Tag Archives: #gaconf14

GA conference review – opening lectures with Professor Iain Stewart

Professor Iain Stewart & Professor Hazel Barrett: the opening lectures

The theme for this year’s GA Conference was ‘Crossing Boundaries’. The opening lecture was given by twitter.comte who gave a fantastic talk on Geoscience vs Geocommunication, which had many parallels with teaching.
Iain commented that from the media point of view, there is a dilemma between what the public should/need to know and what they want to know. Geo-scientific media programmes aim at the ‘non-attentive’ public in order to grab attention and to educate, which means that issues have to be simplified and exciting in order to gain interest and spark curiosities. Sound familiar? Is this not what we as educators have to do every day?

He discussed the need to capture the wonder of the world, to not let science and theory get in the way or ruin the sense of awe and wonder. How apt this is when considering the new national curriculum and the need to inspire students with fascination and curiosity. This is the boundary that needs to be crossed: between what students want to know, until they become engaged in what they need to know.

After a very interesting section on the issue of fracking, and all the socio-enviro-political conflicts involved here with environmental damage, energy management, cultural attitude, etc., Iain stated that there appears to be almost a schizophrenia of Geography. The artificial separation into ‘human’ and ‘physical’ Geography which can lead to sometimes forgetting the inextricable interconnectedness of humans and nature. The division does appear obscure, since the human world is controlled and constrained by the physical world just as the physical world is influenced and altered by the human world. Interlinked. Interdependent. Inseparable. So why try to study them separately?
Why not lose the divergent, divisive classification and just be….Geography?

This was echoed in GA President Professor Hazel Barrett’s keynote who asked ‘what is Geography today?’. Hazel queried whether we have moved too far along the lines of ‘what does the government say’ and become constrained by policy, programmes of study and pedagogical fashions at the expense of the subject itself. Have we forgotten what Geography is?

She asked whether we need a debate on what Geography is today, on how this dynamic subject has changed, and challenged whether we have lost focus on the heart of Geography. Geography has always been crossing boundaries, the boundaries between the human and physical world – this is the beauty of the subject. It requires and demands and interdisciplinary approach that crosses subject boundaries and removes constraints. Whether you are studying climate change, refugees, trafficking, tectonics or any of a limitless number of topics you will find these are dynamic and multifaceted. They could be studied by any one of many disciplines in super-specialised, highly focused ways that only look at a small part of the whole topic – it is only Geography that has the privilege and the challenge of combining all these approaches into one. We blend demographics, ethnography, climatology, environmental science, politics, GIS, technologies, numeracy, literacy, critical thought, etc., in order to investigate and draw conclusions on an interdisciplinary topic. Only Geography takes the world as a whole, and applies a spatial approach in order to funnel all these myriad methodologies into something concrete, applicable, and embed this into the real world.

Geographers are uniquely equipped to understand and address global issues, we should be at the forefront – and more importantly we should be teaching and training the next generation to be at the forefront of solving world issues. The division into ‘human’ and ‘physical’ is not helping.

So, let’s just be…Geography.

GA conference review – the new national curriculum & the end of Geography? #gaconf14

David Rogers’ lecture on the future of Geography under the new national curriculum 

 

David is an Assistant Headteacher and Geographer who previously led the @priorygeography department and saw it flourish into a Centre of Excellence after taking over a failing department. His lecture was focused on the new national curriculum, and was thought-provoking and challenging for those that attended. It was also refreshingly positive on this topic.

Originally the lecture had been titled ‘It’s not the end of Geography as we know it’ but after being impacted by Professor Iain Stewart’s excellent opening lecture was re-titled to ‘It is the end of Geography as we know it, hopefully….’. David, speaking from the viewpoint of an experienced geographer who has seen his fair share of government change & still developed an excellent curriculum and department regardless, asked whether teachers protest at government changes largely out of fear. That we find curriculum change scary, because we become comfortable. Whether the new skeletal curriculum is worrying because teachers have been drip-fed for too long, have become too used to being constrained and prescribed, so that the loss of restraint and sudden emergence into freedom is actually somewhat daunting.

David reminded us that no curriculum document or policy is ever going to be exciting or creative; that it is our jobs as teachers and middle leaders to take these documents and adapt, even subvert them, to meet the needs of our learners. Quoting from How Children Succeed he commented on the value of teaching and learning character, it being equally as important as raising intellect.

There have been various commentaries and discussions on forums pertaining to the new curriculum, and at times these have actually been sadly negative. David pointed out what should be obvious: can we really argue with a new curriculum programme of study that states that a high quality Geography education should ‘inspire curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for life’? That demands greater rigour so that children make excellent progress? What’s not to like about that?! There is a danger of not looking past the document outline, and seeing the benefitof the freedom given.

Many teachers, and school leaders, are feeling the impact of the loss of levels and level descriptors and are trying to find new ways to assess, record and report progress. I liked the reference to Hattie that it is our job as teachers to ensure that ‘no child in our care meets their potential – but that they ultimately smash their potential’. That is the challenge. It reminded me of one of my favourite concepts: the power of ‘yet’. That when a learner says ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I can’t do it’, your response is ‘yet’. They will get there. One suggestion for formative assessment he shared was the use of Skills Webs – you can see more on this on this blog.

As well as being a thought provoker and stirring up the audience, David also shared a few tips. You can see his lecture resource via his blog which has the slides and his commentary. He shared how Geography can lead the school in the delivery of English and Maths, as well as Science / STEM. That we as Geography teachers and leaders should tackle thewhole school issues of improving literacy, embedding quality and high level numeracy, delivering citizenship, developingstudent voice, sharing global dimensions, etc., and not just get caught up in the attitude of ‘I must teach soils’ – look past the document into the broader picture, see how Geography can benefit your students in a holistic way. It’s not about pub quiz Geography and factual recall, it’s about the whole.

Finally he ended with one of my favourite quotes: ‘It always seems impossible until it is done’ (Nelson Mandela). Don’t forget – policy doesn’t have to be a barrier, Gove and Ofsted aren’t in your classroom, so get creative.