Tag Archives: new curriculum

Thinking about formative assessment

Mathematical Bridge, CambridgeStory has it that originally the Mathematical Bridge (in the picture) was built without bolts through geometrical genius, but that when later generations had to renovate it they couldn’t reassemble and had to add bolts in. The legend isn’t true, it’s just that the original iron spikes would have been unseen by the eye as you passed. My point? Wouldn’t it be sweet if students could have their knowledge and understanding all held seamlessly together with everything connected?

Last year David Rogers showed me an example of a Skills Web that his art department had been working on, as I was working through some changes at my place. I’d seen similar elsewhere and really liked the idea as a simple visual way for students to see what skills they require to make progress, to check their confidence and self-assess, and see how skills cross-correlate between different units and subjects. I lose track of how many times we remind students that what they do in Geography correlates to skills in other subjects, and that I know full well that they can do graphs! Anyway, I like simple things and so this year introduced the skills web to trial it.

Below is a GCSE skills web based on the new themes of ‘think like’, ‘know like’, ‘apply like’, ‘study like’. I really like those strands in themselves for building a curriculum around ‘thinking (or knowing) like a geographer’ and make a nice explicit focus on terminology / literacy / numeracy that students need in order to make progress not just in Geog but in essential English and Maths.


web web2


Usage: students are given the colour version as above with a tracing overlay that has scores on it like the second image. This would be to stay with them for a whole year perhaps and the idea behind having the tracing overlay is that over time you might need to replace the overlay if it becomes too full / overused. You don’t have to do the tracing paper version (bit of a faff maybe) – instead just ask them to use symbols and a legend that dates each symbol so you can track over time.

Students then self-assess confidence from 0-10 along each strand. I wouldn’t get them to assess each strand at once, but at the start of a particular topic and then revisit periodically. Get them to date each time they self-assess then you can track over time. I make it a focal point by displaying on screen and highlighting which spoke of the wheel we are looking at then. Great for them and for you at identifying weaknesses to then work on.

We’ve also dabbled with topic specific skills webs for GCSE. Same principle of marking confidence along the line but this is just for one topic and I would revisit more frequently.

The Key Stage 3 example is below:



I’d be interested to have feedback on what colleagues think and what is being tried elsewhere. I’m running with this in my current school and will introduce to the new place in September as our department AfL most likely. It’s not a replacement for summative assessment, this is still needed too (and hopefully the path here with tracking student progress in life after levels will become clearer soon!) But maybe it can help hold the strands of learning together.

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.

Prince’s Teaching Institute: Day 2 lectures


Day 2 dawned with an excellent buffet breakfast in the dining hall – great way to set yourself up for a hard day using those little grey cells!

Alan Kinder : Curriculum change

Alan, Geography Association Chief Executive, was commenting on the forthcoming KS3 and KS4 curriculum changes and the debate surrounding this. He was able to provide the latest news on this as well as how the GA has been involved in the consultation. First came the stats : nationally, History uptake at GCSE has approximately 35’000 more students, and at A level ~20’000 more students choosing the option compared to Geography. He noted that the decline has plateaued out and there is evidence of some increase but still has concerns ; that there are some signs of growth but we shouldn’t sit still yet. So as Geography teachers who love our subject (and want to keep our jobs!) there is even more need to ensure we adapt and modify the curriculum to make it engaging and relevant to our students – what suits one school is different to another. And don’t forget the up side : Geography is still one of the recommended subjects preferred by Russell Group top universities and one of the most employable subjects for graduates because it is a facilitating subject.

So, following the curriculum reviews, the GA is arguing for renewed focus on subject rigour : improved locational knowledge, a better balance between physical and human Geog, a sound understanding of the how and the why of processes and how these link to people and place at different scales. Those involved in converting the curriculum into working schemes of work must bear in mind that (as ever) the framework is still skeletal and it is our responsibility as teachers to subvert and use professional judgment to make it appropriate.

At KS4 Alan suggested the 2015 GCSE changes will see greater emphasis on extended writing within the programme, and on the application of knowledge, i.e. students will learn about an example coastline and then be assessed on a different area, therefore will be examined in terms of applying their knowledge to an unknown place and not using rote memory 🙂 There are lots of concerns about the format that fieldwork and the examination of fieldwork skills will take with the move to terminal exams : that the proposed terminal fieldwork skills exam is not a good or thorough enough tool for demonstrating field skills compared to extended controlled assessments.

So the message sparked debate, of course, and is essentially that of business as usual ; teachers to take and subvert the new KS3 curriculum to suit, but that this will always be driven by the requirements of the KS4 curriculum since this is what we are preparing for

Christian Nold : Emotional Mapping

This was one of the main highlights of the whole residential. Christian was speaking about emotional mapping, producing sensory maps based on perceptions and human emotional response to places based on senses / feelings / thoughts. He mentioned an activity I’ve used before and found really useful and insightful: maps from memory. The idea is you are blindfolded (safely, in pairs!) and explore a place so you can focus on your other senses only, then create a map from memory. E.g. make a sketch road map and then write descriptions over it to demonstrate not only what the physical features are but how you respond to them (e.g. ‘Fast cars keep zooming past on the dual carriageway, I feel nervous, I smell coffee’).

Christian has adapted a GPS unit to include bio sensors / neurophysiological sensors to map physical reactions as you move through an environment. He then uses this to create a bio map after uploading the information to Google Earth and producing polygons / graph overlays from the sensor information. You then have a conversation to interpret this afterwards; e.g. where spikes on the graph occur you can unpick what happened there, or why you felt that way and how the place made you feel.

Christian has used to create an emotional topography for Greenwich peninsula, Paris, etc,. And also the sensory journeys project with schools www.sensoryjourneys.net


It is all about relationships between individuals and places, which you can scale up to include large numbers of respondents and then have enough data to assess patterns – then this may lead to rethinking how places / spaces are actually perceived (could then inform built environment & area planning). You can find more information in Alan Parkinson and Paul Cornish’s review book.


During the lecture I was introduced to the Fieldnotes app for recording data which is geolocated. This app is quite expensive (and you could use the alternative Maverick app for adding placemarks to GE instead which is free) but basically means you can add text, code, photos, videos and they are tagged to a geographical location. This information can then be exported (along with images) as a .kmz file to Google Earth and then used with GE graphs to produce graphs and then overlay graphs onto the GE file. This is great for showing relationships between factors, e.g. The perception of place compared to traffic congestion etc,.

We then followed this up with another highlight : field trip! As good geographers we were very happy to get outside. And it helped that it was sunny. We visited Cambourne and were set a GCSE enquiry style project to test how distinctive the place is. Some members of the team had the adapted GPS unit (which measured pulse and sweat production through a fingertip attachment) while others used Fieldnotes or good old paper to record things like traffic/pedestrian surveys, quality of infrastructure, how the place made you feel, etc,. We had an hour or so wandering around in a haphazard manner (including the obligatory coffee shop) and the information was then uploaded later to the GE files and discussed. Funny how every participant noted that their mood / sense of place improved significantly when coffee and cake was nearby 😉

The follow-up challenge for me as far as I’m concerned is to see if we can hack a GPS unit to do this ourselves – and this is a project for the autumn with the help of the twitter community of hackers! We have done sense of place mapping just on paper in the past, but we have a keen group of digital leaders who would love to have a go at making an actual piece of tech we could use in school – but with a budget of course.

Professor Jonathan Bamber : Climate Change

One of the things I liked most about the PTI residential was that the lectures were like going back to Uni! Reminding us that we are intelligent individuals. Or that’s how I felt anyway. It’s easy to only think in terms of school curriculum, and it’s important to keep ourselves fresh and challenge ourselves with up-to-date developments in our subject and to keep being learners ourselves.

Bamber updated us on the scientific community’s concerns regarding the increase in ocean acidification as well as ocean salinity, and the impact of reduced permafrost and polar warming (and the potential impact of these combined). He commented on the increase in biological activity following melting of permafrost, which causes an increase in methane production which is one of highest contributing greenhouse gases.

The influence of the Arctic ice melt is much more significant than that of the Antarctic and yet this remains a common misconception. The Arctic is melting more rapidly and having more severe potential consequences (in terms of affecting the thermohaline conveyor and more rapid Northern European glacial melt). There are approximately 250million people living within 5m of the sea worldwide, including major cities like NYC, and many marginal native communities as well as important resources found in Arctic regions that are at risk of the impact of melting.

Bamber noted that of the two main contributors to sea level rise it is a 50/50 balance in terms of impact: the thermal expansion of existing seas, and the influence of freshwater melt with subsequent influx to oceans. With 90% of all freshwater stored in Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets it is clear why scientists are concerned about ice melt (and remember that freshwater has a different salinity and density to oceans which has implications for the conveyor system globally).

His concluding concerns were:
– predicted risk of there being no Arctic sea ice in summers by 2020
– that Alpine glaciers will largely be gone by 2100
– the risk of permafrost methane ‘bomb’
– a relative sea level rise of approx 1m possible by 2100

So it was a really intense day! Full of mind-bending thinking as well as how we can embed these issues within the relevant curriculum. It’s about us being able to remain cutting edge and then adapt this to suit.

‘Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few people engage in it often’ (Henry Ford)