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Former Guelph teacher's virtual classroom more relevant than ever with students stuck at home

In this Following Up, we reconnect with former local teacher Joe Grabowski and his virtual classroom Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants
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Joe Grabowski. GuelphToday file photo

Despite many school closures nationwide, students with internet access at home are exposed to more learning opportunities than ever before.

‘Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants’ is a non-profit started by a former Guelph elementary teacher that brings together a global community of scientists and explorers for virtual field trips and guest speaker sessions. With many students in isolation, online learning is proving to be a popular and effective way to provide education in new and exciting ways. 

“We are very well positioned to broadcast events live to educators, parents and students right in their homes,” said Joe Grabowski, the founder of ‘Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants’ and a former science teacher with the Wellington Catholic District School Board. “We’re running more events than ever.”Y

Scientists, explorers and other experts broadcast free online sessions from around the world to discuss their research and share their experiences in things like marine biology, species conservation, space exploration and more. During a regular school year, Grabowski says the organization streams 30 to 50 live events in a month. But over the next few weeks, he says they plan to run 50 events or more to meet the demand of those looking for online learning opportunities at home.

He connects with a guest over Zoom and then broadcasts the session via a live YouTube stream. Participants can connect from anywhere in the world and get involved by asking questions and leaving comments in the chat bar. They can also browse hundreds of past broadcasts on the organization’s YouTube channel

“We’re working with zoos, aquariums, sloth rescue centres, turtle hospitals … the animals still need to be taken care of, so we can do live events from those locations,” said Grabowski. 

A wide range of content means the sessions target students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Grabowski suggests parents also participate to foster new, fun ways of learning.

“We’re encouraging parents to keep explorer journals with their kids,” he said. “Some of them are keeping maps and marking the places they visit through these live connections and writing about what they’re learning.” He adds that some educators are also joining in at home to establish a new way to connect with their students outside of the classroom. 

For parents anxious about how to manage a home-schooling environment, Grabowski suggests taking advantage of the many online resources that are becoming available locally and around the world.

“My biggest piece of advice is to just dive in. Organizations, local museums, aquariums and zoos are doing things to try to keep students and the public engaged. There’s so much being offered right now by so many exciting organizations.” 

Upcoming sessions will include a broadcast from a turtle hospital in the Florida Keys and conversations with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and National Geographic Explorer and submarine pilot Erika Bergman. In a recent session, journalist Paul Salopek shared his experience embarking on a 21,000 mile walk around the world to follow the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age. 

“His message was that the human species is resilient,” said Grabowski. “For hundreds of thousands of years, we’ve always coped and managed to come out stronger. I think that’s an important message right now.”

To learn more about ‘Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants’ and to join the virtual classroom, visit their website