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!

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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.

GIS for Beginners

With the new Controlled Assessments for GCSE it has highlighted that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) must be used in the students work. This has made it necessary that every member of a Geography Department has an awareness of GIS and that students need to develop their skills from an early age. With this in mind the Geographical Association has put together a series of two-day training courses aimed at geography teachers who are new to GIS. 

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analysing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. GIS allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts. A GIS helps you answer questions and solve problems by looking at your data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared.

The following information is from the Geographical Association website which outlines The GIS for Beginners course;

  • Day one: After a brief overview of GIS, you will develop basic GIS skills through hands-on practical exercises and case studies. This will help you to create a GIS resource for your school. Through a myGIS practical activity you will be introduced to the main functions of DigitalWorlds. You will also look at GIS in the curriculum/exam specifications.
  • Back in the classroom: Over the next few weeks you will put your GIS skills into practice using your ESRI(UK) software.
  • Day two: An opportunity for feedback and reflection before progressing on to more advanced GIS skills.

Course aims and outcomes

  • To outline the difference between visualisation and GIS and develop both basic and more advanced skills using DigitalWorlds software
  • To increase familiarity with DigitalWorlds software, and the way that it can be used in geographical enquiries and Controlled Assessment tasks
  • To allow time for school-based reflection and development of GIS in the curriculum
  • To introduce delegates to the online community of GIS users and additional sources of ongoing support
  • To provide ideas for using GIS at KS3, and to supplement Controlled Assessment tasks at GCSE
  • To provide examples of places to find further data and mapping, and ongoing support for your professional development
  • To gain confidence with DigitalWorlds software, to be able to use it with students, and develop enquiry sequences which are engaging and relevant to individual school contexts
  • To become familiar with some more advanced GIS skills

This sounds a great opportunity for Geography Departments across the country to develop and improve the GIS that is currently being taught giving the students the best opportunities on developing the necessary skills to gain their top grades. The Geographical Association are brilliant at delivering these course. If you are interested or want to know more please follow the link here. I know we will be booking one of these courses at Gillingham!

Where now for geography?

 

After a very long and stressful journey to work today I was pleased to see one of my articles printed in Sec-Ed. Sec-Ed is the UK’s only free national teaching paper that is sent to every UK Headteacher and staffroom. I am a huge fan of the paper with its well written articles and comments on education and teaching in the UK. I have been very lucky in the past to have had several articles printed by them and I hope this continues for the future. Thank you to Pete Henshaw (Editor)  and Chris Parr (Chief Reporter) for all your help.

The article is titled  ‘Where now for geography?’ and focuses on geography’s fight for survival as a curriculum taught subject. This is quite a personal article being a geographer and I am very passionate about geography’s role within a schools curriculum. The article can be accessed here for your perusal. Enjoy!

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.

Blogging on the Blogosphere

Since I started writing my blog last Monday I have received many positive comments from colleagues, friends, and fellow teachers across the world. I would like to thank all of you for reading my blog and I hope it is useful and of interest. The early success of my blog has taken me by surprise and I hope it continues!

Alan Parkinson of the Geographical Association left a great comment on my blog. Alan has his own blog on all aspects geography which is updated daily. I have only started reading this blog this week and thoroughly recommend it to all geography teachers. The blog is current, up to date and very interesting. He has some fantastic resources and ideas on his site. I have also found out he is very good friends with Ollie Bray

My very good friend Ollie Bray wrote a lovely piece about my blog this week. Ollie and I have been friends for many years since studying geography together at the University of Plymouth. I have been a big fan of Ollie’s blog ever since he started writing it. Ollie’s blog is extremely informative and up to date on the educational developments and new technologies that come out. Ollie is the National Adviser for Learning and Technology Futures at Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS). He is a brilliant innovative teacher with fantastic ideas.

Ollie and myself have had many adventures over the years – all of which are true!