How Fourbirdsaboating Began
Fourbirdsaboating began in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2010 when Founding Director Sarah Weldon was teaching English in the village of Vale in Samtskhe-Javakheti ( სამცხე-ჯავახეთი). The school had few resources, no running water, no electricity, and no books. Sarah was the first native English speaker the students had met, and needed a way to make learning more practical and interactive.
Using BBC Oceans to Teach English as a Foreign Language
Sarah had brought a selection of DVDs with her to Georgia, one of which was the BBC Oceans television series, which had both British and American English Presenters and would allow her to illustrate the differences in British and American pronunciation, as well as some of the more quirky everyday expressions (flippin’ ‘eck, blimey) and aspects of British culture, such as tea drinking and introducing yourself by shaking hands.
Seeing Beneath the Waves for the First Time
On playing the first episode of BBC Oceans, it was immediately obvious that the students were fascinated not only by the old laptop, but their first glimpse of British television, and for many of them, seeing the ocean for the first time, especially the under water world and the adventure of scuba diving. Though none of them had heard of the likes of Sir David Attenborough or Kylie Minogue, all of them knew of Jacques Yves Cousteau‘s life as an aquanaut. The class were very quiet as they watched the BBC Oceans episode, forty of them all huddled closely around a tiny screen with only the laptop’s speakers to listen to. The lesson ended, but they hadn’t watched the whole episode and they had hundreds of questions they wanted to ask, even those who were previously shy in English, so they asked if they could stay after school and so began our English club ‘Oceans Project Georgia‘ (OPG).
Moving to the Country’s Capital Tbilisi
By 2012, OPG had moved to the country’s capital Tbilisi (თბილისი) and had some 80 students or ‘Oceans Ambassadors’ aged 8-25 years as well as 11 voluntary project leaders from Georgia, Russia, UK, Australia, and the USA (including two local Zoo Keepers who offered students work experience at Tbilisi Zoo). OPG became the country’s first Independent Operator of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award for Young People, and by May 2012 had gained charitable status (registered number: 750415) within Georgia as well as a grant from Lush Charity Pot.
32 Project Sessions
Each Saturday for 32 weeks, the students would meet for 3 hours at a local private school. They watched 20 minutes of the BBC Oceans series, and then split into small groups to research a topic from that episode. Working together in groups was a new way of learning in Georgian schools and was about team work and communicating with each other in English, whilst learning how to research and put the findings in their own words. Next, they would present to the rest of the class for a maximum of 2 minutes on their topic, working together and learning how to present and speak to an audience, as well as how to listen and ask questions.
I am so thankful to OPG. It taught me a lot. OPG helped me so much with making presentations and talking to the public! Nutsa Benidze, now in Philadelphia, USA on a Flex Programme.
Oceans Project changed my life. I’m interested in science, I learnt more about the world, the Earth, I improved my English, my knowledge, and about how to care for our environment. Ana Gagoshvili, now studying Business Administration at Tbilisi State University.
The second half of the session was about playing team games, learning expedition skills, Skyping with scientists and students in other countries, reading expedition blogs, working on their Duke of Edinburgh’s International Awards or environmental competitions, and making short films with Georgian Film Director Nikoloz Khomasuridze.
Connecting with the Outside World
It was during these sessions, that we followed ocean rower Roz Savage MBE on her expedition across the Indian Ocean and ESA’s Antarctica Base Medic Dr Alexander Kumar, as well as the BBC Oceans’ Expedition Leader and Presenter Paul Rose. This was incredibly inspirational for our Oceans Ambassadors, many of whom were children of international diplomats, refugees from the war with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, IDPs, street children, orphans, and students from a variety of public and private schools. This was the first time that they had met each other and their love for the environment and their desire to learn English gave them a common goal.
WizIQ Online Classroom Pilot
It wasn’t until the Autumn of 2012, that we decided to trial an online platform with WizIQ (based in India). At this time, there were protests regarding human rights of prisoners, and Georgia was about to have it’s first democratic election. There were fears about the protests and this made it difficult for students to attend the sessions in person. We launched a pilot project using the WizIQ online platform, and were astounded to find that within just a few weeks, we had students from not just across Georgia, but from 56 other countries, some of which we had never heard of, or were war torn or remote or didn’t have access to education for women. Since we hadn’t advertised the class, this was a huge surprise, but planted a seed for the potential on an online platform which would reach a worldwide audience, based on our by now well established ‘Oceans Project Georgia’ syllabus.
Leaving Georgia for the United Kingdom
With life in Georgia uncertain, the 11 project leaders, including Sarah decided to leave Georgia, but out of the online experiences, a new project was born. Around the same time, we had heard rumours about a world first ocean rowing race which would take place across the Pacific Ocean in 2014 and you didn’t need to be an experienced rower to take part. Technology had also come a long way since the days of Roz Savage’s rows, and an idea for a longer term and more formal project (under the team’s Pacific Ocean row name ‘Fourbirdsaboating‘) developed.
Fourbirdsaboating Uses Frog Platform to Teach Students Worldwide Live from a Boat
Having returned to Sarah’s hometown of Henley-On-Thames, Fourbirdsaboating was born. Four very ordinary women, would row across an ocean every year, teaching live from the boat, bringing the outside world in, and raising funds to provide education to those who have little or no access and are therefore unable to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Our specialist area would be Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) as well as geography, ocean literacy, English as a foreign language, and British Sign Language.
The future for Fourbirdsaboating as a UK registered charity, a series of ocean based expeditions, and an environmental education project is incredibly exciting. The team will use a combination of technology and blended learning from WizIQ and a purpose built Frog platform to reach students worldwide live from their boat ‘Mr Toad’. The project will remain permanently based in Henley-On-Thames, connecting with Henley’s local schools, the twinned town of Bled in Slovenia, and children’s projects worldwide which have been nominated by the Thai Children’s Trust and Kaya volunteer. More about the Fourbirdsaboating aims and our four incredibly inspirational Patrons.