The Okavango River Basin Is One of a Kind. Explore It With This StoryMap

Educator Heidi Ragsdale wrote this post.

As an eighth grader, I saved up money for months and months and used it to fund a trip that activated my curiosity for exploring the world. After a bus ride, train trip, shuttle seat, van expedition, and eight hours of hiking with a 40-pound pack, I found myself staring at the blue-green water of Havasu Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The village I had just hiked through was inhabited by members of the Havasupai, one of the peoples who call the canyon home. The six-day trip helped me better understand the need for natural resource conservation as well as preservation of cultures who visited and lived in the area long before I arrived. It is with great respect for land, water, and culture that I find myself, 28 years later, supporting teachers and learners in participating in conservation efforts.

With the release of the interactive StoryMap Okavango Explore, which introduces the work of National Geographic’s Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP), classrooms can venture to the iconic wilderness of the Okavango River in southern Africa. Since 2015, NGOWP has been surveying and collecting scientific data on the Okavango River system and working with local communities; NGOs; and the governments of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana to secure permanent, sustainable protection for the greater Okavango River Basin. Use this StoryMap and the following lesson ideas to learn about the people who live there, the NGOWP team’s recent expeditions, biodiversity threats facing the region, and solutions for protecting this key location on Earth!


  • Empower students to use their geo-muscles to identify potential future expeditions within the Okavango Basin. Have them plan out a 10-day expedition and create a StoryMap of their trip. Make sure to include the mapped route, tools, food, culture, and shelter. 
  • Use digital maps to investigate resource changes over time due to human activity within the Okavango Basin.
  • Have students investigate populations of animal species in the Okavango over time.


  • Challenge students to identify ways in which global conservation efforts have changed over time. 
  • Dive into the threats within the Okavango by supporting students in researching the civil war that occurred in the region.

Left: The NGOWP team poles in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. The 2019 crossing focused on the Okavango Delta’s northern and eastern reaches, a new route for the team and an area seldom visited by humans. They traveled several hundred kilometers in mekoro and along the way conducted wetland bird surveys, hydrological surveys, and surveys of mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates (Mike Beckner).

Right: The Luanginga Waterfall on the Luanginga River is seen from the air during an expedition in which NGOWP members met with village stakeholders in Angola and conducted wet-season biodiversity surveys (Chris Boyes).

Reading and writing:

  • Have students write a statement that summarizes their experience with the Okavango Explore StoryMap. Then, direct them to create a postcard by pairing their statement with an image. Use these postcard creations to connect and share with other classrooms. 
  • Instruct students to research the people who live in and around the Okavango and write a journal entry from one of their perspectives, such as that of a Namibian child, an Angolan government official, or a member of NGOWP.

Art and engineering: 

  • Host an eco-engineering design or art project using only recyclable items. Students can showcase their ideas to help save animals, address human impacts on water quality, or meet other needs in the Okavango. Host a student presentation event and auction off Okavango eco-art to raise funds to protect the Okavango watershed.

For any class: 

  • Create a whole-class Okavango StoryMap, with students providing information on the region, its inhabitants, NGOWP’s expeditions, threats, and—most importantly—solutions to further conservation efforts in the Okavango. This would be a simplified version of the original StoryMap. Share within the community and with classrooms around the world.

Heidi Ragsdale is a STEM educator’s educator! After nearly 20 years in eighth-grade science, Heidi now runs STEM is My Future, LLC, where she provides professional development for teachers with geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, problem-based learning, National Geographic’s Geo-Inquiry Process, and Maker Ed. Currently, Heidi works at Grand Junction MakerSpace and the Business Incubator, a community makerspace in western Colorado. She serves as a Space Exploration Educator Crew Orion member with Space Center Houston; a Space Foundation Teacher Liaison; a Solar System Ambassador; a recipient of funding from the National Geographic Society; an Esri teacher trainer for GIS; a teacher forum member of 100Kin10; a Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) ambassador; the webmaster for Colorado Delta Kappa Gamma; and on the board of the Latin Anglo Alliance Foundation. She is the founder of the Geo Maker Institute and #GJSpaceLadies, a group of like-minded space-loving educators who get it done! Heidi’s favorite things to make are beautiful digital maps, geo-jewelry, and a difference on Earth.

The featured image is of a hippopotamus in the Okavango Delta, Botswana (Madeleine Foote)

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