Ocean racing as a teaching tool

Published on February 26th, 2015

When the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race began in Sanya, China on February 8, the high temperature in Burlington, VT was 34 degrees. When the leg finishes this Saturday in Auckland, New Zealand, the forecast is for the mid-20s. Yet despite the winter chill, the local middle school is fully focused on the Volvo Ocean Race nearly 9000 miles away.

Edmunds Middle School might be minutes from Lake Champlain, but it is over 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. Ocean racing is not in these kids’ DNA, but teacher Matt Chandler has found the distance races to be an effective teaching tool.

“The other day an old friend sent me a newspaper clipping about when my class was following the 1994-95 BOC Challenge race online,” recalled Chandler. “We didn’t have internet at school, so I would come in each day with a printout of the locations and we would plot them on a big wall map. It helped the kids see that the world was a little bigger than Vermont.”

Chandler’s personal interest continued with the current Volvo Ocean Race when he noticed how the kids were connecting with the information.

“A couple students in our school and I were racing the Virtual Volvo Ocean Race online game against each other for Leg 3 from Abu Dhabi (UAE) to Sanya, and I noticed that their geographic vocabulary was becoming pretty sophisticated as they talked about Sri Lanka, the Malacca Strait, etc.,” Chandler noted. “They were aware of weather, hurricanes, and currents, so one of the students and I created a little video to invite the ‘homerooms’ (10-12 kids and a teacher for morning check-in time) to compete against each other for the next leg.

“Of the 25 homerooms, probably 10 homerooms joined in for Leg 4, and we constantly brag about our positions, strategies, and sailing skills. It isn’t anything too organized, but the ‘accidental’ learning it is providing is pretty fun to watch. Perhaps we will have more homerooms join us for the fifth leg from New Zealand to Brazil. It almost makes up for the fact that our beautiful 120 mile long lake in front of the school is frozen solid!”

Editor’s note: Part of my enjoyment when reporting on the Volvo Ocean Race is what I learn from the online tracker. Even an old sailing editor can incur some ‘accidental’ learning.

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