Tag Archives: geography teacher

Redacted literacy challenge

I’ve been trying to embed more literacy challenges this year as this is always something students struggle with and is a whole school focus that Geography can really contribute to.


Year 9 have been looking at Extreme Environments and with a focus on Everest at the end of this due to the recent events at Easter and the conflicts here. We often try to incorporate travel writing and non-fiction novels into lessons as well and encourage students to learn skills through these for extended writing, creativitity, grammar, etc,. With the Everest focus I’ve been sharing extracts from Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead novel about the 1996 disaster and other texts. This week I decided to try something different and set my students a ‘redacted text’ challenge.


Think top secret files and redaction, where text is obscured in order to inhibit meaning and keep a file secret. I thought that maybe this could be a good literacy tool. So, here’s what we did.


1) Students were given a four page extract from the novel and asked to read this silently for themselves, or aloud to each other in pairs. They were then given three minutes to contemplate and reflect on the story, on what it was conveying, on what style of writing had been used (specifically mood and atmosphere) and the literacy techniques used (eg. adjectives, metaphor, etc,.).


2) Using felt pens, I set the challenge that students had to go through the text carefully and redact it themselves by blocking out sections of the text leaving only certain parts visible. They were given two options here:


a) For a more accessible challenge: redact as much text as you like leaving only a selection of individual words visible (particularly adjectives or geographic words). From these, then take the words and rearrange them into a story or a piece of poetry in a similar style to the original story but in your own words.


b) For a harder challenge: redact the text very carefully leaving individual words but also short phrases visible. These words and phrases must be in a logical order and punctuation inserted as needed in order that the visible words now form new sentences that can be read as a new story, or poem. This is actually really hard! It requires text analysis and logic, having to plan ahead and have a vision of what they want the story to look like first and then to be able to create it. Very tricky. I trialled this first with top set students and they found this a real challenge but really interesting. The new stories they created from the visible words had to flow, had to make sense, and could either be in the same style as the original story or actually change the plot.


3) Students have to check the punctuation and grammar makes sense for their new stories, and then these are shared with others.


When I first suggested and explained this activity to a class, one of the (admittedly somewhat lethargic) boys asked ‘Miss, what’s the point of this – aren’t you just making us do something hard for the sake of it?’ To which I replied that yes I was in a way, that sometimes having to do something hard and learn to overcome it is as much the objective as anything specifically ‘geographic’. By the end of the lesson though he, and the rest of the class, were commenting on how they’d had to really push themselves to do well on this. That it was a difficult challenge that required some real logical and lateral thinking, that tested their creative and literacy skills. And they were pleased with themselves.


I wasn’t planning for them to be able to regurgitate the text by the end of the lesson, but I was expecting them to develop essential literacy skills that they have to be good at in order to succeed at anything – if they don’t get their English qualification, life gets pretty hard doesn’t it? It’s also a good tool to be able to say to SLT ‘look here, this is how Geography meets your whole school improvement plan on literacy with this, this and this…’.  The follow up is students making their own geographic adventure novel that must be a blend if fact and fiction.


The images show some works in progress, as the kids wanted to take home and finish some extra pieces bless them.


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Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 6

We actually got up after sunrise today which was a pleasant treat! And the Pousada Jouvades de Pico provided a simple but nice breakfast of fresh local bread and jams with cereal that went down very well (we didn’t get breakfast really at the Pousada Jouvades de Lagoa as for some reason they only open up from 0830 which is after we leave each day!).   Today was exploring Pico island itself. A fairly chilled way to end the week. First stop was Dos Lajos de Pico village. This is an old whaling village. Whaling was first introduced to the area by visitors and settlers from Nantucket and other areas, and there is a clear influence of North American style on the architecture here as well as sometimes a slightly Scandinavian feel in terms of wood cladding and cabins, as well as the paint colours. Whaling was done here until the 1980s and was still conducted in a traditional low scale manner with rowing boats and hand thrown harpoons. The whaling museum is quite interesting, albeit depressing and a sad tale of the habit. However this was an important income for an area struggling economically. Nowadays, the negative has been turned into something positive with whale and dolphin tours available at a very low price. You also have much better odds of actually seeing them compared to a Iceland and other areas where whales are now rarely sighted due to changing sea temperatures.   We moved on around the coast to the Vineyards of Pico. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site where fig and grape plants are cultivated still in a traditional sense. Lava / basalt rocks are split and seeds planted within into the ashes below. The basalts are porous and also retain heat when they soak up the sun, and so this helps provide good conditions for growing in an otherwise harsh and exposed salty and windy coastal environment. Basalt rocks are built into small walls and enclosures around the plants to protect from wind. And a local windmill in the area also served to thresh and crush corn and cereals in the past. The visitor area here provided an excellent local lunch of spicy sausage, soft breads, and a range of traditional flavoured liquors and wines for us to sample. All with a slight earthy and volcanic aftertaste!

After this, we had a visit to Gruta das Torres lava tube caves. This is one of the largest in the world and was truly excellent. Mostly because it had been kept in a natural state – no concrete flooring, no lighting – you are just guided through walking on rough volcanic floors and with torches. Students and adults would love this. You can see great vast caverns, collapsed lava benches, pahoehoe and aa lavas (which the locals call ‘biscuit lava’ due to its rocky nature, reminding them of traditional twice-baked rockcake biscuits) and the growth of rare lichens and bacteria as well as some small lava stalactites formed at the time of the lava flow as it slowed and dripped down from the ceiling. A very interesting and unique cave, and the time passes so quickly inside – we spent over an hour but felt like a few minutes. At one point we switched all torches off and just got a sense of how intensely pitch black and silent it is, very awe inspiring.

Finally we headed back to the hostel and had a locally made dinner provided by our hosts from the local youth council who have set up the five Pousadas on five different Azorean islands. We had a sample of foods from the island of Terceria which was delicious; meat stew, local fish, some sweet doughy cakes made with milk and beans, and the obligatory locally made wines and liquors – well, would be rude not to 😉 Our hosts told us about a youth card available for those aged 13-30 which is well worth investigating if you wish to do island hopping with students. It costs €42 in the first place but then provides 50% discount in the hostels, 20% off inter-island flights, all ferries cost €7, and there is also 20% off many tourist attractions and activities such as the mountain biking, kayaking, etc,. Well worth considering.

We went for a stroll of the town and brought an end to the trip. There is much to reflect on, and my next post in a few days will look at what I think you can get out of a trip to the Azores in terms of exciting places to visit and academically useful activities to do – but I shall reflect a little first. There is real potential here, but a lot of logistics still needs sorting.

An excellent trip though and very well run and led by Discover the World. It has been great to meet and work with other geographers from around the country, and to share ideas – we’ve even had some nice heated discussions and debates about the purpose of overseas trips generally and pedagogy which is all good fun. I’ll also develop some teaching resources once back in the UK and will post these soon through slideshare. But I need a few days rest now – it’s been good, but exhausting! Thanks DtW.

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Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 5

Waking up (fairly stiff and sore from Mount Pico) we took a ferry to Faial, to the town of Horta. Faial is a small island but Horta is a large well developed town including a professional training college, the Central islands’ hospital, and a variety of tourist-centric facilities such as cafés, restaurants, boat trips, etc,. The ferry was brand new, and we were filmed by the local paparazzi as everyone boarded. It brought yet another comedy moment of ‘sponsored by the EU’ as we have spent the whole week playing EU bingo – almost everywhere you go seems to have benefitted from EU funding somehow, and yet not being developed to capacity. It is as if the Azorean government followed a policy of ‘if you build it, they will come’ in some areas, but has not had a clear plan and drive to actually encourage and develop tourism throughout the islands. Quite odd.


First stop was the national Botanical Garden at Faial. This is part of a BASEMAC project for protecting native and endemic species of vegetation through seed bank preservation of seeds, propagation, protection and maintenance of a variety of species. They are also working on the reintroduction and breeding of plant species once thought extinct in nature.


Only 7% of all vegetation species on the Azorean Islands are actually endemic. Many plants are artificially introduced foreign invasive species such as laurel, hydrangea, ginger, etc,. Most of those were introduced in the 18-1900s for a purpose, e.g. Bamboo was introduced in order to create natural fencing and hedge shelters around terraced crops as windbreaks, Japanese Cedar was introduced so the leaves and wood could be used for baskets to transport oranges by sea as it was observed that they did not lead to bacteria or insect problems, etc,. There are just 300 species considered native on islands, with 700 species introduced by man.


Of course, the Azores are very isolated islands. 1000miles from mainland Europe, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest land south is Antarctica, and the islands are relatively young geologically. So this leads to the question of dispersal. How did the pioneer seeds get here in the first place? The most likely suggestions being wind, wave, and bird. There is also the influence of sea level change and volcanism, particularly uplift. During the last ice age, when the Azorean islands were being built taller by volcanic activity, sea levels were lower. Therefore islands across the Atlantic such as the Azores became much more exposed, and so perhaps wind, wave and bird dispersal became easier.


We were guided around the centre by a very passionate and well informed centre guide and biologist. The facility has many educational activities for a range of ages, and a purpose built classroom with library, and investigative equipment such as microscopes, etc,. You can do insect studies and investigate these under microscopes and compare what exists in different habitats, plus you can look at succession, the necessary conditions required to colonise, compare and contrast species and biodiversity in different areas, etc,. I would recommend this centre as an excellent base from which to do biodiversity and ecosystem studies at different key stages. Particularly since the gardens are divided into two halves: endemic vs invasive. On one side, you have the carefully maintained and restricted endemic species area, where you can see the natural Azorean landscape as it would have been had not humans introduced species from abroad – you can see that the Piconia Azorica is the natural climatic climax. On the other side of the gardens you have a representation of the invasives. Here you can compare and contrast how succession looks and is altered after the influence of humans, and see that now the plagioclimax species is Japanese Cedar. It would be possible to do studies into soils, microorganisms, vegetation and how these compare and contrast under different circumstances and see the influence of humans and management.


There is a clear conservation aspect at the centre with recreating different biomes and propagating species that are endangered. Eg. There are small coastal and alpine biomes that are endangered by rats and rabbits, here species that are now extinct in the wild are being bred and can then be reintroduced. Water levels in natural bogs on the island were disturbed in 1998 by earthquake, which led to a drop in the water table and subsequently to damage / death of native species. So an area has been recreated in the botanical garden to replicate this and breed species.


After this we were taken on a short tour of the island. We had to abandon the Ten Volcanoes Trail due to heavy rains leading to deep water and unpassable paths, and we could not see the view over the Caldeira due to poor weather and no visibility. However we were still taken on a hike around the Caldeira from the viewpoint up and down around the rim and then eventually down towards the lighthouse and Capelinhos area. This walk would be lovely on a clear day, but fairly pointless otherwise. The path is steep and slippery, and is certainly not something to do the day after climbing Mount Pico. However you do see the influence of clean air here with abundant lichen growth, and some interesting plant species growing out from a rift / canyon that is heating by steam vents. You feel as though you are walking through a rainforest almost in places, as if in Costa Rica perhaps.


The Capelinhos walk down to the coast and around the volcanic peninsula was excellent, although you do need to allow a good amount of time for this. You are walking on volcanic sands and ash and pumice, and can find various evidence of the 1957 eruption that created the peninsula and added new land to the island. Lava bombs, broken trees, and heavily eroded hillslopes are coated in soft ash and sand. You then head to the Lighthouse and the award winning visitor centre.


It was easy to see why this has won various European tourist centre awards. We were shown around by a very enthusiastic and easy to understand geologist who clearly loves the job and the area. The centre has a variety of photographic and video displays to explain the creation of the peninsula and the timeline of the eruption. It also explains the structure of the earth and tectonics in general, as well as the evolution of each of the 9 islands of the archipelago. Fantastic wall displays showed famous volcanoes and volcanic behaviour from around the world, such as Kilauea, Surtsey, Stromboli, etc,. So students could easily learn and compare different volcanic types and behaviours. There is an excellent step-by-step series of 3d relief models that show the 1957 eruption and subsequent land creation and modern coastal erosion: you could perhaps get students making their own versions of these for other eruptions or flipbook timelines or similar.


Interestingly, we learnt that the Capelinhos eruption actually should have had the honour and credit of being the first studied and noted Surtseyan style eruption. The 1957 activity preceded the arrival of Surtsey but sadly was not made public enough or patented, otherwise the submarine volcanism and island creation activity we now know as Surtseyan should actually have been called Capelinhosian – but perhaps this is too tricky to say anyway?! Very interesting though. The period of eruption lasted over 18months with alternating periods of submarine or aerial volcanism. In the beginning, all activity was submarine with the volcano located off coast underwater. First came underwater effusive lava flows leading to above surface steam and huge ash production. This continued to build up until a small island of ash and pumice broke the surface. Once above surface, volcanic behaviour changed to be more explosive with large lava flows and more ash and pumice production now spreading over the peninsular and creating new land. The lighthouse began to be buried – it is now buried to the second floor and preserved in this state as an arrested time memorial with the tourist centre built into its basement floors.

Under the influence of destructive waves, the new land of soft ashes was eroded back until the activity became submarine again as the volcano went into a quiet period. So these cycles of submarine and aerial eruptions kept repeating for many months. Eventually the eruption stopped and a new peninsular had been formed, with many local villages buried and destroyed. Nowadays, some 60% of this new land had been eroded back by wind, rain and wave and it is thought that in time the volcano will again become largely submarine until another eruption. All very interesting. And a great example of volcanic behaviour and coastal influence for students.


There is a theory that this area acts as a ‘wet spot’ rather than a hotspot which leads to different behaviour. The Azores is located on a triple junction of tectonic plates, but with the influence of the ocean it is suggested that the melting point of submarine rocks is actually lowered so that submarine volcanism here has more of a dramatic influence. A new type of behaviour has been observed here (and patented this time) at Serrata, where submarine volcanism is leading to the creation of lava balloons. This phenomenon is like the formation of lava bombs but is submarine: as lava at the sea floor is effused it rises to the surface, cooling as it does and forming a crust still with liquid lava inside. When these balloons hit the surface they then explode outwards, popping like a balloon, and the shrapnel rock and lava droplets from it then drop back to the sea floor. So this has been termed Serratan behaviour. It is likely in future that this volcano will also penetrate the surface to form a tenth island in the archipelago.


After this we caught the ferry back to Pico, and saw some lovely views of the island and the mountain rising up. I would thoroughly recommend that you could spend a good two or more days investigating Faial, either for academic or exploratory purposes and that children would get a good ‘wow factor’ with such a dramatic landscape. There is limited accommodation at present but the ferry ride is very regular, only takes 30-45minutes and costs €10 return or €7.50 for under 16s.


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Discover the World focus group #discoverazores Day 4

So today we were up and awake before sunrise and heading to the airport. We were entertained in the departure lounge by various different sporting or musical groups including a medieval tribute youth orchestra complete in monk outfit. They sang and danced their way through customs and through to the gates which evoked much applause and brought a smile to many faces. Is this a traditional Azorean cultural activity?

We were heading to Pico island on a regular internal flight. There are various internal flights and ferries throughout the islands. I have to say, before today many of us had felt we were lacking in any ‘wow factor’ – that we didn’t know how we would ‘sell’ the Azores as a study trip, not because there is a lack of opportunity per se but because if you are offering an international residential it needs to have a combination of activities and experiences that are unique or cannot be seen back home. So we were really excited on our descent to Pico island, and became proper geeky tourists stepping off of our plane, frantically switching on phones and cameras, and getting a photograph of Mount Pico as soon as possible. We had our wow factor. Arriving on Pico is like arriving in a completely different landscape, something that would be guaranteed to arrest student and adult interest and make them have a collective intake of breath. The island immediately felt unusual, rare, exotic, and exciting.

We had been warned that we were at the mercy of the changeable weather, and that we would not necessarily be able to climb Mt Pico today. This is something to bear in mind to any of you planning future trips – you need a back up plan and flexible itinerary that if the weather is inclement you can try again another day. Luckily for us however, there was a break in the cloud until later so we had a window of opportunity. Our minibus driver raced us up to the mountain only allowing a short photo stop, and we stocked up on carbs on the journey.

One third of Pico island is a nature reserve, including the mountain. You have to get a permit to climb, which costs 10Euros each. The numbers of visitors at any time are limited and monitored, and the tiny car park up the mountain at the start point may prevent too many casual attempts. This is all due to the various endemic species of vegetation in existence, particular alpine species that are very fragile.

Pico is the youngest of all the Azores Islands at just 300’000 years old. The archipelago has developed over time in numerous stages dating back 8million years, from submarine volcanism building up successively over the ages. Pico is a basaltic stratovolcano and from a distance looks like a stereotypical ‘proper’ volcano, exactly like you would draw. As we drove towards it we could see the caldera and summit peak poking through the mists temptingly, and this gave me butterflies. I couldn’t wait to get up there! The mountain is Portugal’s tallest, and it is still an active volcano.

So we spent the day trekking. Having been told beforehand that the climb was ‘gentle’ we were all a little surprised when we met our incredibly serious but very helpful local mountain guide Sonia who warned us of the dangers and briefed us. I was grateful for the good weather – some light cloud cover and mist to prevent overheating or too much sunburn, and a gentle breeze mostly. At times on the higher exposed sections there was biting cold strong winds, and we did have heavy cloud on the return below the summit, but we had a comfortable environment to climb in. So we set off.

The climb takes approximately 7-7.5hour and I would say is a mediumly arduous hike with times that are hard. There is very uneven ground because you are walking on broken clinkers of volcanic debris lava and ash deposits and volcanic sand which us grippy with good boots but very uneven and there are some scrambling sections requiring hands. The climb is not scarily precipitous but does lead to a slow descent due to the terrain. You hike up and down the mountain over ancient pahoehoe and a-a lava fields and we even had snow fields. There are lots of lava tube relics and scars, pillow lava and ropy pahoehoe flows arrested in time cascading down the mountain in dramatic blacks and oranges. Then amongst all this there is evidence of some succession of alpine species up the mountain, although vegetation is very limited and scrubby generally.

The material underfoot was obviously igneous, mostly basalt and ignimbrite and also plagioclase and various other minerals such as trichite, olivine, etc,. This rocks made excellent grips when in large enough sections. As we went up above the clouds and the snowline, there were very few species. However there was lots of lava scree and volcano sands, again making the conditions a bit difficult and slow going in places.

The crater rim is vast and unstable so we were guided to skirt round the edge and then drop down into the pit to walk along the crater base, from where you then can choose to scramble up the final central cone. The pit crater of Pico is called Pico Alto and is about 500m diameter. This area was naked rock and lava, and largely filled with snow. The final summit is called Piquinho and is a small volcanic cond formed by the last eruption that rises another 70m of near vertical scrambling to to true summit. At the summit (2351m), a human-made rocky boundary provides shelter from winds and the natural steam vents (some up to 50C but modified by winds) provide heating for a lunch break! Truly a very unusual summit from this point of view, and the most comfortable and warm summit I have ever stopped on!

The descent was very slow for the most part, with many finding the steep unsteady and uneven sections very awkward for knees / ankles due to the rocky material. I would say that the climb is entirely doable, if you have time, but it is a long slog. It is very worth it, and on clear days you can see the other islands as well as the lower Pico valley. However, I would suggest that anyone taking a school group has a back-up plan for poor weather and also for any students who cannot complete the whole ascent as I would be surprised if all had the stamina or confidence or drive to make it all to the top. So consider your options for splitting groups, having a back-up alternative, and having enough guides and qualified staff that you can have the choice of some in the group making the summit attempt whilst others do something else.

After the hike we were transported to our accommodation on Pico island to stay at the youth hostel which is a converted monastery. Very interesting building and has basic clean rooms of bunks, nice hot showers and four separate lounges in different areas including a main lounge with table football, tv and some wifi access.

I would say this is a great climb, and certainly good fun. But it needs to be taken seriously. You would need students to be fit and confident, and have a good number of staff and local trained guides as it is very remote. You could easily sell this as being a challenge, the ‘character building’ or ‘push yourself to achieve something new’ activity that forms part of the overall exploration and academic trip. You could tie in the activity to academic purposes if you wished looking at biodiversity, succession, colonisation, pionerf species, invasive vs endemic species, soil quality and type, geology, landforms, impact of volcanic activity, etc,. Especially if you then compared to an/other island/s in the archipelago to compare and contrast volcanic behaviour, landform creation, environments, etc,. As such it is fantastic. Just be prepared for very changeable weather, and have a back up plan!

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