Review of TLA Berkhamsted conference – Geography workshops

As mentioned in the first #TLAB13 post, I appreciated the format of the day and found that having workshops grouped by subjects was useful for encouraging networking. Being around the same group of people but with three different inputs meant you had longer to share ideas and discuss them. The sessions were also informal and relaxed which was good. So who & what were they?

1) Carmel Greene – Letting Go of the Reins of Geography

Carmel spoke about moving her teaching, and classes, from being teacher-directed to learner-directed and shared a great range of simple and effective ideas to encourage more independence. She shared how she’d moved from feeling exhausted at the end of each lesson to now finding that both she and her students enjoy the lessons more. And that’s the point isn’t it, teachers as facilitators to guide but that students should be doing the hard work? If the teacher is feeling more exhausted at the end than the students, then the balance of effort is skewed and we are allowing students to sit back and be passive – linking to Bill Rankin’s brain activity graphs mentioned previously.

Carmel shared the common fears of ‘letting go of the reins’ and suggested ways to overcome. e.g. “If I leave them to work independently, they are more likely to misbehave” – this is a common fear for many of us, particularly for new teachers. Solution? “Well structured lessons with timings, planned transitions and a range of learning tasks”. Carmel Greene preziSimple. The link to Carmel’s presentation is HERE and includes a variety of different well structured activities so have a browse. I especially like her phrasing for differentiated resources / activity – e.g. ‘Spicy / Mild’. Clearly she has put a huge amount of time and effort into creating resources which should, in time, mean less teacher energy / input during class and more student-directed learning. However, it is also quite resource heavy/intense and would take a lot of time to prepare the first time BUT the end result should be “less teacher talk, more learner progress” – which is the right aim.

2) John Sayers – Personal Geographies

I was intrigued in advance about John’s presentation because it involved the setting up of various jenga sets and the alluring promise of a prize at the end. So that got my attention. I was also happy to be the person keeping track of time and given permission to throw something at him if he went over. Happy days. Having said that, I was so taken up with all the myriad ideas he suggested that I actually lost track of time myself. John’s blog is HERE and if you check through this and his twitter feed you will be able to find links to all he shared. It was a whistle-stop tour from AfL to questioning strategies, literacy to sensory learning. I wish he’d had more time as it there just wasn’t enough to go into it all. But there were a couple of things I shall definitely be trying.

The first thing I really loved was his idea of the ‘Superstars board’. In essence a display board showcasing quality work but taken up a level. Basically you can have the name / image of the superstar student for that week, and then a QR code linking to the work they had produced. Means you can share quality work that is in a digital format as well, or take pictures of work and share this online then link to it – hopefully encouraging a bit more peer learning and pride. Love it. I will definitely be looking to do this at school soon and will show what gets produced.

John is an advocate of the ‘messy learning’ / ‘guerrilla geography’ / mission:explore type activities and I particularly liked the idea of making displays with a message from waste. He shared how he wanted to show how much waste the school produced by collecting all the rubbish bins from each classroom then gathering it all together to make ‘art’ as a Maps from wastedisplay, making the message of recycling/waste a bit more real. Sounds like something from Art Attack but I imagine would be very hard-hitting. I also loved the idea of making maps out of waste, e.g. creating world maps from spilled drinks or orange peel (see image)! Just a bit more tangible perhaps.

The other thing that really interested me (there were LOTS of things) was the introduction to the Floodlines app. I hadn’t seen this before. It’s basically an augmented reality app to demonstrate the Brisbane floods, and as such is really useful for KS4 case studies on flooding, risk and management. Check HERE to find out more. What I liked? The fact that it is a visual representation of real flooding overlaying maps, and the timeline bar that means you can see the onset > peak > recession of the flood. Great visual learning tool.

The jenga I mentioned? An AfL tool. You write on each piece of jenga wood, could be a keyword or anything, then once it is removed you could quiz on it. Games based learning with the added element of fear from causing structural collapse 😉

John also shared some great ideas on planning questioning, and on evaluating / assessing how well children work in groups. Once I have a go trialling these I’ll write some more. Check HERE for his presentation.

Finally, I was very excited to get the prize at the end of the session – a set of Thinking DiceThinking Dice that each have a different question to pose. Again, just a way of adding game/chance into activities – similar to using dice and the learning grids perhaps in that sense. But it could be useful for revision/group activities where students have to develop questioning styles. Or for the teacher themselves to ensure variety of questioning. Will have a play with those.

3) David Rogers – Inspirational Geography

With a title as grand as that, and coming after two really great workshops and two inspiring keynotes, and being after lunch David was up against it to maintain the quality. But as David Rogersusual he delivered. You can see all the details of his session HERE but the focus was on guerilla learning and ‘un-planning.

David shared a variety of ideas, including:

– The Geography/EAL mash-up project that Sam Atkins in our department put together – students using upside down world maps, orienteering maps, QR codes and a tablet/smartphone to conduct an entire lesson in a foreign language.

Geocaching & BBC Report (mostly the work of myself and Sam) ; how to get projects having a wider impact, raising engagement & getting in the news 🙂 This always makes me smile on account of one student who, when the BBC arrived to film, stated ‘it’s ok, I’m media trained’…he’d been appearing on Super Nanny!

Simple un-planning tools; e.g. using the Bing homepage as your starter activity. Could be to do with links to industry, environment, country-specific, etc,.

– Using RSA style animations / Bob Dylan ‘esque’ posters to increase literacy and case study knowledge at GCSE

And many more. The message was about taking risks, having a go. And importantly, it was not about tech. Sometimes David (and @priorygeography) gets stereotyped into being ‘the high tech one’ or ‘you’re the one about mobile devices’, but creativity and risk-taking isn’t always about using a new piece of kit. Sometimes it’s as simple as a piece of paper and a felt pen. As ever, he was funny and practical, sharing a range of experiences and giving credit where due to whomever else was involved. I’ve mentioned before being lucky to be in my department, and it’s true. He’s the visionary one that has the great ideas that Sam and I then put into practice. That’s what makes us a good team.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

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