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.