Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Using Story Maps in Geography lessons

A story map is a presentation of several slides featuring a main map window consisting of an aerial photograph, an atlas-style map or even an Ordnance Survey map. A secondary window then provides text, images, hyperlinks, photographs, embedded video, questions or activities.  As you progress through the slides the main map window moves to another location.  The true potential of story maps is only limited by ones creativity!

“Story maps use geography as a means of organising and presenting information. They tell the story of a place, event, issue, trend, or pattern in a geographic context” ESRI

The ESRI Story Maps Gallery is a rich treasure trove of ready-to-use resources which can be used in lessons as starters, main activities or extended reading for homework. 
Story maps can be used in three main ways in Geography teaching: as a resource, student activity and an adventure.
American SW Water Crisis

Story maps as resource
Story maps can be used to teach students about new places, for discovering more about familiar places, for contrasting places, for developing aerial photography interpretation skills and for helping students prepare for or remember fieldwork.  Examples of my story maps include the American SW Water Crisis, Disappearing Glaciers and River Darent Fieldwork.  Story maps work on any devices but are viewed best on a PC/Mac or tablet. No apps or software needs to be downloaded.

Story maps as student activity
Teachers can design a whole lesson or series of lessons using a story map as an interactive textbook with questions for students, activities and multimedia experiences. Students can easily create their own story maps of their route to school or of their favourite theme parks etc.  Story maps can be created using a range of templates.  The most useful two templates are the easier Map Tour and more advanced Map Journal. 

Students will need practice to master creating story maps and they should copy and paste their text from a word processing app to avoid losing any unsaved work.  The Map Journal template will require them to be able to share their photos using web-based storage like Dropbox or OneDrive. 

Story maps as adventure
Alastair Bonnett in his book ‘What is Geography?’ describes our subject as an imaginative leap into the unknown, its essence is one of exploration which takes us beyond the familiar and makes the unknown known. Story maps can enable students to participate in this same sense of exploration and adventure as they discover places entirely new to them. 

Students could create a story map leading readers on an adventure through their local area to visit unexpected sites or places only known to local people.  It could include their own photographs and could show how surprisingly diverse their local area is.

Danakil story map
I recently made a story map called Into Danakil: Hottest Place on Earth which follows an expedition on route from Ethiopia’s Mekele airport into the heart of the Danakil Depression.  It includes stunning photographs of this extreme environment, a range of mapping types and aerial photography, YouTube video clips, questions for students and information on the sites most significant geographical features, both physical and human. 

Creating a story map an ArcGIS Online schools organisational account allows interactive story maps to be easily created and shared with colleagues and students.  Making story maps also requires familiarity with the making and saving ArcGIS Online web maps. These are very easy to create and should be the starting point for working with AGOL.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Communicating academic research to geography teachers

This blog post considers the most effective ways of disseminate academic research to geography teachers. Last week I attended the Teaching about Ice CPD day run by the Prince's Teaching Institute (PTI). Delegates were treated to three fascinating lectures from leading academics Professors Iain Stewart (Plymouth), David Evans (Durham) and Neil Glasser (Aberystwyth).
Meeting David Evans and Iain Stewart

Throughout the day, however, I realised that my parts of my subject knowledge and understanding were incorrect or outdated and I am sure that this ‘miscomprehension’ is a widespread issue in the geography teaching profession.

The day was a tremendous success for those delegates who were lucky enough to attend but what about the thousands of other geography teachers who would have benefited from being there?

This blog therefore asks some questions: What are the most effective ways to communicate the latest academic research findings to a wider professional audience? How do we reach out and develop busy geography teachers? To what extent are geography teachers aware of their CPD needs?
I am convinced that there is a need to communicate the latest knowledge to teachers and students. The 'communication routes' below already exist and could be used more effectively to disseminate new science
  •  The annual Geographical Association (GA) conference. Many academics already give lectures at this event which attended by over 1000 geography teachers.
  • CPD events run by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG).
  • A level Geography Review magazine or GeofactsheetsMore academics could write regular updates and articles for these publications which are read by thousands of teachers and their students.
  • Geography textbooks. Academics could be more actively involved in the process of writing A level or GCSE geography textbook which reach millions of students nationally.
  • Writing an article in the GA’s Geography journal.  Papers are pitched at Geography and Education.
  • Continued publicity for PTI CPD events and support from academics.

There are clearly many other routes available but I would consider these to be the most effective.  If you are an academic with an interest in sharing your research with the wider school geography education community please do consider getting involved in the routes outlined above. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Grow your glacier game

This kinaesthetic activity helps students to understand the dynamics of the glacial mass balance in a truly fun and memorable manner.

  • Guttering (2 metre long)
  • Bubble wrap £1
  • 500 Marbles £10
  • 10 pots
  • 10 dice £5
  • Instruction sheet (Download PDF)
The first job is to cut the U-shaped guttering into 10 x 20cm lengths and sand the edges.  Line the gutter with bubble wrap (rough side up).  Give each student 50 marbles in a pot.  Place one end of the gutter on an atlas to provide a slope.

The winner of the game is the group that achieves the most net accumulation throughout the 30 year game.The gutter represents the U-shaped valley and the marbles represent ice. Ice accumulation = add more marbles; ice ablation = lose marbles.

Running the game
Students start with 15 marbles at the top end of the gutter.  Use the bubble wrap rough side up to stop the marbles rolling everywhere.  Teacher instructs when students can throw the dice.  A low dice throw = net ablation; a high dice throw = net accumulation (see instruction card). Each throw represents one year.  Allow 30 throws for 30 years.  Each turn when they gain or lose ‘ice marbles’ they must say “Net accumulation!” or “net ablation!”

As the game proceeds the students’ marble glaciers will advance and thicken or retreat and thin.  
At the end of the lesson students write up a short account of what happened to the glacier linking the gain or loss of ice marbles to glacier mass balance/ice budget.

Start with 15 ice marbles
The snout advances!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Success criteria: Barrier to achievement or a way to unlock academic potential?

Success criteria have become an increasingly common pedagogical feature in British education. This blog post explores the extent to which success criteria can become a barrier to achievement or can allow students to flourish in unexpected ways.
Success criteria: barrier or launch pad?
Success criteria can be used to assess student achievement and to give something concrete for students to aim at. However, if the success criteria we use are too conservative, can they act as a barrier to significant achievement? It's possible they can.

I recently updated some success criteria for a Year 8 investigation on Antarctic tourism. The old criteria looked somewhat jaded and I was keen to give my students an opportunity exceed way beyond what they would usually be expected to achieve.  I gave some guidance to my students and I was impressed by how keen they were to try them out.  The result was incredible.  I saw the most impressive Year 8 work in my whole teaching career from at least two students who were operating at AS level!  It wasn’t just a few students either – the majority of my students achieved way beyond their expected progress.
Year 8 Antarctic tourism sites- proportional symbols map
I developed this approach for use in a Year 7 rainforest project.  This time I introduced some creative ideas and my success criteria included Year 11 GCSE material.  I saw similar breath-taking progress and achievement from many students.

Year 7 incredible edible rainforest cake
As a young child I was fascinated by Astronomy devoured inspirational and high level texts.  My astronomical knowledge and understanding at the age of 11 was extremely detailed.  I hadn’t followed any school curriculum.  The only impetus was my own curiosity inspired by Patrick Moore’s Sky at Night, Star Wars and Star Trek! 

If as a child without guidance I could learn so much, how much more WITH guidance and our pedagogical skills should our students learn even more!  If we as teachers can combine inspirational learning, ambitious success criteria and useful resources with opportunities for creativity, surely the sky is the limit for our students!

For discussion: can limited success criteria be a ‘glass ceiling’ on student achievement?  Can ambitious success criteria still limit achievement? 

Monday, 9 June 2014

"Water Crisis in Las Vegas" - a justification for this new curriculum artefact

This blog post explains and justifies the rationale for creating a set of lessons on the current water crisis in Las Vegas and the American southwest. The lessons are designed to grab students’ attention, teach key geographical concepts, improve their skills and challenge students’ mental facilities. They are pitched at able GCSE Geography students and have enough stretch and challenge to also be used at A level. With minor tweaking these resources and tasks could easily be used by for Year 13 A2 geographers studying the ‘Water Conflicts’ Unit 3 topic. 
Las Vegas - a pastiche of other geographies?

The rationale for producing this ‘curriculum artefact’ (David Lambert) was to develop my Year 9 students’ grasp of key geographical concepts and develop their key geographical skills.  Over half of our students choose to study GCSE Geography and these lessons will prepare them well for this.

The artefact is inspired by a fusion of the OCR spec B Sustainable Decision Making Exercise (SDME) and the Edexcel Unit 3 pre-release synoptic paper. Although I no longer teach these courses I always found these papers the most stimulating and fun to prepare students for.  I want to credit by predecessor Marilyn Page who created the original idea and some of the photos.  

Key geographical concepts covered:
  • Place – what is Las Vegas like? This curriculum artefact initially grabs the attention by looking at the glitz and wealth of Vegas.  One area for development could be looking at different perspectives on Las Vegas such as Soya’s Thirdspace e.g. tourist Vegas, rich Vegas, marginalised Vegas; trapped by Vegas – the drug & sex industry. Another idea would be to investigate the geographical ‘pasticheness’ of Las Vegas i.e. which other places constitute Las Vegas’ built environment e.g. Paris, Giza, New York.
  • Location and scale – Where is Las Vegas and the American southwest?  Where are the key locations within Las Vegas?   Where is small scale Las Vegas situated within the larger regional geography?
  • Rivers – The Colorado River is the main lifeline to the area and the region’s sustainability relies completely on this essential water resource.  How different American states have been given different water consumption quotas.  Where is the source and mouth?  Is it fair that the Mexicans only receive a salty dribble from the Americans?
  • Climate – how does Las Vegas’ climate differ from London? What makes it a desert?
  • Sustainability and Futures – Does Las Vegas and the wider region have a sustainable future?  Can it survive?  Who would be affected by water shortages and where?
  • Human-environment relations - Alluded to in ‘sustainability above’
  • Players and actions & stakeholders – Who has the power to make a difference?  What actions could be taken to improve the sustainability or viability of this region?
  • Geographical dilemmas – there is no one right solution and any strategy selected will produce winners and losers with political implications.  This is the tough essence of real-world decision making.

Skills developed
  • Photo annotation – How do you correctly annotate a photo in Geography?  Having eyes to ‘see the geography’ Avoiding irritating habits such as arrows pointing in the wrong direction and arrows being crossed.
  • Atlas skills – in the days of the Internet I initially distanced myself from atlases.  I have however rediscovered the importance of atlas skills.  The skills used in these lessons help students to locate Las Vegas and the wider region as well as following the course of the Colorado. I make my students use the scale bar to calculate how far inland Las Vegas is from Los Angeles.
  • Google Earth – There is a Google Earth tour which enables students to conduct a virtual fieldtrip of key locations in Las Vegas.  These placemarks are aimed at developing students' sense of place and locational knowledge.
  • Graph skills – Students are required to read climate graphs and a Lake Mead water height graph. Students are challenged to infer geographical data from these graphs.
  • Video analysis – These lessons make heavy use of Piers Morgan’s 2009 documentary on the city.  Piers develops an impressive grasp of Las Vegas’ water predicament but can often focus too much on the glitz and glamour.  One activity for students could be to get them to consider what aspects of Vegas might they make a video on if it was purely on the geography of the city?
  • Literacy – the final section on the ‘Decision’ requires students to develop their argumentation and justification skills.
  • Synthesis and evaluation – At the higher level students are required to assess the sustainability of 5 options.  They also have to synthesise detailed data on different viewpoints.  These are A level skills.

 There are 3 main resources with 2 other useful resources.
  • Resource 1 - Powerpoint with plenty of useful links
  • Resource 2 - Word doc with graphics students can use.
  • Resource 3 - Word doc print out with causes of the water crisis, stakeholder viewpoints, tasks, options and a mark scheme.
  • Google Earth tour - KMZ file with 6 places of interest in Las Vegas.  Placemarks have annotation!
  • Climate graphs spreadsheet - the original source of the climate graphs.
Please DM via Twitter if you would like a copy of this curriculum artefact.

One of 12 viewpoints
Evaluating the causes of the crisis

Thursday, 1 May 2014

River Darent fieldwork – A teacher guide

This blog post is written for teachers considering using the River Darent to collect primary fieldwork data on rivers.  The Darent is possibly one of the most measured rivers in Kent owing to its proximity to south-east London ease of access and safety.  It rises close to Westerham, flows East to Sevenoaks and then North via the beautiful Darent Valley, finally meeting the River Thames at Dartford.  The River runs parallel to the M25 from Junction 6 anticlockwise to Junction 1a making it highly accessible for school parties.  Using the A25 and the A225 it is easy to stop off at various sites.  Lullingstone Country Park lies halfway along the river’s course and is a handy toilet stop.

I will now describe the sites we use for fieldwork and explain why they are useful.  For more information please do get in touch via Twitter!

Site 1 – Westerham
Westerham is a picturesque village in West Kent 1 mile north of the source.  Site 1 lies to the south-west of the village and lies along the Greensand Way long distance footpath. It is the closest point the public access to the source which is 1 miles upstream in the Greensand hills.   At this point the Darent is a small stream flowing through a gentle V-shaped valley. 

Access: 5 minutes’ walk from the drop off point. Coach drops you off on the A25 Westbound at the bus stop near Mill Lane.  Coach waits 1 mile to the West in a large pub.  Call the driver when you are finished and get the coach to meet you on the opposite side of the road facing Westerham.

Site 2 – Lullingstone
Site 2 - Lullingtone
Lullingstone is the perfect stop for school parties.  It lies in the gorgeous Darent Valley, is easy on the A225 for easy access, had toilets, food (chips etc) a large car park and most importantly a useful site.  The data collection site lies behind the visitor centre just round its northern corner.  There are some stepping stones are for the cautious students.  The river can get quite deep on the opposite bank.

Access: If you are heading North on the A225 the turn into Castle Road is too sharp.  Proceed for another 500m and turn the coach around in the entrance to Lullingstone Castle.  Castle Road will then be much easier!

Site 3 – Eynsford
Site 3 - Eynsford
Eynsford is a picture postcard village and in the Darent Valley.  Its ford, humpback bridge and church steeple make it an easily recognisable place.  This site is safe.  The water can be relatively fast flowing but is quite shallow.  The flood plain is easily visible with both agricultural and residential land use.

Access: Heading North on Station Road A225 pull over into the bus stop on the left immediately before the Riverside turn. Walk the students over the bridge and you will easily get to the river.

Site 4 – Franks Lane, Horton Kirby
Site 4 - Franks Lane
Franks Lane is another pretty site.  The river is very shallow here making it quite a safe place to conduct fieldwork.  The channel is tree lined on both sided making it very lush and green during the summer. The Darent Valley footpath runs along the western bank providing easy access the various parts of the site.  Pick the site you want.  The ideal place is 30m north of the bridge.  A meander of sorts lies 5 minutes north where it is possible to pick up some quite rapid river velocities.  We had a ‘hunt the thalweg’ activity here and measured an impressive 1.15m/s.
Access: Heading North on Dartford Road A225 pull into the bus stop opposite Franks Lane.  Take real care in crossing the busy road here and walk the group downhill along Franks Lane to the bridge.

Site 5 – The Mouth
The mouth is a highly contrasting location.  By this point the Darent is a tidal creek of the River Thames and flows across a coastal flood plain.  For safety reasons it is too dangerous to measure the river here but is a great site to see how the river features change. The Dartford Creek flood barrier provides an impressive example of hard engineering designed to protect Dartford and Crayford.

Access: Via Northend Road A206 in Erith.  Turn along Manor Road and park by Alsford Timber at the Darent Industrial Estate.  Walk along the byway up to the levee and then walk along the London Loop footpath past the flood barrier to the mouth. It’s a 15 minute walk from the coach.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Inspired by the GA conference 2014

The Geography Association conference is a great opportunity to network with new colleagues, meet old friends and attend some really inspiring lectures or workshops.  This year’s conference didn't disappoint and although I was only there for a day I took away plenty of ideas to develop my teaching over the next 12 months and beyond.
Enjoying the free exhibition freebies - with Katy Leach from Bethany School
Exhibition inspiration
I like the exhibition. It is a chance to meet representatives from Geography education companies and consider how their products and services could improve learning in my school.

I chatted with reps from Discover the World, an educational tour company I’ve been with to Iceland twice already. Taking groups of students overseas is a wonderful opportunity to give them lifelong memories and really interest them in Geography.  For many of my students visiting Iceland has been the absolute pinnacle of their geographical education. A future visit to Morocco or the Azores may provide us with an interesting alternative. 

I enjoyed meeting the chief fieldwork examiner for AQA, Keith Bartlett. I learnt more about the top-down government pressure placed on exam boards and what possibly to expect from the new GCSE specifications.  It was so reassuring to discuss our controlled assessment fieldwork with the man responsible for examining it!  I am new to AQA and meeting the people who write the specifications gives me greater respect and trust in this exam board.

I also met Laura Hanson from Newcastle University who is recruiting students onto her undergraduate Geographical Information Systems (GIS) courses.  As a result of talking with her at the exhibition her outreach team is now planning to come into my school in summer 2015 to help me run a GIS enrichment week.  This would involve showing students the benefits of using GIS through hands on time in the ICT suite, collecting and mapping fieldwork data using mobile devices.  A dream would be to interest students so much in this area that some of them not only gain useful ICT skills but end up in a GIS-related career. 

Workshop inspiration – Risky fieldwork
The first workshop I attended was on ‘Risky fieldwork’ run by the Field Studies Council.  The key message from this was although it is possible to conduct ‘safe’ formulaic fieldwork which delivers idealised data and examination success, this approach does not fully involve students in the key decision making aspects required by genuine investigative research.   We were encouraged to consider how we can give more room to students to devise their own method, select their equipment and even choose their own sites. 

Over the last few years I have tried to be riskier in my fieldwork by giving more control and choice to students.  This workshop encouraged me to continue taking greater risks in running fieldwork.  This idea of risky planning could also extend to involving students in co-creating their own Geography curriculum. 

ICT workshop inspiration – ArcGIS online
In the afternoon I attended a double length ICT workshop, run by Bob Lang and Jason Sawle, on how to use ESRI’s new ArcGISonline application.  I’ve always had a keen interest in using GIS to help students learn real world Geography and was excited to learn about the latest developments. In the past my students have used GIS to investigate rates of historic coastal erosion; flood risk, health patterns and crime rates in their area. Using GIS has given them more insight and information about places they know and therefore adds significant value to their learning.

The new ArcGISonline (AGOL) does away with the need to install software in school and works on PCs, tablets and other mobile devices. The web-based service allows users to easily find and plot geographical data onto maps and aerial photographs. I really liked how easy it was find data sets and use these to create your own maps.  I had high hopes for this workshop and it did not disappoint.  My head was buzzing with so much creativity and even days later I am still thinking up new classroom ideas and schemes of work!  Here are my initial ideas in how I could integrate GIS into my Geography curriculum. 

All in all the GA conference was a refreshing conference which gave me fresh ideas and new opportunities to improve my students’ geographical learning.