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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Monday, May 30, 2011


I'm seeing a new Higher class tomorrow for the first time. I've always been critical of the jump to non-experiences when pupils enter the senior phase. There is such a temptation to force feed content and hope that students pass the memory test at the end of it all. I think that Geography in particular, due to the vast amount that the course covers, can often be delivered in this way. It acts as insurance for the teacher who stresses about their ability to get through the course, but dulls development of critical skills which are needed in both S6 and beyond.
A couple of years ago, I spent an introductory period pretty much telling students what we would be covering without providing any context. Weeks later after a couple of homework exercises and having had a bit of time to get to know the class, I realised that they could reel off learned responses, but had absolutely no idea what the lithosphere actually was, for example. So, how can I ensure that proper context has been given, firstly for this Physical Environment topic which can be so relentless in its new terminology? The easiest way I can think of is through cake...
When this idea was forming, I thought the pitch might be too low, but I've reconciled myself to it. Firstly, most of the students I see tomorrow will be just off the back of the most intensive rote learning of their lives as they prepped for exams. Secondly, the idea, for me, makes links clear. Imagine a cake without the sponge or the icing/ topping. It wouldn't quite work, would it? So imagine that the foundation of the cake, that sponge is laid out as the lithosphere. It's pretty solid, yet changes in conditions can lead to it being put under pressure - temperature, pressure etc. On its own, its bare, barren, almost lifeless. Can the students think of any areas of the earths surface geology which fits this description? Where are they? What are they? Why are they like that?
To make the cake enticing, to make it come alive, if you like, the decorative layer is important. Much thinner, but where its all going on. This gives the cake its flavour, character and can be influenced by what's beneath it and also, I suppose, can influence what's above it- what compliments those flavours. For instance, would jelly diamonds or chocolate buttons go best on chocolate icing? This layer is a little like the biosphere. Different types of geology in the lithosphere influence the development of the biosphere and that, in turn, influences the vegetation which develops at surface level.
Bring in the cream, pour it on the cake. Where does it go? Can we see 'watersheds'? Does it all stay on the surface and, if not, where does it end up? Is any lost? Does it change the surface of the cake in any way? Surely this is a perfect in for study of the actions of water in the hydrosphere.
Finally, for the Physical Environment topic, we could explore atmosphere through asking about the perfect serving temperature, how its attained and regulated and what happens if its varied.

Posted via email from Mr O'D's class posterous

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A captive audience listen to @GeoBlogs explain the origin of @missionexplore #TMbeyond

VIDEO0028.3gp Watch on Posterous

More to come on this later

Posted via email from Mr O'D's class posterous

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ignore again. Need for parents info eve

For class use. Please ignore

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Simples: The easiest lesson in the world

Sometimes, technology is a great thing, but other times, the best lesson comes from a simpler approach. Last week, we were teaching about rural change, particularly depopulation and repopulation. The lesson started with every student having a small pink piece of paper on their desk. We posed the question at the outset of the period - 'Where will you be in ten years time?'.
The response had to be anonymous and had to include a physical location and a little about life, especially careers. The replies were incredibly illuminating and sometimes, a whole life map was unfolding- precise career destinations such as marine biologists, RSAMD trained singers and taking on family businesses amongst others. The really interesting geographical pattern was the desire of many to get out of the small town. We spent some time discussing the reasons and then applied the same principles to rural villages - boredom, lack of jobs, few services (and some which had closed) etc. Depopulation covered.
From taking this trend, I suggested that, based on preferred locations expressed, Glasgow should be rapidly expanding (agreed across the class). Yet, it isn't. In fact, I ventured, there is a trend in the opposite direction. We took Troon, our location, as an example. When I asked the class to describe a typical resident of the town, the immediate reply was 'old'. We tried to explore the appeal- quieter, more quaint, a little more money in the bank from retirement etc. The next most common reply was families with kids. Again, the reasons flowed- better quality of life, less crime, less noise and so on. Apply to rural village and add the vital ingredient: jobs. Almost all of the students in ten years see themselves in high flying, high earning positions. It was agreed that Troon, despite its attractions, is not a cheap place to live. So, now we had the perfect profile for the new rural residents, retirees with money, well salaried professionals with families. The classes are now working on mock Facebook profiles of rural to urban and urban to rural migrants, the nearest to technology the lesson took us. Easy to manage, powerful messages, students leading their own learning. As the title says, simples.

Posted via email from Mr O'D's class posterous

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Recycled Shanty Town Task

Categories: s1 and s2, Urban

A good activity should never be wasted and, thankfully, found a space at my current school for our old favelas activity (above, minus the clip, which doesn't seem to have embedded). We are studying India and the students themselves in one class had indicated a desire to learn more about the rich/poor divide. I'm showing this class selected parts of Kevin McCloud's 'Slumming It', which is available in ten minute chunks on youtube. Some of it is quite graphic in its portrayal of slum life, but sets the tone very well for the activity we later do. The rest of the activity is outlined above. It actually takes a period to discuss the task, as few lessons seem to spark the curiosity and enthusiasm of kids in quite the same way. The 'building' period is manic, but worth it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

College Trip - A geocache placed in search of serenity

Categories: Geography General, Other
I was having one of those days today and decided I needed to clear the head before the hour long drive up the road. Although I teach in Troon, it's sometimes easy to forget that we are a stones throw from the sea shore. I took a drive down to the coast and found a good vantage point. Arran cast a gorgeous silhouette against the greyblue horizon and the sun shimmered on the sea. My head emptied and things didn't seem so bad.
That's what I get out of being outdoors and is why geocaching appeals to me. Some time ago now, we discussed geocaching with some S2 and S3 classes. I was curious to know how many students had heard of it (since then, a couple of students have told me about cache finds). I wanted to involve students in placing a cache, so we canvassed opinions about where they would like Troon tourists to see. It was really a lesson about how they would like to see their town represented, but also required them to think quite logically about space and place - the secret geographies became important in a game of hide and seek.
With exams, followed by exams, and then some more exams, I put this on the backburner. Finally, today, in my little time out, I managed to place the cache. We couldn't place it in the most popular suggestion as some are already there and I also wanted to make sure the other locations were not wasted. We created a map, condensed into a QR code and placed it inside the cache, giving everyone who finds it the chance to explore our other suggestions. It'll be a relatively easy find, but we are quite happy with that as it gives the classes contribution a little more exposure. Geocaching site is down just now, but look for 'College Trip' if you're in Troon and at a loose end :-)

Sending words around the world - a response to using social media in teaching #tmayr

Categories: Geography General, Other

I attended a teachmeet event recently. It was my first time at one. There were a range of speakers from a variety of different backgrounds. I learned some new things, remembered some old things and got to meet some people in the flesh for the first time, make new contacts and catch up with some old ones. One of the things which became clear early in the evening was the fact that social media is slowly finding its way into classrooms. There were presentations talking about using youtube channels, facebook and the compere, Bill Boyd, was vocal in promoting the value of building networks through these means, especially twitter. It was almost inevitable, then, that twitter would find its way into a presentation too. It's too flexible a tool not to be of use to the teaching profession. Stuart Hepburn of the UWS was explaining how it had been used to communicate with students in an interesting and novel way. For further education institutes, I think this has great potential, but during the presentation in the twitter backchannel at #tmayr , I commented that educators were perhaps missing a trick in not using it to create connections for their classrooms. Last week, in our S1 class taught by my colleague, Mr Marshall, there was a perfect example of what I meant,
Al Humphreys and an S2 class of last year at St Ninians had chatted live while Al was with the Catlin Arctic Survey. Through both Al and Jamie Buchanan Dunlop (on this years trip), we were able to do the same again through a dedicated Marr geography twitter account. The class were studying environmental issues and the scientists were studying one of the most fragile environments on earth. Despite a small hiccup, the communication was instant, encouraged curiosity in the students and gave them a real experience of the geography that they are learning about. Please take a look at our twitter account for the detail. The students are now working on an arctic climate survival exercise based on their responses. It is one of a number of link ups which have facilitated, I would hope, not just deeper understanding but a better appreciation of the subject and the students experiences within it. From using farmers as a sounding board for questions at the start of a standard grade, sourcing questions from around the world for students to respond to on volcanoes to bringing other educators into our class discussions on place, there are a world of ways to use twitter to improve your classroom.