RRS Discovery⚓️

Today we had a day off from university, so Jennifer, Beth and I decided to use the time to do an education trip to the RRS Discovery ship in Dundee. Our aim was to learn about the history, geography and science of the exhibition and reflect on the suitability of the exhibition for children and school trips and justify learning that would take place on a school visit.

The Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic is the reason Dundee has it’s fond relationship to penguins and they are seen throughout the city.


The RSS Discovery was built in Dundee by the Dundee Shipbuilders Company and its purpose was Antarctic research. RRS stands for Royal Research Ship and it was first launched on its adventure to the ‘unknown land’ on the 21st of March 1901.

Only 6 years previous, the first person landed on the continent and no one had ever travelled more than 50 km from its coast. The expedition to the coldest place on earth was in the pursuit of new lands, scientific advancement and adventure. Their first expedition was successful and named the ‘Discovery Expedition’.

The ship sighted the Antarctic coastline on the 8th of January 1902 after it’s long journey from Dundee. The journey consisted of many stops along the way, these included; London, Madeira, Brazil, Cape Town, Macquarie Islands and New Zealand.

The expedition was an exciting experience as the land was so unknown to any person at this time.

The ship was caught in ice at the end of the expedition. They had to use explosives to set it free. This happened on the 16th of February 1904 and they sailed back home to Dundee.

The successfulness is the reason it floats in Dundee today.



The city of Dundee is positioned on the east coast and because of this it gets a great deal of shelter from bad weather and this meant for an ideal location for a harbour.

The River Tay also serves great importance. It is a passageway for imports and exports which supported the city and it’s development over time.

Whilst in Antarctica drinking water was a lengthy and hard process. Ice blocks had to be cut out of the ground using picks and shovels, placed on a sledge and then pulled back to the Discovery ship where they would be melted into drinking water.

Fresh food would not survive long over the lengthy time at sea so they had to take a lot of preserved food with them. The continent of Antartica does not produce any fresh produce as the conditions are so harsh and cold, no plant would be able to survive and grow. The only fresh food it provided was seals and penguins which the men hunted and used for food.

Hartley T. Ferrar was the first person to do any major geological research in Antartica. On the expedition he discovered and plotted the distribution of the different types of rocks found in the mountains. He recorded his findings in details scale drawings. He found the evidence that Antartica was indeed a continent by finding granite – the main rock from which continents are formed. He also discovered the some of the first concerns of global warming. He found evidence that the ice and glaciers in Antartica has receded up to 2 or 3 miles in places. Today global warming is a major concern for us. The conclusions from Ferrar’s research was that the climate conditions in Antartica was once very different. Be found evidence of once existing rivers. His work helped scientists construct theories of continental drift and plate tectonics proving that Antarctica has moved to its present position from a part of the world’s surface where the climate was very different.



Edward Wilson was the zoologist on board the Discovery. His role was to identify and describe the variety of penguins, whales, seals and birds that he would find. The Discovery expedition was the first to sight an Emperor Penguin and to collect the first egg of the species ever seen.



Thomas Hodgson was involved with the marine biology research on board. During the expedition he collected; fish, sponges, corals, jellyfish, sea-urchins, sea-lilies, starfish, sea spiders, parasitic worms, spider-crabs, amphipods and sea-squirts. He caught the species by cutting holes int he ice and putting nets through the holes. The species collected were collected within a slushy ice which meant they had to be thawed before they could be inspected.


Justification for a class visit

The RRS Discovery is a great resource for a school trip. It offers an active approach to learning about social subjects. The RRS Discovery could even be made into your class’s term/year topic as it offers IDL opportunities.

After our visit to the expedition I am able to reflect on its suitability to a class. I think that a visit to the exhibition would suit the upper stages in school best as there is a lot of information to read on your way round which younger years would struggle to read and engage with. But saying this it isn’t all text information there are also movies to watch and audio recordings to listen to which means a not so confident reader could use these instead. Things also to consider are the heights of the exhibits as they many not be suitable to certain age groups.

I think the class visit should take place during their topic but closer to the start since i feel if you took a class pre-topic they might be confused as to what the exhibition is about or not have to motivation to engage in the exhibition as to if you did it during the topic you would be able to brief the class prior to the visit so they would have an understanding of what to expect and the basic story which they can then deepen during their visit.

The intended learning of the visit would be; to learn about the history of the RRS Discovery and it’s heritage relating to Dundee, to learn about the how the achievements the research gained effects the present day, to develop an understanding of different cultures and geological climates, to explore different times and places, to build on any previous knowledge and to develop a knowledge of past artefacts. This learning can be then explored and discussed back in the classroom through a series of lessons.

Experiences and outcomes that would guide these learning intentions would include:

  • I can use primary and secondary sources selectively to research events in the past. SOC 2-01a.
  • I can interpret historical evidence from a range of periods to help to build a picture of Scotland’s heritage and my sense of chronology. SOC 2-02a.
  • I can investigate a Scottish historical theme to discover how past events or the actions of individuals or groups have shaped Scottish society. SOC 2-03a.
  • I can compare and contrast a society in the past with my own and contribute to a discussion of the similarities and differences. SOC 2-04a.
  • I can discuss the environmental impact of human activity and suggest ways in which we can live in a more environmentally- responsible way. SOC 2-08a.
  • By comparing my local area with a contrasting area outwith Britain, I can investigate the main features of weather and climate, discussing the impact on living things. SOC 2-12a.
  • I can explain how the physical environment influences the ways in which people use land by comparing my local area with a contrasting area. SOC 2-13a. 
  • To extend my mental map and sense of place, I can interpret information from different types of maps and am beginning to locate key features within Scotland, UK, Europe or the wider world. SOC 2-14a.

There are many interdisciplinary links that could be relevant to this topic. This topic would use the second approach of IDL which is uses curricular areas “to explore a theme or an issue, meet a challenge, solve a problem or complete a final project”.

Technology –

A link to technology and design could be made. This could involve learning about the design of the ship, how it was made and what materials were used. A lesson could be conducted whereby a class get to design and create their own ship with the influence of the RRS Discovery design.

I can extend and enhance my design skills to solve problems and can construct models. TCH 2-09a.

Health and Well-being –

A link to health and well-being could be made by learning about the harsh weather conditions that the people aboard RRS Discovery had to endure and learn what they did/used to survive.

I am learning to assess and manage risk, to protect myself and others, and to reduce the potential for harm when possible. HWB 2-16a.

Expressive Arts –

A link to expressive arts could be made. During the RRS Discovery expedition the zoologist pained pictures of the animals found in Antartica, this could be made into a lesson whereby the children practice painting pictures of the different animals you get in Antartica.

I have the opportunity to choose and explore an extended range of media and technologies to create images and objects, comparing and combining them for specific tasks. EXA 2-02a.

Another link in this curricular area can be under the Drama heading. Children could create a drama piece of the RRS Discovery’s journey based on what they learnt on their visit.

I have created and presented scripted or improvised drama, beginning to take account of audience and atmosphere. EXA 2-14a

Science –

A link to science could be made. Children could investigate and learn about the different animals that were found on the expedition and learn how they survived in the Antarctic conditions.

I can identify and classify examples of living things, past and present, to help me appreciate their diversity. I can relate physical and behavioural characteristics to their survival or extinction. SCN 2-01a.

Another link to science could be made by learning about buoyancy, relating this to how the ship stayed afloat and what makes this happen. An activity in the classroom could involve a tub of water and the children would test different materials and record their buoyancy levels.

By investigating floating and sinking of objects in water, I can apply my understanding of buoyancy to solve a practical challenge. SCN 2-08b.

 Another link to science could be made by looking at the substances that make but the continent of Antarctica and compare these to the substances that make up other continents in the world.

Having explored the substances that make up Earth’s surface, I can compare some of their characteristics and uses. SCN 2-17a.

Another link to science could be made by looking into the what research was found and discovered during the RRS Discovery expedition and identifying how this has impacted society today.

Through research and discussion I have an appreciation of the contribution that individuals are making to scientific discovery and invention and the impact this has made on society. SCN 2-20a.


During the class visit to the RSS Discovery they will get to engage in the number of activities. These activities can provide an evidence-based approach for children. These include; watching short movie clips, dressing up, creating crayon rubbings, using a toy crane (involves problem solving skills), drawing animal pictures, paying with child friendly builder tools, using their senses to feel, smell, hear and see what the expedition was like and walking around the desks of the RRS Discovery.

The exhibition also offer pre-booked school group visits. These visits are 4 hours long and have a structured timetable to its contents.

10:00 Arrive and introduction – group taken to dedicated “Polarama” education suite.– Snack and comfort break – bag drop in our secure lockers.
10:15 Full guided tour of RRS Discovery – focusing on elements of the ships design, her voyages and the stories of the crew.
11:15 Workshop (in Polarama)
12:15 Packed lunch (in Polarama or on quayside if good weather)
12:45 Exhibition area with free treasure hunt sheets and chance to explore all exhibits and interactives as you saw on your visit.
13:45 Comfort break and bag collect
14:00 Depart

The visits can be tailored to different age groups including the activities and workshops within them. But the above structure is the most common one they would use with a group.

One of the most popular workshops the exhibition can offer is one called the ‘Polar Explorer’ workshop. It is run by the education team at the exhibition. The workshop begins with a discussion with the children on what the climate and conditions were like that the explorers had to endure while in Antartica, including details on frostbite, scurvy and hypothermia. A debate can also be brought up for children to give their own opinions on about women in society, as there were no women in Antartica during this “heroic age”. The workshop then moves onto a demonstration and re-anactment. Children will get to be models and try on the different clothing that they would have worn on the expedition to Antartica. Children will get the opportunity to examine them and consider the materials use in them. The workshop then ends with a question and answer session.

To reflect on what the children have learnt during the trip I would create a series of lessons touching on different curricular areas to include IDL and each lesson would touch on a certain aspect of the exhibition to test, renew and deepen their learning and knowledge on the topic.

To assess that the children have achieved the intended learning I would devise a suitable plenary for each lesson to check for understanding of the learning intentions ad success criteria.



The Discovery expedition made a great contribution to human knowledge. While answering some questions about the nature of Antartica and the creatures that live there, it also posed many more questions, setting the stage for future explores and scientists.

For children, the Discovery is a great local exhibition where children can expand and build on their knowledge of the world they live in. It gives them the opportunity to use fieldwork, specifically the look and see type, along with sensory activities which really brings the experience alive, active and create a context for understanding. Also by making a topic out of the RSS Discovery it would motivate and influence children to want to explore and discover their world.



Turn your pupils into Polar Explorers!

1 thought on “RRS Discovery⚓️

  1. Ali Gellatly

    Great blog entry and very good detail on what can be taken from a visit to Discovery Point and RRS Discovery. Should you require any more detail on what we can offer for an education visit for any age group please contact me on education@dundeeheritage.co.uk. Thanks. Ali – Education Officer at Discovery Point and RRS Discovery


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