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