So last night saw the very first TeachMeet hosted by the home of Geography, the Royal Geographical Society in London. The event was organised by the amazing Claire Brown from the RGS, Steve Brace (Head of Education), sorted by David Rogers and a tiny bit of effort myself.
What an evening! Geographers really are an awesome bunch. It was a later start than usual to allow for travel, but the enthusiasm in the room and in the virtual room from Twitter was palpable. We missed the company of other illustrious Geographers like @aknill and @robgeog, but did get a wannabe geographer from @Miss_J_Hart. And thank you to Richard Allaway for sponsoring refreshments!
I’ve got the fun job of sharing the presentations from all the amazing presenters that night. In true TeachMeet style these were 6minute snapshots into truly professional teachers’ work and their presentations won’t be the same as hearing them speak, so for questions I suggest getting in touch! The great thing was seeing such a wide range, and each presenter kept coming back to the need to have carefully thought out sequences of learning, building curiosity and developing rigour and skills, but also making everyday lessons memorable. There was also the challenge by David, to remember that Geographers change the world!
So here’s a rough idea of who did what!
- We kicked off with Steve Brace defending the importance of Geography, and how statistically speaking geographers still are more employable and that the skills of GCSE and A Level v highly valued by universities and employers alike. Did you know that 10% of all PLC revenue is based on data from the OS…and geographers?! Slideshare link to presentation.
- The adventurous Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop from Digital Explorer shared the beautiful resources of D:E. including citizenship materials so critical to current key global issues such as refugee crises such as My Voice, My School. He also reminded us of the stunning Catlin Seaview Survey resources, e.g. virtual dives (Oh, and he’s a historian that is now working for geoscientific research!) His slideshare link here
- The wonderful Liz Pattison shared a range of differentiation ideas, including lead learners, learning grids (always love a learning grid!), silent debates, use of SOLO.Her slideshare presentation here
- Deborah Syme talked about underachievement and barriers to learning, through ‘executive dysfunction’, and potential smart solutions to these. Slideshare link
- Andrew Boardman shared his use of ActivInspire software for verbal feedback through sound recording and screen capture for students to keep coming back to. Loved that he emphasised the need to ‘talk like a geographer’ – so critical for success. Link: tinyurl.com/qxuheao
- Richard Maurice shared ideas for developing more challenge and use of better questioning. The 5Ws are not enough, we need better deeper questioning. I also liked his suggestions for subverting the #5minlessonplan by getting kids to use it as a structure for note taking / forming and answering Qs. His presentation here
- Rachel Hawke shared lots of ideas for encouraging creativity and curiosity, plus great use of SPAG model for proof reading – CUPS: capitalise, understanding (do your sentences make sense), punctuation, spelling. In fact, by 10pm @dukkhaboy had already created his own style version of this and was preparing to use in class next day – and he was only following on twitter! #TMRGS making an immediate impact. Slideshare link
- Deborah Gostling spoke about making real world links to architecture and urban design, through tricky projects such as redesigning Cairo. Building rigour and knowledge while using Google Earth and CAD software to add challenge Slideshare link
- Rupert Littlewood talked about making favelas and creative hands on learning – always love a bit of model making and really getting the feel of things. Slideshare link
- Anna Forshaw gave loads of practical ideas and suggested activities for embedding DME skills and problem solving activities Slideshare link
- Ewan Laurie shared some fab ideas for ‘hijacking Geography’ and getting it taking over school. Love the idea of the Pop-up classroom, or teaching something for ten minutes in the corridor at lunch, letting geography take over the school.Slideshare link
My own presentation got a little distracted on Monday night when I stumbled across some tweets claiming that Geography is ‘confused’ or ‘not a subject’. The controversy! Some were claiming that because Geography is diverse, this is a weakness and makes it confused. It’s the same story as has been heard before, but it does frustrat me that this is seen as a weakness, and also that people don’t appreciate that other subjects are equally diverse – it just goes unhidden. There is no one History: there’s a vast difference between ancient and modern history, and I’ve yet to meet a Historian that likes every era. There is no one English: pit a medieval romantic literature lover against 21st century science fiction lover and there are sparks – the skills employed to decipher the different English types vary as well as the content, and the language itself has clearly evolved. There is no one Music! I could go on. And as with all these other varied subjects, it is not a weakness to be a diverse hybrid. There is always something to hold it all together – and in our case it is the way that Geography marries together the world of hard scientific fact and process, with human interaction and reaction, through skilful application. That is the strength. We don’t study for the sake of it, we problem solve. We don’t learn skills to sit in a room and stare at them, we go out and fix issues. There were some great responses to support Geography’s corner from @RobGeog @RJCGeog @Jennnnnn_x as well
So this led into my presentation: that not only is Geography not confused, but actually the 4 key strands that hold it together as ‘awesome geography’ are essential. The talk was a variation on the #GAConf15 theme: Shakespeare was a Geographer, so was Pythagoras. Looking at embedding whole school priorities of literacy and numeracy through simple Geography activities in different year groups. My main point is that since we are all responsible for teaching these components, and since we should do anyway as it empowers students to become more successful Geographers let alone having great skills, we should make sure we use the same language as our Maths and English departments. I was responsible for numeracy across school last year, and each department (or faculty for smaller areas like Hums) has a lead teacher for literacy and numeracy who takes part in regular reviews and auditing the curriculum of every area in school. We met as a full staff on Tuesday, and going through the list of key skills for Maths and English as a Geography team we could easily say ‘Yes!’ or ‘Tick, Tick’ to every kind of skill since we are so literacy and numeracy heavy. The weakness at the minute, is that we do not use the same language as our specialists in schools. I don’t often say to a class ‘oh that’s a homophone, be careful on the spelling’ or ‘great use of compound sentences’ or ‘don’t forget your factoring operation’…it’s not my natural patter. But it needs to be. Having a uniformity of language in the classroom for core concepts will develop transparency for students, and encourage the idea that these skills are actually pretty important in a range of different environments and situations. Otherwise, how often do you hear ‘yeah but when will I need to do that in the real world’?!
If you’ve made it this far and want to read a brief kind of summary of what I said for each slide, here you go:
My presentation notes:
Slide 1: The controversy! Twitter debate on Monday evening. Some claiming that because Geography is diverse, this is a weakness and makes it confused. Great responses to support Geography’s corner from @RobGeog @RJCGeog @Jennnnnn_x
Is Geography confused, or is it a brilliant blend of science and art that is held together by that essential application.
Slide 2: The strengths of Geography are clear within the new national framework – there are 4 strands to being a great geographer: those of knowing, thinking, studying, and applying like a geographer. Value of skills and knowledge combined but with the life-skills essential component of having to apply those, to problem solve. Synthesis and making relational links is the key to Geographical genius. And what makes Geography strong, is how we meet whole school issues of literacy and numeracy, as well as building whole child skills.
Slide 3: So meeting whole school aims of literacy and numeracy – because if we do, we not only support the wider school community but we will empower children to get power results in geography and across the board. Particularly with more rigorous examination systems, content, and emphasis on skills we need to be building these skills from day 1 in year 7.
Slide 4: So Shakespeare. 21/38 plays were set in the Mediterranean…yet he never really left London, apart from a brief trip to the Netherlands. So it was entirely based on geographical imaginations. Imagination is key part to our subject, and to curiosity. Many of our students, particularly our disadvantaged students, may not leave their own areas either – so we need to encourage imagination.
Slide 5: Use Shakespeare quotes / DARTS text analysis to talk about describing places. Encouraging the idea of speaking like a geographer. Analyse text for context, introduction to places, to listen to silently and picture, descriptive mapping, and for picking out use of literacy techniques e.g. synonyms, compound sentences, rhyming couplets, metaphor, etc.
Slide 6: Read the text (perhaps excluding some bits that are too obvious!) and kids have to guess what the feature is being described. Then turn into modern descriptive text.
Hamlet piece- read it to them, and tell them it was written in Denmark and finished in 1599. Ask them to figure out what the features was that was north-north west from Denmark and sulphurous (Hekla in Iceland that erupted in 1597)
Slide 7: Compare descriptive text of geographic features through the ages. What are the similarities and differences? How does the language, and the understanding of science, change over time?
Slide 8: Use text to describe climate as Shakespeare recorded the Little Ice Age
Slide 9: BUT – since he didn’t visit locations, there were misconceptions! So give children the text and then get them to prove what is real vs unreal, fact and fiction
Slide 10: Example of differentiated activity with class
Slide 11: Where does our subject meet maths? Everywhere! The key thing is to be liaising with our maths departments and ensuring we teach at similar times, but most importantly that we all use the same language and teach skills in the same way. E.g. Science and Maths teach line graphs differently, do we? Are we using the language of everyday maths classrooms in our classrooms? Because we certainly do plenty of data analysis and graphicacy, just need to hit the terminology to make it explicit to learners.
Slide 12: Using Google Earth polygons to identify shape patterns of landmasses – just simple shape work but builds confidence with using Google Earth tools. Can also use alongside measuring tools and estimating area, discussing different types of shape and calculating area from them.
Slide 13: Create layered data presentation, e.g. climate mapping: base layer for temperature, tracing overlay for precipitation – then analyse. Helps with learning locations and climate patterns, as well as analysis skills. Or proportional mapping for tourist locations. Key is using different methods to learn locations, become confident with features of the UK, and having to do numeracy skills.
Slide 14: Use your school for urban steps. Calculate the number of steps required to climb the equivalent of different mountains indoors. Have to measure each step, multiply it up, divide by number of kids, etc. Make it a House competition challenge.
Slide 15: Links to STEM. Produce equipment. From simple weather equipment to earthquake sensors. This example was a beautiful cloud cover measuring Oktas device. Student had to scale it all up, measuring and calculate, etc.
Slide 16: Geocaching – measuring distance, direction and bearings.
Slide 17: Make graphs 3D and tactile. Brings to life population pyramids and statistics, easier (especially for lower ability) to analyse and interpret the data.
Slide 18: Use numbers and ask students to discuss, interpret, tell a story with them.
Answer in this case: it’s all to do with elderly dependency
Slide 19: Transform one kind of data presentation into another form of graph – have to recalculate, compare, translate. This is from the London National Park statistics on the amount of green space in the city. Analyse the patterns.
Slide 20: Because it all comes down to skills. Skills web based on GCSE criteria. Geography ticks off so many skills and really builds literacy and numeracy, so make it explicit!
Slide 21: And at the end of the day, it is worth the challenge!
The next bit of Geographical TeachMeet fun will be at the GA conference in Manchester at Easter. Check the conference pack for more details, the GA website, and follow #GAConf16