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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Friday, May 20, 2016

The story of the hurricane: Friday lesson for S3.

Today's lesson with s3. Wanted to describe the distribution of tropical storms and explain their formation after some group work on pecha kucha style tasks. Lesson setup is all in the picture above as I wanted to get a quick start and keep moving. Started off with the map below on the whiteboard and just established that we all knew certain places, for example, North America, Australia, India etc.
Students then had thirty seconds to look at the map and then I covered it. We used the class tools jigsaw on the whiteboard 
Students picked the next person to go and gradually edited each other's sequence until we were almost spot on in terms of the distribution of storms. I think the link here should work to the jigsaw http://www.classtools.net/widgets/jigsaw_2/Yx7Up.htm 
We then put our response into our books. No need to write for the sake of writing, we used a print as nearly every class member was involved and understanding checked as we went. 
Then had a pecha kucha input on storm formation which helped us make the link between the sea and temperatures. This brought us to our think, pair share where we actually pre-empted a lot of the picture reveal which we picked away at to build our knowledge. For example, after the temperature link was made, I could reveal part of the annotations for students books.
Finally, our plenary was again student led. They could pick the term from the lesson and the person they wanted to explain its relevance to our learning. Happy with the pace and the content as well as participation. Hope to build on this on Monday and gradually bring in pecha kucha where it supports the part of the topic, allowing prior knowledge to be built on.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Where's the place for place?

I read a blog post tonight about learning place over processes in the earlier years of secondary geography. The fact that I'm reading it on the first day of the school holidays probably tells me that I haven't switched off yet but it set me thinking. I took the atlas skills unit out of our S1 course a while ago. I used to love atlas and map work personally (and still do) but, from feedback at my previous school, the way it was delivered in a block had been one of the reasons why students weren't continuing in geography. We rewrote the unit and tried to balance individual time with interactive work, but blocking it together all added up to an emboldening of a cultural view of the subject as being just about maps. 

In developing our fourth level course for S3 at my current school, I tried to link all of the topics we cover with the national course units. Therefore, we start with coasts and all of the processes that the author of the blog post had said should really come after place knowledge has been established. We have interspersed place knowledge in other parts of our lower school courses, so I don't think we have ignored it at all. In fact, from feedback, learning about a place such as Dubai or Tokyo or an empty land often remains one of the most enjoyable parts of students learning because it is the backdrop for all sorts of geographical themes but all within the context of an  alluring place. When we separate this out to teach about 'coasts' or 'glaciation', even when case studies are included, there is much more of a turn off from the students. Indeed, they find the processes repetitive and coasts is most definitely the least popular of all of the topics we cover in S3. Conversely, the over- emphasis on the exam that CfE was supposed to tackle but hasn't is precisely the reason that some of the same students by the end of S5 have it as a 'banker'. It's one of the topics where rote learning wins every time. 

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that, from experience, the best learning and the most satisfying episodes of our students time in geography seems to be when we DON'T try to create big blocks of content, including how we teach about place, that separate rather than link learning and that, as a subject, we lose relevance if we make the content more important than the context. This is something I think I and other teachers can be guilty of, particularly in relation to physical topics. I'll state clearly that this is not a criticism of the blog I read as the author was at pains to explain how he links place content to the current, just a reflection on how and why I see myself going in the opposite direction. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

All the world is just a cake

Another fantastic example of what free choice can bring to the classroom. Two first year groups with an independent choice of topic, some controlled research  in class and then the choice of how they wished to present their learning produced some really outstanding efforts and took over our lessons by teaching each other over the last two periods. Well done, 1W and 1F.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Drops in the ocean

Today, we switched the focus of the elective class to the sciences and, in my opinion, our far too understated links with all three. This is a potentially rich vein of engagement that I think we as geographers frequently miss out on. Our subject lends itself so well to many of the practical elements of the sciences and students frequently tell me that they enjoy science "because of the experiments". We have built this learning through experiment and experience into part of the elective and focused on oceans today, using climate change as the context to discuss ocean acidification. There are already some fantastic resources available through the Catlin Arctic Survey and Digital Explorer which we used for the basis for today's activities. We also employed the S3 experiment write up structure that is used in Biology after discussion with my colleague, Mrs Morrison. 
I was confident in teaching part of this theme but wanted to make sure I wasn't teaching bad science, so I invited a colleague, Mr McDermott, to see if we could co-op on this. It's fair to say that we were both delighted with the outcomes. The students conducted experiments comparing carbonated water to still water, using 'sea' water and fresh water which they then carbonated themselves through straws, comparing PH change rate over time and prepared for next week, where we will look at being ocean detectives, followed by a look at ocean currents and how meltwater might influence energy distribution. The student engagement was first class, the learning was pretty much all through enquiry, the context (something that Mr McDermott stressed the importance of in our later conversation) was real and the results were not uniform. This led to anomalies and the realisation that unexpected results are not always wrong results, as long as they can be explained or improved. The concept of oceans as a carbon store was explored, but the real eye opener for me came after the lesson.
When we discussed the lesson from each others subject background, Mr McDermott and I actually learned quite a lot from each. For example, I now know that temperature increase diminishes the ability to absorb CO2 and can therefore link this to skewed results but, most importantly, the increasing acidification of oceans in polar regions. This also led us to discuss methane locked in the seabed and how increasing temperatures are likely to release it which, again, links back to climate change and greenhouse gases. This was hopefully a lesson which students enjoyed and has given me another angle to teach it from when we build on the prior learning next week. I was also sent a link by Jamie Buchanan Dunlop on twitter to this (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/07/arctic-threat-ocean-acidification) which brings a marine biology element to the climate change and when we discuss oceanic circulation as part of the theme, there are ties with physics.  This is a small step towards proper interdisciplinary learning, a drop in the ocean to use an obvious pun, but the possibilities for its expansion seem very real if this is an accurate snapshot of the outcomes.


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Bill Boyd mini epic

A friend of mine, Bill Boyd, is a literacy adviser. His twitter page (@literacyadviser, funnily enough) and blog are always a good source of ideas for encouraging the development of literacy skills across the curriculum. I remember Bill talking about a 50 word 'mini-epic' that he used to employ when teaching where students had to write on a given topic using the exact word count, no more, no less. I've used the same thing recently with a new rotation of S2 students that I've been seeing since the start of May. It's excellent for encouraging kids to summarise rather than perform a straight lift from a source. Here are some examples of their work. It also leads perfectly on to the mentos experiment we look at next.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Forgotten, but not gone :-)

One of the perils of my job since I became PT three years ago this June is that I spend more of my time dealing with bits of paper which gives me less time to blog. As such, it can be frustrating, as for much of the time in that role, I see some great things or have a trigger for some nice ideas which I would like to share but don't get the time to. Plus, there are always the occupational hazards like trips to Arran, shown in the photograph taken today ;-) I wanted to share something we are developing for the coming year as I am genuinely excited about it and, for me, illustrates a lot of what the new curriculum in Scotland could be.

We have been given the opportunity to develop and deliver an S3 skills elective. Effectively, this is a blank canvas and, while I will share the outline of what we have so far, I would love to hear from any readers with further suggestions for activities which might work in conjunction with ours. We have decided to focus on skills and content which allow clear interdisciplinary learning to be facilitated and have (probably rather cheekily) titled it 'We rule the school'.

The elective involves three main themes and, if they work well, I would plan to bring some of them in to our core courses, particularly in the lower school where there is a lot of flexibility over content. The first of our three themes is primarily focused on developing literacy skills and is, unsurprisingly, being called Writing the Earth. We are using a purchase of digimap to help with this and have borrowed some ideas by Alan Parkinson and, for a later lesson elsewhere, Paula Owens. We probably don't use Ordnance Survey maps as often as we used to since developing our new courses, so this is also a good way to incorporate key mapping skills into students learning as well as an element of numeracy. Some of the activities include a persuasive writing exercise where students have to compete against one another for 'square of the year' using a randomly selected grid square and elaborating on the limited map evidence to make a convincing case for their 'brilliant' locations. We are also using the resource as a prompt for film locations and scripting. Finally, we are hoping to use the O.S. to inspire grid square poetry. I am hoping to set up a wiki to showcase student work and will credit properly where the ideas arrived from there (I have no idea how to hyperlink from my phone). Outwith mapping, anyone who is a regular reader will know that I like a good story and I think this would be an ideal place to resurrect the very successful river stories of two years ago where students wrote and recorded a first person account from a river from its youthful upper course to its old age (estuary). For all of this, we have liaised with the English department and are looking to assess literacy skills in a uniform way that students will recognise from their time in that subject.

The second theme is something we have called Experimental Geography. Here, we have linked with the sciences. I am currently speaking with a Chemistry colleague who already uses similar tectonics experiments as us and, hopefully, this will be something which compliments rather than repeats learning elsewhere in the school. We are using several experiments on pressure, weather, renewable energy, growing stalactites, ocean energy transfers, earth forces and biodiversity to enhance our status as a science subject as well as a social one. I really value the practical experiences as it contextualises learning for the students and provides a 'wow' factor at times. We plan to have students write up experiments to analyse their findings and become better at problem solving e.g. If it didn't work well, why? What would have improved the result? What influenced the result? The beauty of this is that it should make geographical field work and the use of hypotheses much easier if students continue with Geography in the upper school. 

The final theme is Artful Geography and involves some exciting collaboration with both Design and Technology and Art. We have already started an activity where we have been looking at abstract art and comparing to the patterns on maps (this was the Paula Owens idea). This will result in student produced mosaics or collages which mimic the patterns on maps which use shape, colour and line, will require students to become more familiar with the symbols on the maps and draw on advice from the Art department with regards the best way to create the piece of art. This also requires students to work on scaling up their compositions and will require disciplined team working. A side benefit has been the suggestion by my colleague in art that we can also dovetail with her photography elective by using landscape and photograph composition which involves some joint tuition. With my colleague in Design, we have also managed to come together to create an opportunity to use design skills learned in S2 using specialist software to bring to life sustainable building designs related to Noel Jenkins' excellent 'Designing for Dubai' exercise. This will also develop our role in global citizenship delivery and will allow students the opportunity to use digital mapping through Google Earth to provide a suitable site and situation for their designs, as well as again utilising problem solving.

I would love to hear any suggestions for further extension of these themes, particularly in terms of practical activities that you may have used which would fit. When we have had our first run through by November, I'd be happy to share a fully resourced scheme of work too. The short timescale has meant thinking on our feet a little, but I am really delighted at the shape it has taken and hope to be sharing some of the results here soon.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mentos and mini cookers: Accidental IDL

I was reflecting on Friday after work about the day just gone and what we had tried to do with classes. At the time, I hadn't realised just how much some of the learning was linking with other parts of the curriculum and just how much interdisciplinary learning was taking place. Here is a quick summary of some of the lessons to exemplify that.

S1: The class were feeding back on a microclimate investigation we had conducted the previous period. We had used the school grounds to find the perfect site for a solar cooker to be used ( difficult in Scotland, I know) and I thought it would be a nice extension of the exercise to actually give the students the opportunity to make their own solar cookers using the instructions at the RGS website ( which isn't working properly tonight or I'd have included the link). I was surprised and delighted to find out that several students had already started or, in some cases, actually finished making these. We will try these when the weather is suitable. After discussing this with the PT of Physics, it seems this sits between an S1 topic looking at renewable energy and an S2 topic examining infrared radiation, so we made that link in class too. From this microclimate starting point, we discussed comparison of climate at a larger scale and used climate graph construction to take this a step further. Within the two lessons, we have included health and well being (fieldwork and personal responsibility while working with others), science, numeracy and geography!

S2: This period was all about volcanoes as the messy picture below shows! I had asked the class to do a little homework as preparation for the lesson, borrowing Bill Boyd's 50 word mini epic idea ( Bill can be found at http://www.literacyadviser.wordpress.com ). This was all about summarising why some volcanoes are more explosive than others. The students had to include the words effusive, explosive, eruption and a named example of both an effusive volcanic eruption and an explosive one. They had to do this in exactly 50 words, no more and no less. This proved really useful as it meant students had to effectively summarise the often quite technical sources that they were finding when they searched the Internet. By limiting what could be written, it made copy and paste almost impossible without it sounding ridiculous and meant students also had to look for different ways to express something. It also meant that students who wanted to take an easy way out by writing very little still had to find 50 words! The discussion we had before the main learning activity proved that students had a good grasp of what I had asked them to learn about and was invaluable in the next part of the lesson which included the well known Mentos experiment which allowed me to bring viscosity and dissolved gases into the discussion without it being totally alien to what the students already knew. Literacy and Chemistry covered!

In other lessons, we dealt with more numeracy themes ( using development indicators with S3 to compare countries) and citizenship issues ( using the Rwandan genocide as a backdrop to forced migration with Higher). It was quite a hectic day in and out of the classroom but, looking back, actually provides us with evidence of how we are working as a department which links up learning in a positive way.


Wee reminder to me

This is a template of what I would like to do with S3 for their end of unit presentations comparing development of nations. From the choice of Kenya, India and Brazil, students must compare one other country to the United Kingdom. The presentations can be completed using the following methods:

- PowerPoint
- Prezi http://www.prezi.com
- a Flickr slideshow http://www.flickr.com
- Movie (windows for presentation or narrated)
- An infographic
- A poster

The important element of the presentation is the content and the geographical skills exhibited. For skills purposes, there should be evidence of these key skills:

- The use of maps to support comparisons. For example, it may be that a student feels that the physical geography of Kenya has impacted greatly on development and they could compare climate, resources, relief and vegetation to the UK. Students may wish to use other types of specialised maps, such as those found at Worldmapper http://sasi.group.shef.ac.uk/worldmapper/ or the 3D visualisations of the CIA world Factbook at http://www.kmlfactbook.org/#&db=ciafb&table=2002&col=2008& . Students should use at least one map for comparison purposes. The map should be titled and referred to within the presentation.

- The use of development indicators to compare levels of development. Students should use at least 3 indicators of development with at least one economic and one social indicator. This may overlap with the mapping if using something like the kml Factbook. Students should explain the advantages and disadvantages of using these indicators for comparison. It may be useful to look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/education/int/geog/health/development/economic/index.shtml as well as the resources used in class when preparing this. Useful sites include http://www.gapminder.org and https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ , both of which the class have already used.

- Students may present information in a variety of ways e.g. Graphs, tables, proportional symbols on maps etc

For the content, students must include the details below:

1) A comparison of the location of the two countries
2) A comparison of the physical and human factors which influence each country's development
3) A comparison of development data (this is where the maps, indicators and presentation skills are most likely to be used)
4) A detailed explanation of at least one way in which the development 'gap' could be narrowed e.g. Aid and how effective this might be

I think this is a bit ambitious and it's needing to be put into language that's a bit less threatening for the kids, but my laptop is not playing and this is really just a memo for me for tomorrow