mono 360, using the embed code found beneath the video. To watch 360° videos, users need the latest version of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, or Internet Explorer on their computer.
  2. Via the YouTube app
    The videos are viewable in mono 360 via the YouTube app on iOS and Android devices with the latest version of the YouTube app installed. Users with gyroscope enabled devices will be able to move their device to pan around the video.
  3. Using a Google Cardboard compatible viewer (full stereo)
    For full stereoscopic viewing, users will need to use a Google Cardboard compatible viewer (instructions on viewing YouTube videos using Google Cardboard).

Nekton has partnered with Google Expeditions to bring the wonders and learning of submarine science to millions of young people across the globe. Nekton has worked with VRTÜL and Digital Explorer to produce these stunning full stereoscopic 360 views of marine exploration.

This view shows the research submersibles descending into the deep. The Nekton Mission used two submersibles, Nomad and Nemo. Nemo was the transect submersible, equipped with a GoPro system to conduct video transects. A video transect involves piloting along a set route at a steady speed, recording video. This recording can then be analyzed by researchers back at university. Nomad was the sampling submersible equipped with a range of tools for taking further samples, as well as a specialized video camera. One submersible had a hydraulic arm for collecting physical samples.

Two other videos are available on YouTube:

My Voice-My School is returning

my voice my school

Digital Explorer’s My Voice-My School is returning for the 2016/17 academic year. The project connects Palestine Refugee students from Syria with students in Europe to debate and advocate for a quality education for all. We are looking for classes at secondary schools in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden to take part in this year’s programme.

My Voice-My School is a joint response by Digital Explorer, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Skype in the classroom to the degradation of education caused by the Syria crisis.

For more information, watch the CNN report on the project below and visit the My Voice-My School website.

To get your school involved in the My Voice-My School 2016/17 project, register your interest now by emailing

Get involved in Submarine STEM!

Submarine stem

We have an exciting new submarine-based STEM programme in the pipeline and we’re looking for KS2 and KS3 Science and Computing teachers to be part of developing the education resources. The one day workshops will be held at the Royal Geographical Society, London and we’ll pay £100 plus travel expenses* for your time.

Submarine STEM Design workshop on 3rd June 10am – 4pm
Creative session to frame lesson concepts and ideas based on deep sea submersible exploration.

Submarine STEM Development workshop on 1st July 10am – 4pm
Development session to create draft resources and ideas for multimedia resources.

Please indicate which session you would like to attend with a brief bio and your interest in the programme by emailing us at

*travel expenses up to £80 max

Personal experience can be a useful context

personal experience why it works education
An important aspect of global citizenship education is supporting students to link their personal experience to more abstract global issues, such as the UN Global Goals. This blog post describes some teaching strategies that can be used to support students in this process.

The strategies described are based on developing the curriculum for the My Voice-My School project. Download the lesson pack for Lesson 1 to see how the strategies below can be incorporated into classroom resources.

Strategy 1 – start with the personal experience of your students

My Voice-My School worked with classes in the UK and Syria to explore the UN Global Goal 4 on quality education. Over the course of eight weeks, students developed a youth advocacy project on improving education and started with an overview of the topic.

In the first lesson, the key enquiry question is personal ‘What does a quality education mean to you?’ and the first activity starts with a whole class discussion ‘Why is education important?’ which can be rephrased as ‘Why is your education important?’.

Why it works

  • Students find it easier to start with the personal (existing knowledge) before moving to the global (new knowledge).
  • Students can construct their own interpretations without being influenced by other agenda.
  • Anchors the learning in the reality of personal context rather than as something happening in other places or to other people.

Strategy 2 – introduce voices of young people from other places

A common feature of global citizenship education is the use of images, videos and stories as a way of encouraging young people to consider other perceptions of global issues. In this example lesson, students watched videos about students in other countries.

Why it works

  • Scaffolds students thinking from the personal to other perspectives before generalising.
  • Introduces a global dimension through individual stories.
  • Opens learning through enquiry and challenges assumptions, leading to critical thinking.
  • Enables realisation that there may not be one right answer.

Strategy 3 – introduce the ‘theory’ of global issues

The next stage in supporting students to understand global issues and how they relate to them, is to introduce students to the thinking and theory behind topics such as human rights and United Nations programmes and international agreements. In this stage, we introduced the background to the idea of ‘quality education’ through references to Child Rights and the Global Goals.

Why it works

    • Introduces students to ideas of social justice and human rights.
    • Universal concepts are introduced at an appropriate time in the lesson.
    • Students can apply global agreements to both their own experience and peers in other places.

Strategy 4 – give students ownership over global issues

Rather than just presenting students with global agreements such as the UN Global Goals, allow students to evaluate and rank the elements of the agreement. In this lesson, students looked at the different elements, using a ‘Diamond 9’ ranking activity to consider how important they think each one is. Students could also be asked to reassess their ranking from the point of view of a student in another country (see Strategy 2 above) and from a global point of view.

Why it works

      • Students examine and take ownership of global agreements.
      • Evaluation leads to higher order thinking.
      • Multiple perspectives can be applied to this exercise.

Strategy 5 – explicit links between personal experience and global issues

The final element in this process is to link the personal views expressed at the start of the lesson to the subsequent learning steps. Use a plenary activity that explicitly links personal experience to global issues. In the example lesson, students were prompted to ‘Think about what we have discussed today and make four notes as to how the issue of a quality education links to your own personal experience.’

Why it works

      • The links between personal experience and global issues are made explicit.
      • These links are only made at the end of the lesson.
      • When students are asked to make these links they have gone through appropriate scaffolding, taking them from the personal to another perspective and then to the general, reinforcing this with a ranking activity.

Robot vs coral conservation


Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are closing in on trialing a new starfish-killing robot, the COTSbot. Crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) have contributed to nearly half of the coral lost over the past 30 years on the Great Barrier Reef.

The COTSbot has been programmed to identify these harmful starfish from a wealth of other reef life, and deliver a deadly injection. Follow-up work will be done by teams of divers.

Outbreaks of this specialist corallivore have been blamed on changing land use on areas near the reef. Increased use of fertiliser washed into the sea has increased the amount of algae, the food source for crown-of-thorns larvae.

This great innovation will be a useful tool in taming crown-of-thorns outbreaks and ensuring that less coral coverage is lost. However, it is a technological solution to a systemic problem. The COTSbot only addresses the symptom of a lack of proper management of coastal areas near the reef.

This example could be used for a classroom debate looking at whether society is more keen on technological innovations to deal with environmental issues rather than looking at behavioural change that would address the problem at source.


Oceans education subject knowledge (6 of 6)

This is number six in our follow-up posts to to XL Catlin Oceans Teacher Academy, sharing oceans education subject knowledge with teachers.

Ocean acidification is one of the processes threatening marine life and is included in the Coral Oceans and Frozen Oceans resources. This video shows two simple experiments for your classroom to show the process of ocean acidification and its impact on marine life…

Oceans education subject knowledge (5 of 6)

This is number five in our follow-up posts to to XL Catlin Oceans Teacher Academy, sharing oceans education subject knowledge with teachers.

The Incredible Edible Polyp activity is designed to be used in oceans education, and specifically with the Coral Oceans primary scheme of work, but has proved incredibly popular with all age groups and teachers alike. Here’s a video on how to make your own edible polyps with your class and a little twist on the classic anatomy lesson…

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