Thinking about formative assessment

Mathematical Bridge, CambridgeStory has it that originally the Mathematical Bridge (in the picture) was built without bolts through geometrical genius, but that when later generations had to renovate it they couldn’t reassemble and had to add bolts in. The legend isn’t true, it’s just that the original iron spikes would have been unseen by the eye as you passed. My point? Wouldn’t it be sweet if students could have their knowledge and understanding all held seamlessly together with everything connected?

Last year David Rogers showed me an example of a Skills Web that his art department had been working on, as I was working through some changes at my place. I’d seen similar elsewhere and really liked the idea as a simple visual way for students to see what skills they require to make progress, to check their confidence and self-assess, and see how skills cross-correlate between different units and subjects. I lose track of how many times we remind students that what they do in Geography correlates to skills in other subjects, and that I know full well that they can do graphs! Anyway, I like simple things and so this year introduced the skills web to trial it.

Below is a GCSE skills web based on the new themes of ‘think like’, ‘know like’, ‘apply like’, ‘study like’. I really like those strands in themselves for building a curriculum around ‘thinking (or knowing) like a geographer’ and make a nice explicit focus on terminology / literacy / numeracy that students need in order to make progress not just in Geog but in essential English and Maths.

 

web web2

 

Usage: students are given the colour version as above with a tracing overlay that has scores on it like the second image. This would be to stay with them for a whole year perhaps and the idea behind having the tracing overlay is that over time you might need to replace the overlay if it becomes too full / overused. You don’t have to do the tracing paper version (bit of a faff maybe) – instead just ask them to use symbols and a legend that dates each symbol so you can track over time.

Students then self-assess confidence from 0-10 along each strand. I wouldn’t get them to assess each strand at once, but at the start of a particular topic and then revisit periodically. Get them to date each time they self-assess then you can track over time. I make it a focal point by displaying on screen and highlighting which spoke of the wheel we are looking at then. Great for them and for you at identifying weaknesses to then work on.

We’ve also dabbled with topic specific skills webs for GCSE. Same principle of marking confidence along the line but this is just for one topic and I would revisit more frequently.

The Key Stage 3 example is below:

ks3web

 

I’d be interested to have feedback on what colleagues think and what is being tried elsewhere. I’m running with this in my current school and will introduce to the new place in September as our department AfL most likely. It’s not a replacement for summative assessment, this is still needed too (and hopefully the path here with tracking student progress in life after levels will become clearer soon!) But maybe it can help hold the strands of learning together.

Redacted literacy challenge

I’ve been trying to embed more literacy challenges this year as this is always something students struggle with and is a whole school focus that Geography can really contribute to.

 

Year 9 have been looking at Extreme Environments and with a focus on Everest at the end of this due to the recent events at Easter and the conflicts here. We often try to incorporate travel writing and non-fiction novels into lessons as well and encourage students to learn skills through these for extended writing, creativitity, grammar, etc,. With the Everest focus I’ve been sharing extracts from Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead novel about the 1996 disaster and other texts. This week I decided to try something different and set my students a ‘redacted text’ challenge.

 

Think top secret files and redaction, where text is obscured in order to inhibit meaning and keep a file secret. I thought that maybe this could be a good literacy tool. So, here’s what we did.

 

1) Students were given a four page extract from the novel and asked to read this silently for themselves, or aloud to each other in pairs. They were then given three minutes to contemplate and reflect on the story, on what it was conveying, on what style of writing had been used (specifically mood and atmosphere) and the literacy techniques used (eg. adjectives, metaphor, etc,.).

 

2) Using felt pens, I set the challenge that students had to go through the text carefully and redact it themselves by blocking out sections of the text leaving only certain parts visible. They were given two options here:

 

a) For a more accessible challenge: redact as much text as you like leaving only a selection of individual words visible (particularly adjectives or geographic words). From these, then take the words and rearrange them into a story or a piece of poetry in a similar style to the original story but in your own words.

 

b) For a harder challenge: redact the text very carefully leaving individual words but also short phrases visible. These words and phrases must be in a logical order and punctuation inserted as needed in order that the visible words now form new sentences that can be read as a new story, or poem. This is actually really hard! It requires text analysis and logic, having to plan ahead and have a vision of what they want the story to look like first and then to be able to create it. Very tricky. I trialled this first with top set students and they found this a real challenge but really interesting. The new stories they created from the visible words had to flow, had to make sense, and could either be in the same style as the original story or actually change the plot.

 

3) Students have to check the punctuation and grammar makes sense for their new stories, and then these are shared with others.

 

When I first suggested and explained this activity to a class, one of the (admittedly somewhat lethargic) boys asked ‘Miss, what’s the point of this – aren’t you just making us do something hard for the sake of it?’ To which I replied that yes I was in a way, that sometimes having to do something hard and learn to overcome it is as much the objective as anything specifically ‘geographic’. By the end of the lesson though he, and the rest of the class, were commenting on how they’d had to really push themselves to do well on this. That it was a difficult challenge that required some real logical and lateral thinking, that tested their creative and literacy skills. And they were pleased with themselves.

 

I wasn’t planning for them to be able to regurgitate the text by the end of the lesson, but I was expecting them to develop essential literacy skills that they have to be good at in order to succeed at anything – if they don’t get their English qualification, life gets pretty hard doesn’t it? It’s also a good tool to be able to say to SLT ‘look here, this is how Geography meets your whole school improvement plan on literacy with this, this and this…’.  The follow up is students making their own geographic adventure novel that must be a blend if fact and fiction.

 

The images show some works in progress, as the kids wanted to take home and finish some extra pieces bless them.

 

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TES Geography week article – resources I love to use

Below is an article that is published in TES this week as part of Geography Week, a review of resources I commonly use. All free ;-)

 

Investigating a new topic and not sure where to start? Planning your curriculum changes and finding it hard to get inspiration? Or simply ploughing through exams revision and looking to liven it up? Sometimes hitting the ‘search’ button on the internet throws up so many myriad suggestions it is overwhelming, but there are a few reliable places to turn to first.

 

Discover the World: Study Guides

Discover the World have been working with specialists and teacher advisors to create free study guide resources for use with a range of ages, particularly focusing on Key Stage 3-5 but adaptable. At present the online resources are for Iceland – the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption and Solheimajökull glacier, and for Norway – Hardangerfjörd mountain plateau and tourism. These resources are very high quality, with a range of lesson-by-lesson activities and superb videos and photographs for your use. Topics that can be taught from these include tectonics and hazard management, tourism, sustainability, energy, rivers, resource management, glaciology, cold climates and human-physical interactions. The site requires registration, which is free – simply give an email address. Then you can download and adapt to suit your needs. You can also get lovely free posters to display in classrooms, plus the Discover team are really helpful to sort queries.

 

There is also a new resource bank being created atwww.discover-geography.co.uk in conjunction with the Geographical Association that will provide quality teaching aids for other locations, as well as tips on planning overseas fieldwork. This is currently under construction with resources being updated in the next few months including a new destination of the Azores (looking at tourism, sustainability, biodiversity and volcanism). Again this site is free to register – well worth checking and then referring back to in June.

 

Digital Explorer:

Digital Explorer seeks to engage young people in a range of global issues, and has a range of resources for different themes that can be used in the classroom as well as links to useful articles and competitions.

Expeditions around the world can take on real meaning for your students by personalised accounts that are shared on the site, such as the Scott Expedition or London 2 London round the world journeys. I’ve used these to look at changing environments, extreme environments, or for students to grasp the idea of interconnectedness.

 

There are lots of resources available on the site – again registration is free. They are divided up into Oceans, Culture and Tech – with Digital Explorer even providing training in GIS. They are appropriate for a range of key stages. I’ve particularly enjoyed the Coral Oceans and Frozen Oceans (which, although aimed at Primary education is easily applicable and adaptable for 11-13 year olds). There are photographs, lesson guides, Google Earth downloadable .kml files, worksheets and even experiments to try – why not investigate changing sea ice porosity and the impact of climate change on sea levels? Or be cross-curricular and investigate how art changes geographically to reflect culture, identity, diversity, and religion – perhaps comparing British culture to elsewhere.

 

Students can also take part with current expeditions and interact live. For example, in the past we had students interact with Atlantic Rising through Skype and Twitter to ask questions, share ideas and share images live with those on expedition. At present there is an expedition 360 Extremeswhich is travelling the world. They are currently in Brazil andwill carry on until 2017 – lots of time to get involved! Imagine interacting live with them to fit into your new curriculum, perhaps when they are in Russia and China?! Topical.

 

Free Microsoft Tools:

If you want more information about free Microsoft tools being used in various ways, then either check this blog or see davidrogers.org.uk as both have different examples of use in schools.

 

The Microsoft Education team have provided a range of tools that are free, as well as some that are free just for teachers. All you need is a Hotmail account, which is free. Nothing complicated. Once you get a Hotmail account, you immediately get access to various online tools through OneDrive – Microsoft’s cloud. This includes simplified online versions of Word, Excel, OneNote & Powerpoint. These versions can be used on any device whether mobile device,PC, tablet, iOS or Android as they are web-based. This also means they are continuously saved online so you cannot lose work. OneDrive gives you 10Gb of free storage, and I’ve found this really useful for sharing documents and resources with students – for example Year 8 were working on Rainforests completing a decision making exercise so I shared the resources via OneDrive with students, and then they submitted work online to me. The beauty of this is that you can give and record feedback instantly by adding you own comments.

 

I really like using OneNote with classes. You can have multiple users all logged in to the same notebook (you share this with them) and then they can edit and adapt the documentsimultaneously. You can see in my blog how I used this with my Curriculum Hackers student voice group to edit our schemes of work. The teacher can simply create a notebook, perhaps with different key questions to focus on or stimulus images or links to follow, then students edit the document using this. Then you let them lead their own learning while you provide feedback.

If you join Microsoft Partners in Learning – also for free – then you get access to a range of teacher resources, such as AutoCollage and Songsmith, which can be easily used in class. There are also teacher guides to help learn new skills.

 

Reference links:

www.discover-the-world.co.uk/school/trip/en/study-aid/

www.discover-geography.co.uk

www.digitalexplorer.com

davidrogers.org.uk 

www.pil-network.com

GA conference review – opening lectures with Professor Iain Stewart

Professor Iain Stewart & Professor Hazel Barrett: the opening lectures

The theme for this year’s GA Conference was ‘Crossing Boundaries’. The opening lecture was given by twitter.comte who gave a fantastic talk on Geoscience vs Geocommunication, which had many parallels with teaching.
Iain commented that from the media point of view, there is a dilemma between what the public should/need to know and what they want to know. Geo-scientific media programmes aim at the ‘non-attentive’ public in order to grab attention and to educate, which means that issues have to be simplified and exciting in order to gain interest and spark curiosities. Sound familiar? Is this not what we as educators have to do every day?

He discussed the need to capture the wonder of the world, to not let science and theory get in the way or ruin the sense of awe and wonder. How apt this is when considering the new national curriculum and the need to inspire students with fascination and curiosity. This is the boundary that needs to be crossed: between what students want to know, until they become engaged in what they need to know.

After a very interesting section on the issue of fracking, and all the socio-enviro-political conflicts involved here with environmental damage, energy management, cultural attitude, etc., Iain stated that there appears to be almost a schizophrenia of Geography. The artificial separation into ‘human’ and ‘physical’ Geography which can lead to sometimes forgetting the inextricable interconnectedness of humans and nature. The division does appear obscure, since the human world is controlled and constrained by the physical world just as the physical world is influenced and altered by the human world. Interlinked. Interdependent. Inseparable. So why try to study them separately?
Why not lose the divergent, divisive classification and just be….Geography?

This was echoed in GA President Professor Hazel Barrett’s keynote who asked ‘what is Geography today?’. Hazel queried whether we have moved too far along the lines of ‘what does the government say’ and become constrained by policy, programmes of study and pedagogical fashions at the expense of the subject itself. Have we forgotten what Geography is?

She asked whether we need a debate on what Geography is today, on how this dynamic subject has changed, and challenged whether we have lost focus on the heart of Geography. Geography has always been crossing boundaries, the boundaries between the human and physical world – this is the beauty of the subject. It requires and demands and interdisciplinary approach that crosses subject boundaries and removes constraints. Whether you are studying climate change, refugees, trafficking, tectonics or any of a limitless number of topics you will find these are dynamic and multifaceted. They could be studied by any one of many disciplines in super-specialised, highly focused ways that only look at a small part of the whole topic – it is only Geography that has the privilege and the challenge of combining all these approaches into one. We blend demographics, ethnography, climatology, environmental science, politics, GIS, technologies, numeracy, literacy, critical thought, etc., in order to investigate and draw conclusions on an interdisciplinary topic. Only Geography takes the world as a whole, and applies a spatial approach in order to funnel all these myriad methodologies into something concrete, applicable, and embed this into the real world.

Geographers are uniquely equipped to understand and address global issues, we should be at the forefront – and more importantly we should be teaching and training the next generation to be at the forefront of solving world issues. The division into ‘human’ and ‘physical’ is not helping.

So, let’s just be…Geography.

GA conference review – the new national curriculum & the end of Geography? #gaconf14

David Rogers’ lecture on the future of Geography under the new national curriculum 

 

David is an Assistant Headteacher and Geographer who previously led the @priorygeography department and saw it flourish into a Centre of Excellence after taking over a failing department. His lecture was focused on the new national curriculum, and was thought-provoking and challenging for those that attended. It was also refreshingly positive on this topic.

Originally the lecture had been titled ‘It’s not the end of Geography as we know it’ but after being impacted by Professor Iain Stewart’s excellent opening lecture was re-titled to ‘It is the end of Geography as we know it, hopefully….’. David, speaking from the viewpoint of an experienced geographer who has seen his fair share of government change & still developed an excellent curriculum and department regardless, asked whether teachers protest at government changes largely out of fear. That we find curriculum change scary, because we become comfortable. Whether the new skeletal curriculum is worrying because teachers have been drip-fed for too long, have become too used to being constrained and prescribed, so that the loss of restraint and sudden emergence into freedom is actually somewhat daunting.

David reminded us that no curriculum document or policy is ever going to be exciting or creative; that it is our jobs as teachers and middle leaders to take these documents and adapt, even subvert them, to meet the needs of our learners. Quoting from How Children Succeed he commented on the value of teaching and learning character, it being equally as important as raising intellect.

There have been various commentaries and discussions on forums pertaining to the new curriculum, and at times these have actually been sadly negative. David pointed out what should be obvious: can we really argue with a new curriculum programme of study that states that a high quality Geography education should ‘inspire curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for life’? That demands greater rigour so that children make excellent progress? What’s not to like about that?! There is a danger of not looking past the document outline, and seeing the benefitof the freedom given.

Many teachers, and school leaders, are feeling the impact of the loss of levels and level descriptors and are trying to find new ways to assess, record and report progress. I liked the reference to Hattie that it is our job as teachers to ensure that ‘no child in our care meets their potential – but that they ultimately smash their potential’. That is the challenge. It reminded me of one of my favourite concepts: the power of ‘yet’. That when a learner says ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I can’t do it’, your response is ‘yet’. They will get there. One suggestion for formative assessment he shared was the use of Skills Webs – you can see more on this on this blog.

As well as being a thought provoker and stirring up the audience, David also shared a few tips. You can see his lecture resource via his blog which has the slides and his commentary. He shared how Geography can lead the school in the delivery of English and Maths, as well as Science / STEM. That we as Geography teachers and leaders should tackle thewhole school issues of improving literacy, embedding quality and high level numeracy, delivering citizenship, developingstudent voice, sharing global dimensions, etc., and not just get caught up in the attitude of ‘I must teach soils’ look past the document into the broader picture, see how Geography can benefit your students in a holistic way. It’s not about pub quiz Geography and factual recall, it’s about the whole.

Finally he ended with one of my favourite quotes: ‘It always seems impossible until it is done’ (Nelson Mandela). Don’t forget – policy doesn’t have to be a barrier, Gove and Ofsted aren’t in your classroom, so get creative.

Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 6

We actually got up after sunrise today which was a pleasant treat! And the Pousada Jouvades de Pico provided a simple but nice breakfast of fresh local bread and jams with cereal that went down very well (we didn’t get breakfast really at the Pousada Jouvades de Lagoa as for some reason they only open up from 0830 which is after we leave each day!).   Today was exploring Pico island itself. A fairly chilled way to end the week. First stop was Dos Lajos de Pico village. This is an old whaling village. Whaling was first introduced to the area by visitors and settlers from Nantucket and other areas, and there is a clear influence of North American style on the architecture here as well as sometimes a slightly Scandinavian feel in terms of wood cladding and cabins, as well as the paint colours. Whaling was done here until the 1980s and was still conducted in a traditional low scale manner with rowing boats and hand thrown harpoons. The whaling museum is quite interesting, albeit depressing and a sad tale of the habit. However this was an important income for an area struggling economically. Nowadays, the negative has been turned into something positive with whale and dolphin tours available at a very low price. You also have much better odds of actually seeing them compared to a Iceland and other areas where whales are now rarely sighted due to changing sea temperatures.   We moved on around the coast to the Vineyards of Pico. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site where fig and grape plants are cultivated still in a traditional sense. Lava / basalt rocks are split and seeds planted within into the ashes below. The basalts are porous and also retain heat when they soak up the sun, and so this helps provide good conditions for growing in an otherwise harsh and exposed salty and windy coastal environment. Basalt rocks are built into small walls and enclosures around the plants to protect from wind. And a local windmill in the area also served to thresh and crush corn and cereals in the past. The visitor area here provided an excellent local lunch of spicy sausage, soft breads, and a range of traditional flavoured liquors and wines for us to sample. All with a slight earthy and volcanic aftertaste!

After this, we had a visit to Gruta das Torres lava tube caves. This is one of the largest in the world and was truly excellent. Mostly because it had been kept in a natural state – no concrete flooring, no lighting – you are just guided through walking on rough volcanic floors and with torches. Students and adults would love this. You can see great vast caverns, collapsed lava benches, pahoehoe and aa lavas (which the locals call ‘biscuit lava’ due to its rocky nature, reminding them of traditional twice-baked rockcake biscuits) and the growth of rare lichens and bacteria as well as some small lava stalactites formed at the time of the lava flow as it slowed and dripped down from the ceiling. A very interesting and unique cave, and the time passes so quickly inside – we spent over an hour but felt like a few minutes. At one point we switched all torches off and just got a sense of how intensely pitch black and silent it is, very awe inspiring.

Finally we headed back to the hostel and had a locally made dinner provided by our hosts from the local youth council who have set up the five Pousadas on five different Azorean islands. We had a sample of foods from the island of Terceria which was delicious; meat stew, local fish, some sweet doughy cakes made with milk and beans, and the obligatory locally made wines and liquors – well, would be rude not to ;-) Our hosts told us about a youth card available for those aged 13-30 which is well worth investigating if you wish to do island hopping with students. It costs €42 in the first place but then provides 50% discount in the hostels, 20% off inter-island flights, all ferries cost €7, and there is also 20% off many tourist attractions and activities such as the mountain biking, kayaking, etc,. Well worth considering.

We went for a stroll of the town and brought an end to the trip. There is much to reflect on, and my next post in a few days will look at what I think you can get out of a trip to the Azores in terms of exciting places to visit and academically useful activities to do – but I shall reflect a little first. There is real potential here, but a lot of logistics still needs sorting.

An excellent trip though and very well run and led by Discover the World. It has been great to meet and work with other geographers from around the country, and to share ideas – we’ve even had some nice heated discussions and debates about the purpose of overseas trips generally and pedagogy which is all good fun. I’ll also develop some teaching resources once back in the UK and will post these soon through slideshare. But I need a few days rest now – it’s been good, but exhausting! Thanks DtW.

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Discover the World focus group to #discoverazores Day 5

Waking up (fairly stiff and sore from Mount Pico) we took a ferry to Faial, to the town of Horta. Faial is a small island but Horta is a large well developed town including a professional training college, the Central islands’ hospital, and a variety of tourist-centric facilities such as cafés, restaurants, boat trips, etc,. The ferry was brand new, and we were filmed by the local paparazzi as everyone boarded. It brought yet another comedy moment of ‘sponsored by the EU’ as we have spent the whole week playing EU bingo – almost everywhere you go seems to have benefitted from EU funding somehow, and yet not being developed to capacity. It is as if the Azorean government followed a policy of ‘if you build it, they will come’ in some areas, but has not had a clear plan and drive to actually encourage and develop tourism throughout the islands. Quite odd.

 

First stop was the national Botanical Garden at Faial. This is part of a BASEMAC project for protecting native and endemic species of vegetation through seed bank preservation of seeds, propagation, protection and maintenance of a variety of species. They are also working on the reintroduction and breeding of plant species once thought extinct in nature.

 

Only 7% of all vegetation species on the Azorean Islands are actually endemic. Many plants are artificially introduced foreign invasive species such as laurel, hydrangea, ginger, etc,. Most of those were introduced in the 18-1900s for a purpose, e.g. Bamboo was introduced in order to create natural fencing and hedge shelters around terraced crops as windbreaks, Japanese Cedar was introduced so the leaves and wood could be used for baskets to transport oranges by sea as it was observed that they did not lead to bacteria or insect problems, etc,. There are just 300 species considered native on islands, with 700 species introduced by man.

 

Of course, the Azores are very isolated islands. 1000miles from mainland Europe, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest land south is Antarctica, and the islands are relatively young geologically. So this leads to the question of dispersal. How did the pioneer seeds get here in the first place? The most likely suggestions being wind, wave, and bird. There is also the influence of sea level change and volcanism, particularly uplift. During the last ice age, when the Azorean islands were being built taller by volcanic activity, sea levels were lower. Therefore islands across the Atlantic such as the Azores became much more exposed, and so perhaps wind, wave and bird dispersal became easier.

 

We were guided around the centre by a very passionate and well informed centre guide and biologist. The facility has many educational activities for a range of ages, and a purpose built classroom with library, and investigative equipment such as microscopes, etc,. You can do insect studies and investigate these under microscopes and compare what exists in different habitats, plus you can look at succession, the necessary conditions required to colonise, compare and contrast species and biodiversity in different areas, etc,. I would recommend this centre as an excellent base from which to do biodiversity and ecosystem studies at different key stages. Particularly since the gardens are divided into two halves: endemic vs invasive. On one side, you have the carefully maintained and restricted endemic species area, where you can see the natural Azorean landscape as it would have been had not humans introduced species from abroad – you can see that the Piconia Azorica is the natural climatic climax. On the other side of the gardens you have a representation of the invasives. Here you can compare and contrast how succession looks and is altered after the influence of humans, and see that now the plagioclimax species is Japanese Cedar. It would be possible to do studies into soils, microorganisms, vegetation and how these compare and contrast under different circumstances and see the influence of humans and management.

 

There is a clear conservation aspect at the centre with recreating different biomes and propagating species that are endangered. Eg. There are small coastal and alpine biomes that are endangered by rats and rabbits, here species that are now extinct in the wild are being bred and can then be reintroduced. Water levels in natural bogs on the island were disturbed in 1998 by earthquake, which led to a drop in the water table and subsequently to damage / death of native species. So an area has been recreated in the botanical garden to replicate this and breed species.

 

After this we were taken on a short tour of the island. We had to abandon the Ten Volcanoes Trail due to heavy rains leading to deep water and unpassable paths, and we could not see the view over the Caldeira due to poor weather and no visibility. However we were still taken on a hike around the Caldeira from the viewpoint up and down around the rim and then eventually down towards the lighthouse and Capelinhos area. This walk would be lovely on a clear day, but fairly pointless otherwise. The path is steep and slippery, and is certainly not something to do the day after climbing Mount Pico. However you do see the influence of clean air here with abundant lichen growth, and some interesting plant species growing out from a rift / canyon that is heating by steam vents. You feel as though you are walking through a rainforest almost in places, as if in Costa Rica perhaps.

 

The Capelinhos walk down to the coast and around the volcanic peninsula was excellent, although you do need to allow a good amount of time for this. You are walking on volcanic sands and ash and pumice, and can find various evidence of the 1957 eruption that created the peninsula and added new land to the island. Lava bombs, broken trees, and heavily eroded hillslopes are coated in soft ash and sand. You then head to the Lighthouse and the award winning visitor centre.

 

It was easy to see why this has won various European tourist centre awards. We were shown around by a very enthusiastic and easy to understand geologist who clearly loves the job and the area. The centre has a variety of photographic and video displays to explain the creation of the peninsula and the timeline of the eruption. It also explains the structure of the earth and tectonics in general, as well as the evolution of each of the 9 islands of the archipelago. Fantastic wall displays showed famous volcanoes and volcanic behaviour from around the world, such as Kilauea, Surtsey, Stromboli, etc,. So students could easily learn and compare different volcanic types and behaviours. There is an excellent step-by-step series of 3d relief models that show the 1957 eruption and subsequent land creation and modern coastal erosion: you could perhaps get students making their own versions of these for other eruptions or flipbook timelines or similar.

 

Interestingly, we learnt that the Capelinhos eruption actually should have had the honour and credit of being the first studied and noted Surtseyan style eruption. The 1957 activity preceded the arrival of Surtsey but sadly was not made public enough or patented, otherwise the submarine volcanism and island creation activity we now know as Surtseyan should actually have been called Capelinhosian – but perhaps this is too tricky to say anyway?! Very interesting though. The period of eruption lasted over 18months with alternating periods of submarine or aerial volcanism. In the beginning, all activity was submarine with the volcano located off coast underwater. First came underwater effusive lava flows leading to above surface steam and huge ash production. This continued to build up until a small island of ash and pumice broke the surface. Once above surface, volcanic behaviour changed to be more explosive with large lava flows and more ash and pumice production now spreading over the peninsular and creating new land. The lighthouse began to be buried – it is now buried to the second floor and preserved in this state as an arrested time memorial with the tourist centre built into its basement floors.

Under the influence of destructive waves, the new land of soft ashes was eroded back until the activity became submarine again as the volcano went into a quiet period. So these cycles of submarine and aerial eruptions kept repeating for many months. Eventually the eruption stopped and a new peninsular had been formed, with many local villages buried and destroyed. Nowadays, some 60% of this new land had been eroded back by wind, rain and wave and it is thought that in time the volcano will again become largely submarine until another eruption. All very interesting. And a great example of volcanic behaviour and coastal influence for students.

 

There is a theory that this area acts as a ‘wet spot’ rather than a hotspot which leads to different behaviour. The Azores is located on a triple junction of tectonic plates, but with the influence of the ocean it is suggested that the melting point of submarine rocks is actually lowered so that submarine volcanism here has more of a dramatic influence. A new type of behaviour has been observed here (and patented this time) at Serrata, where submarine volcanism is leading to the creation of lava balloons. This phenomenon is like the formation of lava bombs but is submarine: as lava at the sea floor is effused it rises to the surface, cooling as it does and forming a crust still with liquid lava inside. When these balloons hit the surface they then explode outwards, popping like a balloon, and the shrapnel rock and lava droplets from it then drop back to the sea floor. So this has been termed Serratan behaviour. It is likely in future that this volcano will also penetrate the surface to form a tenth island in the archipelago.

 

After this we caught the ferry back to Pico, and saw some lovely views of the island and the mountain rising up. I would thoroughly recommend that you could spend a good two or more days investigating Faial, either for academic or exploratory purposes and that children would get a good ‘wow factor’ with such a dramatic landscape. There is limited accommodation at present but the ferry ride is very regular, only takes 30-45minutes and costs €10 return or €7.50 for under 16s.

 

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Discover the World focus group #discoverazores Day 4

So today we were up and awake before sunrise and heading to the airport. We were entertained in the departure lounge by various different sporting or musical groups including a medieval tribute youth orchestra complete in monk outfit. They sang and danced their way through customs and through to the gates which evoked much applause and brought a smile to many faces. Is this a traditional Azorean cultural activity?

We were heading to Pico island on a regular internal flight. There are various internal flights and ferries throughout the islands. I have to say, before today many of us had felt we were lacking in any ‘wow factor’ – that we didn’t know how we would ‘sell’ the Azores as a study trip, not because there is a lack of opportunity per se but because if you are offering an international residential it needs to have a combination of activities and experiences that are unique or cannot be seen back home. So we were really excited on our descent to Pico island, and became proper geeky tourists stepping off of our plane, frantically switching on phones and cameras, and getting a photograph of Mount Pico as soon as possible. We had our wow factor. Arriving on Pico is like arriving in a completely different landscape, something that would be guaranteed to arrest student and adult interest and make them have a collective intake of breath. The island immediately felt unusual, rare, exotic, and exciting.

We had been warned that we were at the mercy of the changeable weather, and that we would not necessarily be able to climb Mt Pico today. This is something to bear in mind to any of you planning future trips – you need a back up plan and flexible itinerary that if the weather is inclement you can try again another day. Luckily for us however, there was a break in the cloud until later so we had a window of opportunity. Our minibus driver raced us up to the mountain only allowing a short photo stop, and we stocked up on carbs on the journey.

One third of Pico island is a nature reserve, including the mountain. You have to get a permit to climb, which costs 10Euros each. The numbers of visitors at any time are limited and monitored, and the tiny car park up the mountain at the start point may prevent too many casual attempts. This is all due to the various endemic species of vegetation in existence, particular alpine species that are very fragile.

Pico is the youngest of all the Azores Islands at just 300’000 years old. The archipelago has developed over time in numerous stages dating back 8million years, from submarine volcanism building up successively over the ages. Pico is a basaltic stratovolcano and from a distance looks like a stereotypical ‘proper’ volcano, exactly like you would draw. As we drove towards it we could see the caldera and summit peak poking through the mists temptingly, and this gave me butterflies. I couldn’t wait to get up there! The mountain is Portugal’s tallest, and it is still an active volcano.

So we spent the day trekking. Having been told beforehand that the climb was ‘gentle’ we were all a little surprised when we met our incredibly serious but very helpful local mountain guide Sonia who warned us of the dangers and briefed us. I was grateful for the good weather – some light cloud cover and mist to prevent overheating or too much sunburn, and a gentle breeze mostly. At times on the higher exposed sections there was biting cold strong winds, and we did have heavy cloud on the return below the summit, but we had a comfortable environment to climb in. So we set off.

The climb takes approximately 7-7.5hour and I would say is a mediumly arduous hike with times that are hard. There is very uneven ground because you are walking on broken clinkers of volcanic debris lava and ash deposits and volcanic sand which us grippy with good boots but very uneven and there are some scrambling sections requiring hands. The climb is not scarily precipitous but does lead to a slow descent due to the terrain. You hike up and down the mountain over ancient pahoehoe and a-a lava fields and we even had snow fields. There are lots of lava tube relics and scars, pillow lava and ropy pahoehoe flows arrested in time cascading down the mountain in dramatic blacks and oranges. Then amongst all this there is evidence of some succession of alpine species up the mountain, although vegetation is very limited and scrubby generally.

The material underfoot was obviously igneous, mostly basalt and ignimbrite and also plagioclase and various other minerals such as trichite, olivine, etc,. This rocks made excellent grips when in large enough sections. As we went up above the clouds and the snowline, there were very few species. However there was lots of lava scree and volcano sands, again making the conditions a bit difficult and slow going in places.

The crater rim is vast and unstable so we were guided to skirt round the edge and then drop down into the pit to walk along the crater base, from where you then can choose to scramble up the final central cone. The pit crater of Pico is called Pico Alto and is about 500m diameter. This area was naked rock and lava, and largely filled with snow. The final summit is called Piquinho and is a small volcanic cond formed by the last eruption that rises another 70m of near vertical scrambling to to true summit. At the summit (2351m), a human-made rocky boundary provides shelter from winds and the natural steam vents (some up to 50C but modified by winds) provide heating for a lunch break! Truly a very unusual summit from this point of view, and the most comfortable and warm summit I have ever stopped on!

The descent was very slow for the most part, with many finding the steep unsteady and uneven sections very awkward for knees / ankles due to the rocky material. I would say that the climb is entirely doable, if you have time, but it is a long slog. It is very worth it, and on clear days you can see the other islands as well as the lower Pico valley. However, I would suggest that anyone taking a school group has a back-up plan for poor weather and also for any students who cannot complete the whole ascent as I would be surprised if all had the stamina or confidence or drive to make it all to the top. So consider your options for splitting groups, having a back-up alternative, and having enough guides and qualified staff that you can have the choice of some in the group making the summit attempt whilst others do something else.

After the hike we were transported to our accommodation on Pico island to stay at the youth hostel which is a converted monastery. Very interesting building and has basic clean rooms of bunks, nice hot showers and four separate lounges in different areas including a main lounge with table football, tv and some wifi access.

I would say this is a great climb, and certainly good fun. But it needs to be taken seriously. You would need students to be fit and confident, and have a good number of staff and local trained guides as it is very remote. You could easily sell this as being a challenge, the ‘character building’ or ‘push yourself to achieve something new’ activity that forms part of the overall exploration and academic trip. You could tie in the activity to academic purposes if you wished looking at biodiversity, succession, colonisation, pionerf species, invasive vs endemic species, soil quality and type, geology, landforms, impact of volcanic activity, etc,. Especially if you then compared to an/other island/s in the archipelago to compare and contrast volcanic behaviour, landform creation, environments, etc,. As such it is fantastic. Just be prepared for very changeable weather, and have a back up plan!

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Discover the World focus group #discoverazores Day 3

This morning was mostly spent exploring Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) and the surrounding area. We drove out from Lagoa towards here and along the crater rim to a viewing point above town. There is a romantic legend for the area concerning two lovers, a princess and a shepherd, who were forbidden from seeing each other other again by the king. Upon this separation, the green-eyed shepherd’s tears fell and formed the green lake, whilst the blue-zeroed princess’s tears formed the larger blue lake. The point where the two waters meet is marked by the bridge joining across from the peninsula to the town. All of this is contained within the ancient caldera, although you sometimes forget this where it is now so green and densely vegetated.

 

At the top of the crater rim there is a large, purpose-built but very unaesthic hotel built in the 1990s when it was hoped that tourism was about to take off. Almost immediately the hotel was abandoned as a failure and it is now an interesting site where utilitarian almost Cold War style architecture is being colonised by successive vegetation. At the viewpoint, a marking pole with the multi-lingual quotation ‘May peace prevail on Earth’ denotes the area that is supposedly the number one tourist ‘must see’ point in the island. Yet ironically, there is very little evidence that tourists have been catered for in this region. Very few facilities, and only a simple souvenir stall (sold out the back of a car boot) in sight. It is almost as if the government does not particular want to promote tourism or the Azores as a destination, despite the increase in overseas advertising and the need for economic investment. We have been told repeatedly by our guide that the government would prefer tourists to visit in order to consume and use local resources and surplus products in order to save money on exporting these, but it does still feel very Stage 1 Butler model pre-take off and with little united or coherent planning going into developing sustainable tourism. Not that I’m saying everywhere should become tourism-centric, but it does raise questions.

 

We then spent some time doing reconnaissance work and sampling some of the activities that would be available by local (Ponta Delgada based mostly) tourist or adventure activity companies. First off was sea canoeing on the lake. It was fairly windy which made for some interesting navigation and we all got suitably soaked, but this was great fun. An easy lake for students to paddle about on, and you could set up some fun activities with this such as races, orienteering, routes to follow for competitions etc,. After this we went on a guided mountain bike short excursion around the peninsula. Generally this is very flat bough uneven ground and a few hilly sections but a nice comfortable route passing small holdings, dairy farming,  and a picnic area. Again, lots of potential for some ‘let your hair down’ fun with students to break the trip up. The company also offers pony trekking, guided walks, quad biking, canyoning, sailing, etc. and the guides were very friendly and helpful.

 

We then had some time for our own exploration of Sete Cidades town. This, along with most of São Miguel island so far, had quite an empty and almost abandoned feel as there are so few people visible in town! So far we haven’t really seen much of a community centre, of culture, of the traditional Southern European style. Many homes in the town are second residences for the wealthier citizens of the Azores or for those who have migrated to the mainland and then return here for extended breaks or long weekends. Emigration to the mainland is a real concern for the Azores, particularly since it is mostly the younger generation who go for university or for more employment opportunities and then do not return. There is a concern about brain drain and one wonders how sustainable the islands can be economically and socially in future if this continues. We are always being told how sustainable the energy and resource management is here, but can this continue and what is the point if the locals all leave?!

 

Generally this area feels more as though it is trying to cater to tourism, be that internal or international. There is evidence of new residential construction, and a few small cafés. European Union investment is leading to the creation of a new lakeside market and craft stall for the summer where locals hope to sell wares in season. A lot of the area feels quite utilitarian and military, not surprising considering the history. However there is an interesting cultural side shown (as also seen in Ribeira Grande) whereby homes are adorned with very ornate plaques above the door which depicts religious scenes or household saints, and a plaque showing the name of the family and year they moved in. There are also little insights such as hanging cabbages by doors if the homeowner sells cabbage!

 

 

After this exploration we went to a viewpoint over Ferraria – the westernmost point of the island. This felt like ‘proper geography’! Stark blackened basalt cliffs with crashing destructive waves against them. In places we saw collapsed landslide areas at the base of cliffs that are now flat, fertile and used for agriculture. There was a range of great coastal geography here and you could spend a good deal of time investigating these such as wave cut platforms, blowholes, caves and arches. You would need some very strict safety guidance and limits for student exploration however since the waves are quite violent and often funnelled up against the rocks, very dramatic. Above town along the crater rim there was also a large exposed area of pumice, a tilted and uplifted outcrop from past activity.

 

There is a very dramatic natural hot spring at Ferreira that goes into the sea. There is a small inlet area between the rocks where you can bathe that is regulated by tide. The hot spring pours out at 61C so the waters are only useable just before and after low tide when temperature is best balanced (the sea is about 18C). This was quite challenging but extremely fun. Perhaps not one for using with students unless they are strong since you have to battle waves and avoid underwater rocks. However there is also a regular swimming pool area that is still heated by the geothermal vent that opens all year round for regular bathing and would be much easier!

 

We then headed to our final destination today of Gruta do Carvao cave – an interesting lava tubes system. Although not one of the biggest cave or lava tube systems ever, nor having many stalagmites / stalactites it is still interesting and great for bringing kids. There were lots of collapsed lava pillows, pahoehoe lava flows and some minerals evident alongside some small ropy stalactites dripping and looking almost like teeth.

 

Finally we headed back to Pousada for an early dinner, since tonight was the first focus group planning and debrief session and getting packed for flight to Pico island tomorrow. We had a very productive session discussing logistics and itineraries which was great. Really exciting to consider some of the teaching resources that will be produced by Simon Ross for DtW and the GA with the input of the group, so that teachers can use these for all key stages in future either in conjunction with a trip (before, during and after the visit) or as stand alone resources looking at what makes the Azores distinctive and how sustainable the future is.

 

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Discover the World focus group #DiscoverAzores Day 2

So, Day 2 dawned and it was drier!

Apparently the Azores is another area that lays claim to the legend of Atlantis. The archipelago has authority to an area of over 1million square km, however only 2’346 square km is dry land. The 9 Islands are now unified as an autonomous region but geographically form three distinct island groups.

We learned how the Azores has been a pioneer for Portugal in sustainable energy, for example creating the first HEP and geothermal power stations or wave platforms. There is a real drive for renewable sustainable energy and efficient resource use, with a series of companies such as Renault or universities such as MIT using the Azores for research and development into sustainable energy. The region is part of the Green Islands initiative with the government aiming for 60% sustainable energy by 2050, and looking to achieve at lease 50% on current trends. Geothermal energy accounts for 30% and these energy sources are allowing the region to reduce reliance on foreign imports and become more self-sufficient. Additionally, for four consecutive years they have won the a Sustainable Tourism Award. So there is a huge amount of scope to use the Azores as a case study to hinge upon sustainability and resource use. This could tie to many key stages and be interlinked to many curriculum areas.

First stop today was the Centrale Geothermico do Pico – the main geothermal power station in São Miguel island. It accounts for 43% of all of the island’s energy, with 6% from hydro and another 6% from wind energy. Admittedly the island is small and has a limited population, but then this is a good case of resources being well used on a small scale. The energy is purely used to drive turbines for electricity production, not for the creation of hot water or central heating (unlike Iceland) due to the nature of the geothermic fluid and the differing composition of chemicals that would require treating to become safe first.

After this we visited Salta de Cambrico waterfall. This involved a walk from the power station up and down some steep hills past fumeroles through the grass and to an older remote controlled HEP station. The cataract was very pretty through the canyon, but there was quite a challenging walk back out. This involved climbing over the HEP pipelines on rickety metal mesh walkways and scrambling over tumbled landslide debris and trees. All quite exciting for some adults and intrepid geographers, but would be a challenge for many! There are alternative routes out however.

For lunch we stopped at Ribeira Grande town, one of the three largest towns on the island. We strolled around and explored the town for an hour, investigating how you could use the area for a field trip. Suggestions include land use (and perhaps comparing to other areas), redevelopment and gentrification (particularly along the riverside), culture (interesting to see the differing architecture and the personalisation of houses – particularly very ornate plaques depicting the household saint and family that lived there displayed above each doorway), investigating globalisation and tourism. It is a very safe feeling and small town that would be easily navigable by students of many ages in small groups.

For our relaxation and enjoyment we visited Caldeira Velha (Caldeira here meaning <em>cauldron</em> or hot place) gardens and thermal pool. The area felt like something out of Jurassic Park or Costa Rica with dense lush tropical vegetation and steaming waters. A simple tourist centre described the area and local volcanism. Then there is a choice of two small bathing areas. At the top, a cold waterfall and plunge pool and at the bottom a bubbling hot spring leads into a lovely warm iron-rich soaking pool. Be warned though – jewellery does get a yellow coating here!

We drove across the caldera rim and observed Lagoa do Fogo nature reserve and lake, then headed back to Pousada Lagoa and visited the <em>Observatorio Vulcanologico e Geothermico Dos Acores</em> – a small volcanic activity observatory. At present this is being renovated but largely feels like you are rifling through the loft of someone’s belongings! There was a variety of artefacts of different rock types and fossils from around the world, however this is not particularly tourist friendly as yet. But there is great potential. Interestingly, the area forms one of a few places that is located accurately for measuring geological movement and so a Chinese university has placed equipment in the basement in order to track and monitor tectonic shifts over time – and the Azores is currently moving and growing by approximately 2cm per year.

So, another busy day! And we all slept well. I was route marched round the Lagoa town for a hilly coastal 30minute run by a colleague so all good training!

 

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"I am still learning" (Michelangelo)

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