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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Talking with the geographers

I had an insightful discussion with my advanced higher class today which was really broad ranging. I had asked first of all for some of their thoughts on why they had carried on with geography through their school careers, as we are currently trying to structure our new S3 courses to attract interest for potential S4 choice and content coverage. It was interesting to hear that several students miss the opportunity to focus study around a single country, something they were afforded in the lower school, and something which many geography departments seem to be phasing out. They also liked "old fashioned" skills like using the atlas and had noted its absence from nearly all of their geography until advanced higher.
In terms of certificate classes, I was intrigued by how local geographies influenced enjoyment. Coasts, for instance, and glaciation (Arran lies just a short boat trip away) were very popular, yet in my previous school, senior students usually focused their study on human geography, a product of their urban environment.
The most surprising product of the discussion lay in the attitudes and opinions around advanced higher. I have had several students in the past thank me after they had completed the course, but in one case, the thanks came two years after! Many previous students have simply not been prepared for either the level of independence or the volume of work and, unfortunately, its occasionally the teacher who is viewed as the root cause of this injustice :) Only with hindsight have students realised the benefits, but this group seem very aware of them. One student said they felt it had been the best possible grounding for what lay ahead next year- not geography, but medicine, I believe! They had qualified this by talking about the realisation that the folio would not complete itself (70% of the overall grade) and as a result, they really had to organise and motivate themselves in a way they hadn't previously. Home study had been different too, as it had been commented on that, although high expectations had been put on the students in terms of workload, unlike higher, the teachers were not chasing for it as the onus was on the student to manage it. Contrary to what I may have thought, students appreciated front loading the course with statistical, sampling and graphical techniques as they now felt well equipped to include these in their own work. Most importantly, every student, even the one candidate who had questioned whether she would have chosen the course if given the choice again, were pleased that they had the greatest amount of control over their learning, their chosen interest and how they explored it, moving away from the prescriptive content in other years. The small group dynamic makes this an enjoyable class to teach, but also allowed a rich discussion about geographical learning that is sometimes not even possible with colleagues within the constraints of the school day. As The Jam once said, or to paraphrase at least, the kids know where its at :)


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