Controlled Assessments

We have just finished completing our controlled assessment in geography to mixed reviews. Have other schools felt the same?

As a department we have a very successful record of doing well across all types of learners and is something as teachers we are proud of. Like any job/role this has taking a lot of time and effort to put in place. But I recently felt from completing the controlled assessment that it is stretching the higher ability students and maybe not so helpful or beneficial for the less able students. Whereas before you could push and motivate a C/D student to gain a C, now with the examination high level control they get a D. The higher ability students though have really enjoyed the expereince. With a busy stressful year, many of our Year 11 students have not enjoyed their experience due to the following factors:

  • Students are less than enthused with more exams
  • Increase in pressure/stress on Year 11
  • Teacher/Student free time is lost when time is lost due to trips/absences
  • They have to complete certain sections in exam conditions
  • Completion of the CAT is across several weeks when other committments happen
  • They can’t complete the work in the time periods set

I would like to hear other schools’ experiences of the controlled assessment. Is it working in your centre? I am sure with time the experience will be more positive, but it does not feel like the experience we were first told about.

London Futures

A new exhibition to illustrate London’s  landmarks in an environment transformed by climate change, is being held at the Museum of London. The photographs have been digitally changed by illustrators Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones. The display shows the full impact of global warning, food scarcity, rising sea levels and how people will need to survive and adapt for the future. The exhibition is running from now till March 2011.



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!

Classroom Antics

What are the tools and key things a teacher needs?

This was a question I posed last week on my blog. It is quite tricky as every teacher has different views on what they need to be successful and to help their everyday lives. So I have come up with my own list. Enjoy!

  • 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 elses experience can create and add to your armoury of activities. Some of the best writers out there are Ollie Bray, Dave Rogers and Alan Parkinson who I wholly recommend on reading.

  •  Google Earth/Google Maps

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.

  • Working as a Team

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! 

  • Thinking Outside the Box

Being innovative and brave within a classroom can bring enjoyment, success and respect. I admit not every idea I have tried has worked but those that do can enhance the student’s experience of your subject. Trialling new ideas improve your lessons and enjoyment as a teacher. It is not always easy trying out new ideas. It is very easy to stay in the comfort zone but without trying out new ideas we do not develop ourselves as teachers and will not improve.

  • Enjoy your lessons

As teachers we work long hours and spend many lessons preparing and planning work. We have the aim of teaching the National Curriculum and working with our students on achieving their personal best and gaining the grades they deserve. But…we must enjoy our working life. There are many pressures in the education industry and targets to achieve. 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. There is much to enjoy from teaching, just don’t forget the positives!

Teacher Tools

With the new term fast approaching, I have started preparing for my new classes and aims for the year. Before the summer break I outlined my five objectives for the year ahead and wrote about them on my blog back in May. These were:

  • Teaching & Learning
  • Assessment for Learning
  • Reflective Teaching (including observations)
  • Technology
  • International link with a school abroad and feeder schools

With these five objectives in mind it has got me thinking what are the most important tools to achieve this? What do we need as teachers on a day-to-day basis? What are the best web pages/blogs for guidance? What tools can we do without to teach? I will be putting my list together on the next few days, but I would like to hear your views and share them.

Reflective Teaching

This year in education has been one of change and planning for the future. With the new GCSEs, AS/A2 curriculum changes it has given me much to think about since I joined Gillingham School in September 2009. Joining a very successful school and department I have had big shoes to fill, a challenge I have relished. I believe I have put in place the correct building blocks for the future. This month I have had a chance to look back and reflect upon our successes and future developments. For a successful department I believe you must not look at too many areas to change, focus, innovate or tweak. Geoff Barton, Headteacher of the King Edward XI School likened managing a large department to plate spinning, you have to be able to manage each of the areas you start to change – too many and the plates start crashing around you. Personally, a maximum of five strategies/innovations is perfect. Making sure your strategies are manageable and flexible you are able to keep a good grasp and move the strategies forward.

Idris Mootee, of  the innovation playground blog,  has said, ‘innovation is hard, it is not about getting the ideas at all, it is about managing ideas. So you have a few great ideas, so what? The future is never about the future but now.’

The five strategies we will be focusing on are outlined below:

  • Teaching & learning

The primary target for improvement this year revolves around teaching & learning within Geography. As a Department we want to teach the best we can and we are looking at our lessons and seeing where we can make improvements and implementing new teaching strategies. We must make our teaching experience more personal for the students and improve their independent study skills. This must be developed from KS3 onwards and carried on within the school.

  • Assessment for Learning

AFL is a very important skill and is an area where we could develop within Geography. As teachers we are sometimes too controlling and we must put the onus back on the students for them to achieve. Investigating methods and ways of implementing this into our schemes of work must be one of our priorities. This will encourage student learning and raise achievement across all year groups. AFL will also help improve the student’s knowledge of using a mark scheme and what to include in a good answer. This will reduce our marking and in the long-term our workload.

  • Reflective Teaching (including observations)

As teachers we must be more reflective of our own practice and make amendments where we need to. We must utilise our strengths and work on our areas of development. Observations are vitally important to watch other teachers and how students learn. This would be ideally done within the Department and with other Departments once a term where possible. This should therefore improve our own teaching and benefit the students .Working with other colleagues will help develop cross curricular opportunities to raise achievement throughout the school.

  • Technology

Geography has prided itself on using technology where possible to improve our lessons and the student experience. This needs to be further developed to further enhance our learning and the students. GIS must be developed within the Department across all year groups.

  • International link with a school abroad and feeder schools

As part of our role in the local and global community we would be looking to develop a link with a school abroad. This would develop our student’s knowledge of their role within a global community and understanding of issues that occur worldwide.

Locally we would like to work with the feeder schools on developing our link and improving geography. This would enhance geography’s status and develop their geographical knowledge. Geography is sometimes not always taught in primary schools to a high level and we would like to develop this to help their progression and achievement later on.

Please get in contact regarding what your departments/schools are planning/changing for the future…I would love to hear them especially in these uncertain times with possible budget/curriculum changes.

Learning from Films

It was not long into my education career as a teacher that I started to realise the importance and usefulness of film in my lessons. I had always been using documentaries and footage from DVDs and videos in my lessons but I had not realised what films could offer. It got my mind racing on different aspects of films that could be shown to pupils within different subject areas. I soon realised that films could enhance and develop a pupils learning and encourage them to be life long learners.

In April 2009 I wrote an article for Sec-Ed regarding the usefulness of films in education called Learning from Films. I have used films in the classroom and have found they have a lasting impression on a young students mind. Films are a successful way of engaging and stimulating young people.

Films can enhance a lesson and excite a young mind with their powerful and thought provoking subject matter. Dr. Pietari Kaapa of the University of Nottingham has stated that, “cinema as both a popular form of entertainment and a means of artistic and political expression, is a crucial area of classroom teaching. The pedagogical potential of film provides an immediate and invigorating addition to established lesson plans, while the history of the medium and its contextual socio-cultural relevance function as sources of study in their own right.”

As a Geography Teacher I have used a wide variety of different films to help show and back up key terminology or sometimes complex geographical features. The world today has created a generation of young people with very active minds. The days of a teacher in a classroom talking for 50 minutes are long gone and would not generate much enthusiasm from today’s young learners. Interaction and variety is what is needed to engage learners and film is one medium that can grip a young person’s attention. Film can enthuse and generate much debate and help a learner.

Pupils are requested to use and take part in different types of media within their learning from the National Curriculum. Films like music should be encouraged to be used within the classroom. Nick Hargreaves of Radipole Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, believes that ‘‘films are a really valid text as much as books. With the National Curriculum we have to look at various types of media within a child’s learning and film is one way. Films are not always easy to understand and it does take time sometimes for a young learner to fully understand the complexities of a film like the music changing in relation to the mood of the film.’’ As we are aware there are three types of learners; visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. A film is one medium that incorporates all three learning styles and can hold the attention and pass on knowledge and understanding to all three main learning styles.  Nick Hargreaves says ‘film takes into account how a learner learns…it attracts the three main types of learners and engages all of them in one sitting. It reaches out to all target levels especially boys’.

It is not only watching films but using/making films within a lesson. This is sometimes difficult to do with budgets and time constraints but can be a worthwhile exercise. Young people like to be more involved in classes and using digital film recorders is one way. Pupils should be encouraged to produce news reports, presentations or stop motion modelling to help their knowledge and understanding. The technology and resources are out there and we as teachers must start to use them for the benefit of our pupils and ourselves as practitioners.

It may be uncomfortable for some of us to film ourselves in a lesson and to watch our mannerisms but would it further develop ourselves as teachers? I think the answer would be yes and should be encouraged with any teacher new or old. Filiming ourselves could be way of encourging our own development as teachers.

I remember reading Great Expectations at school and found watching the David Lean adaption a much needed guiding hand when it came to revising for the GCSE. A film may not always be true or correct, but in the right hands, us as teachers, we can filter out the bad and use the great pieces of film there is out there waiting to be used.