Prince’s Teaching Institute: Day 2 lectures

PTI2

Day 2 dawned with an excellent buffet breakfast in the dining hall – great way to set yourself up for a hard day using those little grey cells!

Alan Kinder : Curriculum change

Alan, Geography Association Chief Executive, was commenting on the forthcoming KS3 and KS4 curriculum changes and the debate surrounding this. He was able to provide the latest news on this as well as how the GA has been involved in the consultation. First came the stats : nationally, History uptake at GCSE has approximately 35’000 more students, and at A level ~20’000 more students choosing the option compared to Geography. He noted that the decline has plateaued out and there is evidence of some increase but still has concerns ; that there are some signs of growth but we shouldn’t sit still yet. So as Geography teachers who love our subject (and want to keep our jobs!) there is even more need to ensure we adapt and modify the curriculum to make it engaging and relevant to our students – what suits one school is different to another. And don’t forget the up side : Geography is still one of the recommended subjects preferred by Russell Group top universities and one of the most employable subjects for graduates because it is a facilitating subject.

So, following the curriculum reviews, the GA is arguing for renewed focus on subject rigour : improved locational knowledge, a better balance between physical and human Geog, a sound understanding of the how and the why of processes and how these link to people and place at different scales. Those involved in converting the curriculum into working schemes of work must bear in mind that (as ever) the framework is still skeletal and it is our responsibility as teachers to subvert and use professional judgment to make it appropriate.

At KS4 Alan suggested the 2015 GCSE changes will see greater emphasis on extended writing within the programme, and on the application of knowledge, i.e. students will learn about an example coastline and then be assessed on a different area, therefore will be examined in terms of applying their knowledge to an unknown place and not using rote memory 🙂 There are lots of concerns about the format that fieldwork and the examination of fieldwork skills will take with the move to terminal exams : that the proposed terminal fieldwork skills exam is not a good or thorough enough tool for demonstrating field skills compared to extended controlled assessments.

So the message sparked debate, of course, and is essentially that of business as usual ; teachers to take and subvert the new KS3 curriculum to suit, but that this will always be driven by the requirements of the KS4 curriculum since this is what we are preparing for

Christian Nold : Emotional Mapping

This was one of the main highlights of the whole residential. Christian was speaking about emotional mapping, producing sensory maps based on perceptions and human emotional response to places based on senses / feelings / thoughts. He mentioned an activity I’ve used before and found really useful and insightful: maps from memory. The idea is you are blindfolded (safely, in pairs!) and explore a place so you can focus on your other senses only, then create a map from memory. E.g. make a sketch road map and then write descriptions over it to demonstrate not only what the physical features are but how you respond to them (e.g. ‘Fast cars keep zooming past on the dual carriageway, I feel nervous, I smell coffee’).

Christian has adapted a GPS unit to include bio sensors / neurophysiological sensors to map physical reactions as you move through an environment. He then uses this to create a bio map after uploading the information to Google Earth and producing polygons / graph overlays from the sensor information. You then have a conversation to interpret this afterwards; e.g. where spikes on the graph occur you can unpick what happened there, or why you felt that way and how the place made you feel.

Christian has used to create an emotional topography for Greenwich peninsula, Paris, etc,. And also the sensory journeys project with schools www.sensoryjourneys.net

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It is all about relationships between individuals and places, which you can scale up to include large numbers of respondents and then have enough data to assess patterns – then this may lead to rethinking how places / spaces are actually perceived (could then inform built environment & area planning). You can find more information in Alan Parkinson and Paul Cornish’s review book.

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During the lecture I was introduced to the Fieldnotes app for recording data which is geolocated. This app is quite expensive (and you could use the alternative Maverick app for adding placemarks to GE instead which is free) but basically means you can add text, code, photos, videos and they are tagged to a geographical location. This information can then be exported (along with images) as a .kmz file to Google Earth and then used with GE graphs to produce graphs and then overlay graphs onto the GE file. This is great for showing relationships between factors, e.g. The perception of place compared to traffic congestion etc,.

We then followed this up with another highlight : field trip! As good geographers we were very happy to get outside. And it helped that it was sunny. We visited Cambourne and were set a GCSE enquiry style project to test how distinctive the place is. Some members of the team had the adapted GPS unit (which measured pulse and sweat production through a fingertip attachment) while others used Fieldnotes or good old paper to record things like traffic/pedestrian surveys, quality of infrastructure, how the place made you feel, etc,. We had an hour or so wandering around in a haphazard manner (including the obligatory coffee shop) and the information was then uploaded later to the GE files and discussed. Funny how every participant noted that their mood / sense of place improved significantly when coffee and cake was nearby 😉

The follow-up challenge for me as far as I’m concerned is to see if we can hack a GPS unit to do this ourselves – and this is a project for the autumn with the help of the twitter community of hackers! We have done sense of place mapping just on paper in the past, but we have a keen group of digital leaders who would love to have a go at making an actual piece of tech we could use in school – but with a budget of course.

Professor Jonathan Bamber : Climate Change

One of the things I liked most about the PTI residential was that the lectures were like going back to Uni! Reminding us that we are intelligent individuals. Or that’s how I felt anyway. It’s easy to only think in terms of school curriculum, and it’s important to keep ourselves fresh and challenge ourselves with up-to-date developments in our subject and to keep being learners ourselves.

Bamber updated us on the scientific community’s concerns regarding the increase in ocean acidification as well as ocean salinity, and the impact of reduced permafrost and polar warming (and the potential impact of these combined). He commented on the increase in biological activity following melting of permafrost, which causes an increase in methane production which is one of highest contributing greenhouse gases.

The influence of the Arctic ice melt is much more significant than that of the Antarctic and yet this remains a common misconception. The Arctic is melting more rapidly and having more severe potential consequences (in terms of affecting the thermohaline conveyor and more rapid Northern European glacial melt). There are approximately 250million people living within 5m of the sea worldwide, including major cities like NYC, and many marginal native communities as well as important resources found in Arctic regions that are at risk of the impact of melting.

Bamber noted that of the two main contributors to sea level rise it is a 50/50 balance in terms of impact: the thermal expansion of existing seas, and the influence of freshwater melt with subsequent influx to oceans. With 90% of all freshwater stored in Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets it is clear why scientists are concerned about ice melt (and remember that freshwater has a different salinity and density to oceans which has implications for the conveyor system globally).

His concluding concerns were:
– predicted risk of there being no Arctic sea ice in summers by 2020
– that Alpine glaciers will largely be gone by 2100
– the risk of permafrost methane ‘bomb’
– a relative sea level rise of approx 1m possible by 2100

So it was a really intense day! Full of mind-bending thinking as well as how we can embed these issues within the relevant curriculum. It’s about us being able to remain cutting edge and then adapt this to suit.

‘Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few people engage in it often’ (Henry Ford)

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