The Tools of my Toolbox (1 of 2)

‘It’s not about the tools but the toolbox’. This was a statement Dave Rogers posed on his blog last week. It is quite tricky as every teacher has different views on what they need to be successful and to help their everyday lives. Dave was clever to state that no matter how many tools we have – it all depends how good the toolbox is. In other words, how good the teacher is at using the appropriate tools! As a very keen guitarist I used to get annoyed with fellow musicians who would be picky about what equipment they used – if you are a good musician the talent will always shine through no matter what you use. Of course a better guitar does have a better sound but essentially the key to the sound is the player! This is part one of two on the tools that I would have in my teacher toolbox.

So, what tools would my toolbox hold:

  • Working Together

Teaching can sometimes be a lonely job, with yourself up against thirty students challenging you. It can sometimes feel you are the Lone Ranger but that is not so. Using people around you can make your life much easier especially when you need help or guidance. For a young teacher this is possibly the best tip I can pass on…talk to those around you. I have worked in some great departments where working together and sharing ideas/work loads makes everybody feel important and better about themselves. The success of a department should improve too with more minds working together then one. The work – life balance is very important and should never be forgotten! 

  • Blogs

For the last few years I have found blogs a great source to further my understanding and learn new skills as a teacher. I have always said that a teacher never stops learning. Just like our students we as teaching practitioners are constantly learning new techniques on improving our methods we use in the classroom. This is part of the reason why I love teaching, it is never dull and is a challenge I relish on a daily basis. Out on the ‘Blogosphere’ are some brilliant writers who share their teaching experiences, daily routines, ideas, schemes of work, lessons…you name it and teachers are writing about it! Reading about someone else’s experience can create and add to your armoury of activities.

  • Technology

Geography has prided itself on using technology where possible to improve our lessons and the student experience. I am never too far away from my laptop as I find it a great help with many of my lessons. As a geographer Google Earth and Google Maps have the best free Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software available. For students who need to include GIS in their coursework at Key Stage 4 and 5, this is the best start and easiest solution. Most students have access in some format to a computer and Google Earth/Google Maps can be used from a very early age giving them the skills and presentation techniques they need later on in their school career. Simple activities like spinning the globe round or locating places in the world from your location can make a young person make a sense of their place in the world.

  • Variety of Activities

We must keep teaching exciting for ourselves and learning fun for our students. The aim of all teachers should be the students doing 70% of the teaching – we just need to be the conductors of an orchestra. A variety of activities with a clear objective and learning outcome will help. Lets get planning!

Grappling with Geography

Recent press coverage has put geography, my subject, under the spotlight. According to Hannah Richardson of the BBC; ‘geography is declining in many of England’s schools as pupils turn away from a subject they find “boring and irrelevant”, Ofsted Inspectors have said in their report “Learning to make a world of difference’’.

‘Ofsted said that in one in 10 primary schools visited by Ofsted, geography was said to be disappearing. The report also points out shrinking numbers of secondary pupils are taking the subject at GCSE and A-level. The number of students taking geography GCSE fell from 173,800 in 2008-9 to 169,800 in 2009-10, official figures show. The report found the number of state secondaries schools not entering pupils for the subject has been rising steadily, increasing from 97 in 2007 to 137 in 2009. However, this is a tiny minority in the context of more than 3,000 secondary schools across England.’

It is apparent that geography has entered into the fight for its very survival as a curriculum subject. As a Head of Geography in Dorset, I am extremely passionate about a subject that has always been close to my heart.

Geography is more important today than ever before in today’s uncertain times. When I was at school I was taught by some inspirational teachers like my old Geography teacher Graham Currie. I was transfixed by the awe and wonder of our planet from the amazing landforms of glaciation, the climatic changes on the earth; how people brace themselves against a sometimes cruel world…Geography has always been a fascinating subject.

Young people need to become global citizens and encouraged to learn about their local area, their county, their country and about the world. Geography has for sometime been losing its position of importance. In KS3, 4 and 5 elements of geography are taught in other subject areas especially science.  With science as a core subject where is geography’s place? We need to define geography as a subject in its own right. The importance of geography needs to be made clear by the Department of Education. We need to reclaim our topics and rebrand ourselves as a twenty-first century subject.

With an ever-changing world geography must be at the forefront of educational thought. Being versatile, experimental, and very much of today it should be leading the future of education. As a teacher I have worked in several forward thinking schools where opportunities to attempt new ideas were welcomed. I am very lucky in this respect. I have been fortunate to have witnessed great teaching in my eight years as a teacher.

According to David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, ‘geography is not just important on its own account. It is a linking discipline, connecting to science, to the arts, to history and languages. In primary schools where geography in strong, the subject can help to knit the curriculum together as well as satisfy pupils’ curiosity about people and places. In senior schools, geography offers the opportunity to develop a broader and very contemporary skill-set. It also helps many students to keep their options open, rather than having to narrow their courses down to either the sciences or the arts. Geography straddles both, using diverse sources and data, and asking challenging and engaging questions about the change pupils can see in the world around them.’

‘Given the vast ambition of the topic, it is easy to see how it can be badly taught. But it would be a betrayal of young people to give up on what geography can contribute to their education, just because it is hard to teach well.’

Last year I wrote an article for Sec-Ed. Sec-Ed is the UK’s only free national teaching paper that is sent to every UK Headteacher and staffroom. The article is titled  ‘Where now for geography?’, it focuses on geography’s fight for survival as a curriculum taught subject. The article can be accessed here for your perusal.

Geography deserves its place on the curriculum and it is the subject of the 21st Century.

The Importance of Teaching

The Importance of Teaching – this is the name the Government chose for the White Paper underpinning the Education Bill.

Teaching is a popular profession for many graduates. The number of graduates completing PGCE’s has steadily risen over the last few years. It is a role that people find exciting, challenging and extremely stimulating. It is a profession where we are able to move people forward in their aspirations and assist their learning. Education does sometimes get too much bad press and the papers gloss over the successes and achievements that teaching has bought to so many thousands of pupils and students.

Unfortunately, I was sad to read that the number of teacher training places at universities and colleges is to be cut by one fifth. The Coalition wants more teachers to learn their skills on the job in schools rather than in training colleges. Now I agree that we should have more on the job training – it’s where I learnt my skills and it was where I did most of my learning– but fewer teachers and training opportunities? Universities and teaching colleges offer fantastic teaching expertise and facilities that should be further funded. 

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is also taking an axe to the bursary packages currently enjoyed by trainees. I received £6,000 for a year of training for my PGCE. Without this funding I would have been unable to have trained as a teacher. Being a student is expensive and even more so today. Travel, accommodation and food is not cheap. Funding has gone for subjects such as English, history, geography and art.

Instead, those who want to train as physics, chemistry, engineering and maths teachers will receive bursaries of £9,000 a year. Trainees who want to be biology, general science or foreign language teachers will receive £6,000 a year. This maybe in response to subject demand but I am sure we will need teachers in english, history, geography and art in the future and these cuts maybe putting off hundreds of potential brilliant teachers.

Michael Gove has also outlined plans to only accept trainee teachers with 2.2 degree or above. Yes, we do need qualified teachers with good knowledge but isn’t the ability to teach and inspire important too? There are thousands of teachers who are fantastic at their job, inspiring and motivating everyday but may not necessary have a 2.2 or above. I think Michael Gove has got his agenda wrong on this point. What degree you hold should not define or hold you back from teaching.

I do agree that we need competent, dedicated and enthusiastic teachers in our schools. But, we must work together and I just wished the Government had involved more teachers in their decisions.

As Batman once said, ‘it isn’t what you say that defines you but what you do’ (Batman Begins, 2005).

The ‘Big’ Picture

On the 8-10th April the GA is holding its annual conference. This year it is held in the University of Derby. The theme for 2010 is ‘Geography: The Big Picture’ and focus’s on:

  • How changes in the primary curriculum following the Rose and Alexander Reviews will affect the broad picture of geographical education
  • How geography is perceived through images by the wider public
  • Creative use of images and maps
  • How geographical research can contribute to key global issues and debates

Young people need to become global citizens and encouraged to learn about their local area, their county, their country and about the world. Geography has for sometime been losing its position of importance. In KS3, 4 and 5 elements of geography are taught in other subject areas especially science.  With science as a core subject where is geography’s place? We need to define geography as a subject in its own right. The importance of geography needs to be made clear by the Department of Education. We need to reclaim our topics and rebrand ourselves as a twenty-first century subject.

With an ever-changing world geography must be at the forefront of educational thought. Being versatile, experimental, and very much of today it should be leading the future of education. As a teacher I have worked in several forward thinking schools where opportunities to attempt new ideas were welcomed. I am very lucky in this respect. I have been fortunate to have witnessed great teaching in my years as a teacher.

Why become a teacher?

Teaching in my opinion is the greatest role in life that someone can do. To actually see the look of wonder and understanding on someone’s face is something that cannot be bought. To pass on knowledge and see where it takes a young person in life is amazing. To actually help young people in life choose a path in the life with your encouragement and guidance is breathtaking.  Last year I wrote an article for Sec-Ed called ‘Proud to be a teacher!’, and it outlined my reasons why teaching is the best profession, this can be accessed here and via my blog here. Below are my ‘Top Ten Reasons to be a Teacher;’

  • To teach a subject you love and have a passion for
  • To help motivate and inspire young people to be passionate about learning
  • To learn more about your subject and you as a person
  • Teaching keeps your mind young
  • To work in a innovative environment
  • To be your own boss and develop your own lessons and SoWs
  • To work with a wide diversity of people from different environments
  • To make a difference and give something back to society
  • To learn from others especially the pupils
  • The long holidays

As Batman once said, ‘it isn’t what you say that defines you but what you do’ (Batman Begins, 2005).

Choose Life…Choose Geography!

Recent press coverage has put geography, my subject, under the spotlight. It is apparent that geography has entered into the fight for its very survival as a curriculum subject. As a Head of Geography in Dorset, I am extremely passionate about a subject that has always been close to my heart. Through geography I have become a voice, a living soul for the planet through which it can teach us about itself and us as its inhabitants.

My argument maybe slightly biased being a geographer but it is still a valid one. Geography is more important today than every before in today’s uncertain times. When I was at school I was taught by some inspirational teachers like my old Geography teacher Graham Currie. I was transfixed by the awe and wonder of our planet from the amazing landforms of glaciation, the climatic changes on the earth; how people brace themselves against a sometimes cruel world…Geography has always been a fascinating subject.

Every time I pick up a newspaper or browse other peoples’ blogs I see current issues that need to be taught and explained in full.  If those in a position of authority do not see the importance of climate change and sustainability in the world, I am slightly concerned for the future.

From the recent news coverage there seems to be a policy of educational change. Change can be good. Change can bring many benefits to teachers and students alike. Changes to the curriculum do need to be made but not to the deterrent of several subjects.

Young people need to become global citizens and encouraged to learn about their local area, their county, their country and about the world. Geography has for sometime been losing its position of importance. In KS3, 4 and 5 elements of geography are taught in other subject areas especially science.  With science as a core subject where is geography’s place? We need to define geography as a subject in its own right. The importance of geography needs to be made clear by the Department of Education. We need to reclaim our topics and rebrand ourselves as a twenty-first century subject.

With the planned changes from the Rose Report, History, Geography and Religious Studies would come under the banner of human, social and environmental understanding. The argument is that not having them as distinct subjects would allow teachers to introduce them in other parts of the curriculum. This sounds an interesting idea and provides much scope for Primary Teachers. But are we not doing a variation of this already? Currently in my Department we incorporate literacy, maths and ICT with great success into our lessons. Geography is lucky to be a versatile subject and can be linked fairly easily with other curriculum areas. Like a chaperone we can provide other subjects with a variety of different approaches to teaching a topic.  This gives us as teachers many opportunities to experiment and link up with curriculum areas. Geography could be the catalyst and not the problem in a sometimes packed curriculum.

With the introduction of examination league tables Schools are judged on results for better or for worse. As a subject leader I come under scrutiny for our geography results. With the proposed changes geography will be taught far less than it is today in Primary Schools and therefore results will slowly decrease over time at GCSE. If you are being assessed in a subject then I think you should be taught that subject. I feel Ed Balls and his colleagues are stabbing a good quality subject in the back and are not thinking of the ‘bigger picture’. As Julius Caesar once said, ‘Et tu brute?’

With an ever-changing world geography must be at the forefront of educational thought. Being versatile, experimental, and very much of today it should be leading the future of education. As a teacher I have worked in several forward thinking schools where opportunities to attempt new ideas were welcomed. I am very lucky in this respect. I have been fortunate to have witnessed great teaching in my seven years as a teacher.

We do have the resources, we do have the expertise, we do have the knowledge, and we can change geography for the future. But without the right backing I sadly see a curriculum lacking in vision and failing to provide the future generation the right knowledge to tackle it. All I ask is that our Ministers and Education Authorities stop and think. They must speak to the teachers in Primary, Middle and Secondary Schools. They have to find out how these changes will impact on a child’s learning.

Finally, as teachers we need to love geography and appreciate its right in education. Geography deserves its place on the curriculum and it is a subject of the 21st Century. I was given the chance to love geography by Mr Currie all those years ago and children should be given the chance to love the subject too.