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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stepping Stones


This was a simple, but enjoyable activity which could be used for just about any subject. In this example, we were using it to help teach feature formations. I did the same type of activity with S3 and S5 for rivers and glaciation respectively. The general premise is to spread some key terms around randomly and ask students to 'walk' through an explanation. For each stepping stone, students must develop the relevance of the term in respect to the overall explanation.
For our example above, students were asked to walk through drumlin formations. This was useful exam practice as the knowledge was fine, but the order of the response was a little muddled. It allowed me to link this to organisation of exam responses. For S3, it was really a really useful piece of knowledge assessment and allowed us to identify a river feature which we would need to develop and one where whole class knowledge was secure. An activity I will definitely be using again.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Really lovely hungry man and sauce dips (do not adjust your sets)

While the above sounds like a most forgettable scenario, it is one that I remembered easily from a students jotter this afternoon, exactly the purpose of the statement in the title. This was Michael creating a revision mnemonic for his work on climate graphs. The class were finding memorising the important parts of the graph for inclusion in the description difficult and we set this as a short exercise in the class to be finished at home. So what does it mean? Although It's not in order, it refers to

R- range of temperature

L- lowest and

H- highest precipitation and temperature

M- the months when these occur

A- annual precipitation, if easily quantifiable/ available

S- seasonal variations

D- descriptive words e.g. hot, dry, mild etc

This is a technique I've used before, but had completely forgotten about until the opportunity presented itself today. A very simple and, hopefully, effective way to memorise key ideas and content.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

'Thunking' Skills

Tried using some thunks (http://www.thunks.co.uk) with classes last week with mixed results. I like the idea of a question which seems inane but, when used in the right circumstances, can provoke disagreement. I'll share one instance which worked well and one which didn't.
With two S4 classes, I was ready to begin looking at hot deserts. Two things had been playing on my mind. One was how strictly we as teachers define natural regions in geography. Most teachers, myself included, start looking at natural regions by mapping them. This adds to a notion that such regions are easily contained by boundaries, something we then turn on it's head when examining desertification and the vulnerable fringes of such zones.
The other factor foremost in my thoughts was the difficulty in describing a climate evident in some students earlier work on rainforests. I wanted students to think a little more deeply about what makes a hot desert just that.
The period with my large S4 group went well. They are a class where discussion usually flourishes not only due to the number of potential opinions due to the class size, but also due to the confidence of some of the individuals within it. I started the period with some pre-picked thunks - is it ever ok to cheat? Can days have a colour? Which weighs more, lined paper or blank? This set the tone before we moved on to the subject specific. An ex colleague of mine, Kevin O'Hagan, had drawn my attention to a story about the Ataxama desert in South America. Part of this desert had received 32 inches of snow in 24 hours. I asked the class if it was possible to still call the Atacama a desert. This led to discussion of what constitutes a desert, how a desert climate may be typically viewed in terms of temperature and precipitation, why freak events shouldn't distort an overall pattern and how we might describe that climate in geographical terms through temperature range, annual and seasonal rainfall patterns etc.
The second question I posed was after I had asked students to re-examine their natural regions maps for desert locations. As these gave very set boundaries for deserts, I asked if it was possible to say that deserts had a beginning and an end. One of the most interesting discoveries from this part of the discussion was that a number of students thought they did. From this, we could set about discussing why desert boundaries may be in a constant state of flux, thereby introducing desertification. For this class, thunks were a valuable tool in reaching the aims of our lesson.
With my smaller class in the same year group, the lesson could not have been more different and was down to a miscalculation on my part of what might engage the class. Despite, or perhaps because of the smaller numbers, I have always found it very difficult to engage this class in discussion. There are some very able students in the group, but students who are much more reticent to air their view or, in some cases (and not a bad thing) want to know the purpose of an activity before engaging fully in it rather than seeing where it takes them. I had thought that perhaps the random nature of the starter questions might relax the class into the subject specific part but, in hindsight, thunks only delayed my teaching input here rather than enriching it. I would use these again with the same class, but maybe as an anonymous vote or as anonymous written returns which could then be brought into the lesson at the appropriate point.
So, overall, in terms of the success of the strategy, a score draw. For the way in which it worked with the first class, I would encourage others to try it, but think carefully about who you might use it with and how. Please let me know if you try/ have tried thunks with classes and how it went by leaving a comment below.

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Seeing through the crowds: How to analyze a riot

So far, my new Advanced Higher class have been thinking about the Geographical Study, the part of their portfolio which involves independent fieldwork. I have previously been guilty of giving this less prominence early in the course as we tried to equip classes with the techniques that they would need for field study, and am pleased that topics are in place for most candidates already. With that in mind, we are changing direction tomorrow as I focus on Geographical Issues. I'm planning on using current events as a trigger again, just as we did with local issues surrounding the school when introducing how to conduct fieldwork around a hypothesis. This time, I'm going to look at the London riots.
I realise that the riots have split opinion with regards to their cause(s), and a number of colleagues directed me to some incredibly biased reporting of events. I have my own strong views on this, but am stepping back from this to see a) whether students can make decisions based on the strength of evidence and argument and b) whether any actually conclude that a source at odds with their own opinion might actually present the most convincing case.
This link is a good starting point for a variety of different perspectives on the riots, but I'd rather discuss our way in to the topic by seeing what students perceptions of the riots and rioters are. Afterwards, we will take one of the articles and, after a brief read, discuss the merits of the authors argument. At this point I will probably play devils advocate to opinion presented as fact, bias presented as authoritative and will try to encourage students to look beyond the words to, for instance, the author, the target audience and more. After this, we will spend some time using Russel Tarr's source analyzer for some of the other articles.
In as much as this is not entirely geographical, it will introduce early in the course key skills of critical evaluation. The geographical issues element of the course is worth 30% in marks but, in my opinion, worth a lot more in developing transferable skills which will help the students beyond their school careers.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The sound of Scottish summer

The sound of Scottish summer.mp3 Listen on Posterous

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