SFU chemist George Agnes is the architect of an educational program that has its participants learning while running across the world’s most challenging terrain. Last year was in Bolivia (above)

Learning on the run – in the desert

SFU students research while running across Botswanan desert.

Talk about a living-learning experience.

Guided by an education curriculum designed by a Simon Fraser University professor, eight youths learned on the spot as they ran across the Kalahari Desert in Botswana from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8.

The 17- to 21-year-old runners researched several science-related subjects connected to a specific academic theme while crossing 400 kilometres of desert in the sixth chapter of the impossible2Possible (i2P) World Expedition Series.

This year’s theme was water availability and use in the Kalahari Desert and its effects on biodiversity and human development.

The California-based, non-profit organization sponsors youth expeditions with academic themes investigating pressing world issues. For the past three years, expeditions have taken their youth ambassadors to Baffin Island, Tunisia, the Amazon basin and the Bolivian Altiplano.

“Foundational scientific principles are at the core of the i2P expedition’s academic themes,” says George Agnes, an SFU chemistry professor and associate dean of the Faculty of Science who developed the current trek’s academic component.

“The i2P academic program allows its youth ambassadors to identify and learn what they are interested in as it relates to the Kalahari Desert and the trip’s academic theme,” he adds. “Participants spent several weeks prior to the trip doing background research to decide what kind of experiments and projects they’ll conduct in the field during their run. They also trained rigorously for their run and maintained their daily school work.”

This year’s participants chose to study water purification, animals, human-rights issues related to indigenous peoples, and economic and biodiversity challenges connected to water in the Kalahari Desert.

Agnes says the i2P expeditions exemplify experiential learning at its best because, through the Internet, the youth ambassadors are linked to students in classrooms globally who are studying the same subjects.

“The expedition’s curriculum is free to schools that want to follow the youth ambassadors’ field activity and communicate with them daily via satellite,” explains Agnes. “It’s a chance for students to get immediate feedback to their questions straight from the source. SFU’s Faculty of Science is delighted to engage in such promotion of science outreach and innovative science pedagogy.”

Last year, Agnes designed the academic program for i2P’s expedition to Bolivia’s Altiplano region around the importance of lithium. Bolivia has one of the world’s few commercially harvestable salt flats containing lithium, a trace metal used in batteries to power cell phones and other mobile electronic devices.

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