The desert island classroom

By William Hall January 14, 2014
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Society sponsored: Students send their teacher to a desert Island to survive a month of isolation…

WHILE MOST TEACHERS prefer the comfort and safety of their classroom, one Tassie teacher and adventurer, Andrew Hughes, has opted to communicate his lessons on a deserted island.

In his fifth AG society-sponsored expedition, he is exploring the tiny 1km-long, 400m-wide island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, in what he calls, The Crusoe Project.

Andrew’s young followers are able to interact with him daily – through real-time video, blogs, and a forum – as he continues to explore the island’s ecosystem, conducting experiments, and attempting to hunt and gather his own food and water.

By swapping ruler for knife and desk for kayak, Andrew hopes to engage young children’s interest in the environment.

“The great thing about adventure learning is that it engages students in a real-time situation,” he says.

“Once they’re listening and keen, the learning just pops in.”

While he does have modern equipment – a laptop and satellite phone to keep his students updated daily – his methods for obtaining food are far more rudimentary.

“I’m enjoying getting back to basics, and facing the daily challenge of feeding myself, collecting water and staying warm,” he says.

The Crusoe Project is focusing on experiments such as seed absorption, seed germination, evaporation and solar oven design, which is being conducted through weekly experiments. “At the same time students can do the same experiment in the classroom and we can compare our results using an online forum,” he says.

It is not all smooth sailing, however, as Andrew explains on day three of his blog. “I did see some pigs rooting up the ground and had a fright when the white one charged… I have enough [water] for ten days, maybe a few more. Let’s hope it rains soon”.

In previous experiments the spirited adventurer has kayaked around the Papua New Guinea coast, scaled the eight tallest peaks of Australia, and sought after Tasmanian tigers – each expedition focussed on a different teaching emphasis.

While he is enjoying the experience, a lack of shelter from the island’s elements may promise to make this expedition an interesting one, he says, “I’m wet through and [have] no change of clothes; might be a cold night”. Not only does it look like Andrew is in for a long night, but also a long month.

To follow Andrew’s progress and to read his daily blog, visit