Off to the Arctic, but this time with a European contingent on board!


An Arctic adventure with a slight difference today; a virtual single school as opposed to a multi-schools event and involving an international establishment, namely the Geneva English School (GES) in Switzerland (  It turned out to be a rather small world too as Rhianna Davies-Smith, Project Manager at Wicked Weather Watch, had spent three years in Switzerland when she was younger and attended a school located very close to GES.  We had to tweak the day a little to cope with the hour difference and their scheduled break and lunch times, but, fortunately, all went smoothly.  On board were two, Year 5 classes and their teachers, who were each given the name of a well-known Arctic explorer upon entering the Zoom meeting (Robert Peary and Ann Bancroft).

Over the course of the day, we explored the following enquiry question together: ‘What is so cool about the Arctic?‘.

After Rhianna had formally welcomed and introduced everyone, I took the opportunity to develop pupils’ (and teachers’) locational knowledge by using Digimap for Schools (DfS) to pinpoint where we all were.

I then shared the learning objectives and format of the day so that our intentions were very clear; we had plenty to get through within the space of five and a half hours!  We swiftly moved onto the ‘starter’.  I launched Google Earth Pro to transport pupils and teachers virtually to Svalbard in Norway and posed a number of questions to them relating to distance, direction, means of transport, cost, time and sustainability.  We then accessed Google Earth Pro and the historical imagery button on the toolbar to see how Svalbard has changed over time.  I threw a few questions at pupils to gauge their perceptions of the Arctic, before showing a short movie clip about this fantastic region (  Pupils (and teachers) were also surprised to discover that there are actually four North Poles!

Gripped by the dramatic scenery.

During the ‘main’ session, we looked at what the Arctic is like, zooming in on the tundra biome, identifying animals that live there, investigating what the weather was like in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, analysing and interpreting a climate graph for Longyearbyen, Svalbard and spotting changes to the Blomstrand Glacier between 1918 and 2022.

Ten out of ten between the two classes involved!

Working in pairs, analysing and interpreting the climate graph and table of data, so that they could answer my questions successfully.

Prior to break, pupils were invited to write down three intriguing and rather different questions that they would like to ask a ‘real life’ explorer.  Youngsters were very keen, however, and had already done this before joining the Zoom meeting this morning!

The workshop resumed with a visit from Nanou Blair Gould, who had travelled to the High Arctic Archipelago by tall ship.  Among many extraordinary things, she witnessed the effects of global warming first-hand.  Nanou was so invigorated by the adventure, e.g. the people; life outdoors; the sense of purpose, that she rejoined the ship, working among the small crew for almost four months.  She talked about her Arctic experience and answered the youngsters’ questions confidently and comprehensively.  When Rhianna quizzed pupils later, including asking if they wished to explore the poles, several said ‘yes’, clearly having been inspired by Nanou and appreciating the need to protect such fragile environments.

A birthday celebration on board, which was brought to a rather abrupt end due to the sighting of a polar bear.

One of the highlights of Nanou’s trip, the Northern Lights.

Feeling confident! Keen to share his thoughts with the wider audience.

Following lunch, we considered what we mean by indigenous communities and how they rely upon the Arctic.

Introducing and reinforcing subject-specific vocabulary.

Quite a challenging task with some long words!

In addition, we discussed how climate change is affecting the people that are living there, especially the people of the taiga.  Pupils were shown two movie clips and then asked to imagine that they were one of the children within them.  They were challenged to think and write down a short message that they might wish to convey to the rest of the world.  Teachers selected a number of individuals from their classes to come to the front and share their messages with the wider audience.  Some of their messages were certainly very powerful.

Rhianna then launched the sugar cube igloo challenge.  She proposed that pupils worked in small groups within their classrooms and, using the template and a box of sugar cubes provided, tried to construct an igloo.  Some images of the children in action and their creations can be viewed below.  Photographs of their designs will also shortly be uploaded to Wicked Weather Watch’s website to enable an online vote to take place.  The winning design will receive some goodies from Wicked Weather Watch.

As well as gathering pupil and staff voice, it was hoped to have time for pupils to contemplate how they might reduce their carbon footprint.  Since this required some in-depth discussion and annotation of a footprint, it was decided to tackle this on Monday morning instead when things were less pressed.  Nevertheless, it was emphasised that we can all have a positive impact upon our planet and that sustainability is certainly important for the climate of the UK, Switzerland, the Arctic and the rest of the world.

Some of teachers’ and pupils’ ‘concluding comments‘ can be found below:

Fun; super cool; interesting; fascinating; extraordinary (words gathered from the children).

An interesting insight into the Arctic.  The practical activities were exciting.

Thank you very much!

We were inspired by Nanou and may do some painting on Monday.

What an incredible piece of artwork created by one pupil!

Capturing the colours of the Arctic; it is not entirely white.

Our next virtual adventure to the Arctic is scheduled for Wednesday 25th April 2023 in conjunction with GlosGeog, Gloucestershire’s local Geographical Association (GA) branch.  Do get in touch if you wish to be involved (you do not have to be a GA member or Gloucestershire-based school); we would be delighted to have you on board (contact Rhianna Davies-Smith:

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