The Ocean talks to Michael Gove

This is the transcript of a conversation between Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education and the Ocean examining the latest draft National Curriculum document.

Michael Gove: I understand you have some concerns about the latest draft curriculum. Let me assure you, to start with, that the programmes of study put forward are designed to present a return to a curriculum that is built on a core of rigorous knowledge.

The Ocean: I can see that you have put a lot of work into this, but I just wanted to point out that I feel a little ignored and at times misrepresented, and…

MG: Let me stop you there. This is a core set of knowledge that every young person should know, schools and teachers are still free to include information they think is relevant to the young people that they teach.

TO: I understand, it’s just that I cover over 70% of the planet’s surface, contain 95% of the living space, 98% of all life is aquatic and I provide at least half the oxygen that you breathe, not to mention a little climate regulation on the side.

MG: Well, we never say that teachers cannot teach about you, and there are several references to the oceans within the documentation. In science for Year 5 (9 year olds), you are mentioned as one of the other habitats that pupils can study, and we believe that 5 and 6 year olds should learn the names of your different basins in geography. Surely that’s enough.

TO: I’m all for rigour and your core plus approach to curriculum planning, and I’ll say again 98% of all life is aquatic. That’s why I was confused to read that in Year 2 Science, young people will be taught that: “find out about and describe the basic needs of animals, including humans, for survival (water, food and air)”. Do you know what happens when you put a fish in air? Then I read every single example of animals that pupils can study, chickens, butterflies, woodlice, frogs, sheep, slugs, worms, spiders, and insects. Yes, there was a cursory mention of fish, but I feel a little let down.

MG: Look. You are mentioned as a habitat that pupils could study. In Year 5 Science, pupils are asked to “compare life cycles of plants and animals in their local environment with other plants and animals around the world (the rainforest, under the oceans, desert areas and in prehistoric times), asking pertinent questions and suggesting reasons for similarities and differences”.

TO: Before tackling the main point you are making, it’s ‘in the ocean’, not ‘under the oceans’. I am not just one habitat, I contain a huge diversity of environments for life: coral reefs, kelp forests, seagrass meadows, mudflats, estuaries, intertidal zone, sandy shore, rocky shore, mangroves and salt marshes, open surface waters, the open deep sea, vents and seeps, oceanic trenches and seamounts. I don’t see why just because I am mostly unseen and covered by a reflective surface that your new rigorous approach to the curriculum should be so unbalanced.

MG: I think you just need to recognise that most young people’s first encounter with nature will be looking under rocks and finding creepy crawlies, or having the opportunity to grow something in a garden. If you keep on taking this ‘me, me, me’ route, I may have to brand you as an enemy of progress.

TO: I was trying to be nice. You live on an island. No one is ever more than 71 miles from the sea in England. The oceans are vital for the survival of humanity. So here are my demands, as a starter:

  1. include an ocean habitat as a must for primary and secondary school science
  2. correct any factual inaccuracies in the draft curriculum where you completely ignore the oceans and marine science (e.g. the ‘air’ comment above)
  3. do not refer to me as an ‘other’ habitat around the world
  4. give me my proper place when pupils study primary production
  5. within Earth science at Key Stage 3 Science, make sure that pupils know my role in the current composition of the Earth and atmosphere
  6. the production of carbon dioxide and its impact needs to include ocean acidification as well climate change

I’ll come back to you on geography once I’ve calmed down, and just remember I provide half your oxygen. Don’t ignore me or make me angry.

[Editor's note: the ocean was a little upset as you may be able to tell, any comments, corrections or additions from the marine science community welcome. We are looking to arrange further interviews between important global concerns and the Minister, please let us know if you have any recommendations.]

Lake Ellsworth drilling waits for another day

Credit to The Guardian for the great graphic (

News from the Lake Ellsworth team in Antarctica that drilling down to the subglacial lake will have to wait for another year.

It must be a huge disappointment to the team, but as an observer currently in the relative warmth of London, it the project remains a massive inspiration. Projects like this show that geographical exploration is alive and well and focused on understanding and learning about our planet.

There are many polar expeditions nowadays – fastest, least supported, etc. – but this expedition was more than these. It showed the determination, initiative and daring of a team of people to try something on the edge of human ability, not for the sake of it, but to find out more about our planet. All power to them and I am sure that they will succeed in the end.

To put this mission in perspective, the first expedition to attempt to summit Mount Everest was in 1922, and the first successful expedition to reach the summit and come back down again was in 1953. I hope we will not have to wait another 31 years, but the very fact that there are people who put everything on the line to explore our planet is fantastic.

To the team at Lake Ellsworth, a massive ‘thank you’ for providing an example to the rest of us.

Education blog: How can I calculate my footprint?

I have travelled from London to Sydney to join the Catlin Seaview Survey. It promises to be an amazing experience, learning more about the Great Barrier Reef and coral in general.

Over the next three weeks, I shall be visiting different parts of the reef and speaking to the science teams who are investigating the health of this ecosystem.

One of the areas of investigation is how climate change is affecting the reef and the damage that it can cause. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere affects coral reefs in three main ways:

  • warming oceans can cause ‘coral bleaching’ where the symbiotic relationship between coral and algae breaks down, so that the coral loses a major energy source and can die
  • climate change is also linked to increased storm activity that causes physical damage to the reef
  • more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans, causing ocean acidification and adding to the stress on this fragile environment

It’s a difficult choice. Can I be of benefit to the reef by coming here and helping to communicate its wonders or stay at home and let others do this work?

Can you help in calculating my carbon footprint for this journey so far and if possible compare it to the average annual carbon footprint for the UK?

Here’s how I travelled…

7.5 miles by taxi from my house to Paddington Station

A total of 27 miles by train

10,673 miles by aeroplane from London to Sydney via Singapore

And the last (and nicest) leg by ferry to a part of Sydney called Manly – 7 miles

Community mapping by the team

View Recycling around London Fields in a larger map

The team spent today making this amazing map of recycling points around the Digital Explorer office. From having never mapped before to creating a map that helps the community. Nice work! Well done all.

Rahaf’s big idea for recycling

Why did I win?
So I made a website about recycling, I uploaded some news about recycling, and how can we recycle in a fun and easy way so kids will also love recycling, So you can check out the website

Why did I choose recycling?
Recycling isn’t a big thing in Saudi Arabia, so I would like to raise awareness, and recycling saves energy and helps protect our environment and there is a real global problem with too much waste being produced by human beings.

How can we help Rahaf bring recycling to young people in Saudi Arabia?

Learning from Cisco

Digital Explorer website gets the Cisco treatment using their green screen video conferencing technology #verycool

What a first full day of the MCY Innovate 2012 expedition! We went to visit Cisco to find out what is behind the amazing growth of this company over the past 28 years, from a married couple at Stanford University, to a company employing 65,000 people across 165 countries.

The theme was innovation and the values that has kept Cisco at the forefront of innovation for nearly three decades. We were lucky to have a range of talks and demonstrations. What really struck me was the emphasis that Cisco places on talent, their people, as well as technology.

Innovation is not just coming up with a new idea or solution, it’s coming up with something new that adds value for customers or employees and also is a commercial success. Some of the facts were quite amazing. During 2008,there were as many connected devices as people on the planet and the number of devices is accelerating away.

The average person in developed economies uses 6.4 devices a day – home phone, work phone, mobile, laptop, work computer and potentially a tablet, as well as thinking about connected devices such as GPS in cars and entertainment devices such as TVs.

The whole team came away with an understanding of how systems and products can be used in a collaborative way, so that communication using voice, data and video links can be done in a seamless way. With some of the latest video conferencing technology, participants have almost felt that they were in the same room. Technology continues to break down barriers and bring people closer.

I was particularly interested in their rugged kit, designed for use by the military and on oil rigs, but I can see great potential in using the kit to live broadcast to classrooms from remote locations. Onwards and upwards with our exploration of what makes a great innovator.

Class Skype – a great way to speak at schools

It was wonderful to take part in a Skype call with Middleham Primary last week to talk about life in the polar regions. The wonderful Catherine Monaghan is doing wonderful things with her Year 3 & 4 class to bring learning alive for the pupils, amongst other things they are building an igloo in the classroom using old milk bottles, which looks amazing… the kind of teacher I wish I’d had.

Using Skype to talk to a school is something that I have done when on expedition, but never when I have been in the UK. Normally, I have gone into schools to talk directly to classes. It was a great way to interact with young people, without having to take a long time out of the ‘office’. Talking to schools is one of the highlights of my job, but the travel time to and from schools limits the amount of schools that I can visit. So, if there are more schools out there who would like to have someone who has been on expedition speak via Skype to their class, then I would be delighted to look at how we can make better use of this technology when the team is back in the UK.

Catherine put up a wonderful video of the class reflecting on what they had learnt and to my surprise I have also become a scientist!

I like to think that I am getting better at polar and ocean science, thanks to the wonderful support of Helen and Ceri, who have held my hand through being a novice a year or so ago. I even have a ‘beaker’ (polar slang for a scientist) award to prove it.

A great use of technology and thank you to Catherine (Mrs M) and Class 2 at Middleham for a great Skype chat and also to Al Humphreys for helping to put it all together.

5 years old…

Digital Explorer was five last week and in the great tradition of 5 year plans, it’s time to reflect on what we have achieved and think to the future about the next five years.

When we started out, the aim was to provide young people with a different way of engaging in their world through a range of experiences whether it be going on one of our expeditions, linking live with teams in the field or being taught by someone who has enjoyed one of our training courses or used some of our resources.

The amount of opportunities and resources on the Digital Explorer online academy is testament to how far we’ve come in achieving this mission. So many different people have contributed to their creation from the amazing sponsors and partners to the expedition teams we’ve had the pleasure of working with, not to forget the great resource writers and designers who have brought it all to life.

We have some great projects at the moment for the classroom, learning about the Arctic or the Great Barrier Reef, something on sustainable fishing, a great archive on Pakistan and looking at the reporting of extremism in the media and several more to launch in the coming weeks.

At the heart of all we’ve tried to do is make learning about the world fun for students and easy for teachers.

We’ll be taking some time in the next months to plan the next five years. In the meantime, if you have any comments about what you’ve liked about our work over the past 5 years or even something you’d like to see more of in the next 5, please do comment below.

We’re here for young people, but more importantly we’re here for teachers, to support you in engaging the next generation in the big issues facing all of us.

Awesome Sarah – explorer and educator

We were sad to hear of the extreme weather earlier this year that has delayed  Sarah Outen’s London2London expedition. Sarah had to be rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard after she and her rowing boat were hit by a huge storm in June.

Digital Explorer has been working with Sarah on the education side of things, developing resources and competitions for primary schools and so it was great to read this blog post on her education blog:

Recipe for Adventure Competition: the results

Hello Everyone,

A little while ago we set a competition for L2L Primary Schools to design me a ‘Recipe for Adventure’ – dreaming up a tasty meal that would give me of all the different food groups that I need for adventuring.

London2London HQ received some excellent entries and I have just spent some time getting very hungry and excited at the thought of trying some of the recipes.

Everyone has been spot on in thinking about the food groups I need when I am cycling, or kayaking or rowing – so we have lots of protein for helping me rebuild my muscles, carbohydrates and sugars for giving me energy, vitamins for keeping my skin and gums healthy and all washed down with plenty of water to keep me hydrated.

My favourite entries came from English Martyrs School in Oakham and Mr Kirkland’s Class at Manor School in Didcot. Both schools will receive L2L stickers and some adventuring books, including ‘The Boy who Biked the World’ by Alistair Humprheys and my book ‘ A Dip in the Ocean’. As well as that, I shall be visiting both schools to tell them all about my adventures so far and what treats and surprises I have eaten on the way.

Coming next on the Education Blog…. I shall be sharing some of the stories from my attempt to row across the North Pacific in my boat Gulliver. You may already know – but it didn’t go quite to plan this time.

Happy summer holidays to everyone who is on them already or about to start. Make sure you pack in some adventures!


Sarah, Nelson, Hercules and Gulliver x

Congratulations to both schools who won.

And sending all our best wishes to Sarah as she prepares to face the challenges of the Pacific again. See this CBBC Newsround clip that really brings home the scale of her ambitions, and do follow her on twitter.

And, Sarah, drop by the Digital Explorer office for a cuppa and a chat next time you’re in town, you’re an inspiration and role model.

EU fishing fleet map

In the middle of making a series of resources on sustainable fisheries for the science and geography classroom and thought that I might have a play again with Ricardo Sgrillo’s excellent free Gooogle Earth tool, GE Graph.

You can easily make your own maps, using world border datasets, such as this one created by Valery35.

Download the Google Earth file, and have a play in your classroom.

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