Virtual Expeditions Teach U.S. Children About Amazon

Bijal P. Trivedi
for National Geographic Today
October 17, 2001

Children from all over the United States are exploring the Amazon. They are visiting towns, exploring regions, interacting with indigenous tribes, and investigating specific issues—logging or oil drilling in the rain forest, for example. But they are doing all this from the safety of their classrooms through the Internet.

Dan Beuttner, an explorer who is currently leading an Amazon trek in Peru, combines his passion for exploration and his love for the Internet by using technology to link ongoing expeditions to thousands of classrooms. In the past three weeks he has connected the Peruvian Amazon with children across the United States.

"These quests are very much built on the notion that there are lots of people who would love to do these adventures," said Beuttner. "Our goal is to use technology not only to put people in the driver's seat but to put them in position where they can make real discoveries and indeed direct an expedition thousands of miles away," said Beuttner.

The Amazon expedition, called Amazon Quest, is just one of several organized by Beuttner.

The focus of the current expedition is conservation.

"Amazon Quest is a mission about a fragile world," said John Fox, the teams' research director and anthropologist. "A fragile world about animals and plants and a fragile world of people."

There are 50 or more still "uncontacted" indigenous tribes located throughout the Amazon—people who are still hunting and gathering—who are living along the most remote river tributaries and willfully staying away from civilization, said Fox. "So part of Amazon Quest is understanding the challenges for the indigenous people like that. How do we protect those kinds of peoples and cultures into the next century."

With the aid of a few modern gadgets—laptop computers, a satellite dish, and a portable electrical generator—Beuttner and his team are able to broadcast live interviews, and post movies and field reports from remote locations daily. About 200,000 school children log on every day.

Children Vote on Ethical Dilemmas

The children can log on to the teams' site and follow the expedition. Every day they are asked to vote on an ethical dilemma faced by the Amazon Quest expedition. Recently, for example, the voters had to decide whether the team should buy animal products—jaguar skins, caiman hides, macaw feathers, and toucan beaks—which encourages the killing of animals, some of which are endangered.

Interviews with children at the Cyber Village Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, reveal that these interactive explorations are a hit.

Continued on Next Page >>




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