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Students climb Mount Everest virtually

Saikaly and his team make their way up Mount Everest.
Saikaly and his team make their way up Mount Everest.

Adventure filmmaker Elia Saikaly was approaching the top of Mount Everest Friday when he took some time out of the climb to speak to a high school classroom in Canada about his journey.

Students talked via Skype to Saikaly at his base at the mountain’s Camp 2, about 22,500 feet above sea level. They asked him about adjusting to the cold climate, his diet (lots of eggs, meat and potatoes), how to train for such a feat (plenty of exercise and hiking trips), and what keeps him motivated (hot showers, strawberries, and his family).

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the first successful climb to the summit of Mount Everest—the highest point on Earth—and Saikaly’s fifth expedition on the mountain. He reached the 29,035-foot peak on Wednesday, and brought his entire journey into K12 classrooms through ePals, an educational media company that provides secure, collaborative technology for schools.

Throughout the 60-day trip, Saikaly posted daily blogs with videos and photos. Students followed his journey through an interactive map that pinpointed his exact location on the route, and listened to recordings he left at certain checkpoints. They posted questions and comments in a forum where they also could connect with other students worldwide.

“Technology can be a powerful education tool,” says ePals Global Community Vice President Stephanie Cohen, who moderated the Skyping between Saikaly and the students. “Mount Everest is such a universal landmark that it has sparked a lot of interest from teachers and students, who are excited to follow Elia on a daily basis and root him on as he makes his way to the summit.”

The expedition website has resources for teachers using Saikaly’s adventure in their lessons. In one high school class, students read a novel about Mount Everest as they followed Saikaly’s journey. An elementary school teacher used the blog posts and forums to motivate students to practice reading and writing.

Patsy Graber, a fifth grade teacher in the Cheltenham (Penn.) School District, teaches a course called World Cultures through Technology, which uses the computer as a link to the rest of the world. “Seeing the ‘top of the world’ and experiencing Nepal and the Sherpas is a fantastic way to open up young minds,” she says. “It was great for the students to be able to write to Elia with their questions and answers—typing is also part of my curriculum—and they were so excited to get his responses.”

Saikaly has Skyped with about 15 classrooms in India, Germany, the United States and Canada. An estimated 700 to 1,000 classrooms followed the expedition online, Cohen says. This particular journey was a test to see how the community reacted, and, in the future, ePals will develop lessons and supporting content to accompany similar expeditions, she adds.

“It’s exciting to go on a virtual field trip and explore a place you may never be able to go in reality,” Cohen says. “Getting behind someone as they’re trying to hit their personal goal, and watching the twists and turns is a good life lesson.”

Saikaly encourages students to identify and work hard to overcome their own Everest-like challenge, such as getting an A in math or becoming captain of the soccer team.

“It’s really simple—we all need to have goals in our lives. I truly believe if you can envision yourself reaching your goal and believe in yourself, you can achieve it,” Saikaly told the class in Canada over Skype. “These young students are climbing mountains every day in their lives, and have the strength to overcome challenges.”

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