Tag Archives: geographical association

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.

Discover the World focus group #discoverazores Day 3

This morning was mostly spent exploring Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) and the surrounding area. We drove out from Lagoa towards here and along the crater rim to a viewing point above town. There is a romantic legend for the area concerning two lovers, a princess and a shepherd, who were forbidden from seeing each other other again by the king. Upon this separation, the green-eyed shepherd’s tears fell and formed the green lake, whilst the blue-zeroed princess’s tears formed the larger blue lake. The point where the two waters meet is marked by the bridge joining across from the peninsula to the town. All of this is contained within the ancient caldera, although you sometimes forget this where it is now so green and densely vegetated.

 

At the top of the crater rim there is a large, purpose-built but very unaesthic hotel built in the 1990s when it was hoped that tourism was about to take off. Almost immediately the hotel was abandoned as a failure and it is now an interesting site where utilitarian almost Cold War style architecture is being colonised by successive vegetation. At the viewpoint, a marking pole with the multi-lingual quotation ‘May peace prevail on Earth’ denotes the area that is supposedly the number one tourist ‘must see’ point in the island. Yet ironically, there is very little evidence that tourists have been catered for in this region. Very few facilities, and only a simple souvenir stall (sold out the back of a car boot) in sight. It is almost as if the government does not particular want to promote tourism or the Azores as a destination, despite the increase in overseas advertising and the need for economic investment. We have been told repeatedly by our guide that the government would prefer tourists to visit in order to consume and use local resources and surplus products in order to save money on exporting these, but it does still feel very Stage 1 Butler model pre-take off and with little united or coherent planning going into developing sustainable tourism. Not that I’m saying everywhere should become tourism-centric, but it does raise questions.

 

We then spent some time doing reconnaissance work and sampling some of the activities that would be available by local (Ponta Delgada based mostly) tourist or adventure activity companies. First off was sea canoeing on the lake. It was fairly windy which made for some interesting navigation and we all got suitably soaked, but this was great fun. An easy lake for students to paddle about on, and you could set up some fun activities with this such as races, orienteering, routes to follow for competitions etc,. After this we went on a guided mountain bike short excursion around the peninsula. Generally this is very flat bough uneven ground and a few hilly sections but a nice comfortable route passing small holdings, dairy farming,  and a picnic area. Again, lots of potential for some ‘let your hair down’ fun with students to break the trip up. The company also offers pony trekking, guided walks, quad biking, canyoning, sailing, etc. and the guides were very friendly and helpful.

 

We then had some time for our own exploration of Sete Cidades town. This, along with most of São Miguel island so far, had quite an empty and almost abandoned feel as there are so few people visible in town! So far we haven’t really seen much of a community centre, of culture, of the traditional Southern European style. Many homes in the town are second residences for the wealthier citizens of the Azores or for those who have migrated to the mainland and then return here for extended breaks or long weekends. Emigration to the mainland is a real concern for the Azores, particularly since it is mostly the younger generation who go for university or for more employment opportunities and then do not return. There is a concern about brain drain and one wonders how sustainable the islands can be economically and socially in future if this continues. We are always being told how sustainable the energy and resource management is here, but can this continue and what is the point if the locals all leave?!

 

Generally this area feels more as though it is trying to cater to tourism, be that internal or international. There is evidence of new residential construction, and a few small cafés. European Union investment is leading to the creation of a new lakeside market and craft stall for the summer where locals hope to sell wares in season. A lot of the area feels quite utilitarian and military, not surprising considering the history. However there is an interesting cultural side shown (as also seen in Ribeira Grande) whereby homes are adorned with very ornate plaques above the door which depicts religious scenes or household saints, and a plaque showing the name of the family and year they moved in. There are also little insights such as hanging cabbages by doors if the homeowner sells cabbage!

 

 

After this exploration we went to a viewpoint over Ferraria – the westernmost point of the island. This felt like ‘proper geography’! Stark blackened basalt cliffs with crashing destructive waves against them. In places we saw collapsed landslide areas at the base of cliffs that are now flat, fertile and used for agriculture. There was a range of great coastal geography here and you could spend a good deal of time investigating these such as wave cut platforms, blowholes, caves and arches. You would need some very strict safety guidance and limits for student exploration however since the waves are quite violent and often funnelled up against the rocks, very dramatic. Above town along the crater rim there was also a large exposed area of pumice, a tilted and uplifted outcrop from past activity.

 

There is a very dramatic natural hot spring at Ferreira that goes into the sea. There is a small inlet area between the rocks where you can bathe that is regulated by tide. The hot spring pours out at 61C so the waters are only useable just before and after low tide when temperature is best balanced (the sea is about 18C). This was quite challenging but extremely fun. Perhaps not one for using with students unless they are strong since you have to battle waves and avoid underwater rocks. However there is also a regular swimming pool area that is still heated by the geothermal vent that opens all year round for regular bathing and would be much easier!

 

We then headed to our final destination today of Gruta do Carvao cave – an interesting lava tubes system. Although not one of the biggest cave or lava tube systems ever, nor having many stalagmites / stalactites it is still interesting and great for bringing kids. There were lots of collapsed lava pillows, pahoehoe lava flows and some minerals evident alongside some small ropy stalactites dripping and looking almost like teeth.

 

Finally we headed back to Pousada for an early dinner, since tonight was the first focus group planning and debrief session and getting packed for flight to Pico island tomorrow. We had a very productive session discussing logistics and itineraries which was great. Really exciting to consider some of the teaching resources that will be produced by Simon Ross for DtW and the GA with the input of the group, so that teachers can use these for all key stages in future either in conjunction with a trip (before, during and after the visit) or as stand alone resources looking at what makes the Azores distinctive and how sustainable the future is.

 

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