Tag Archives: geography

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.


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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:



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:






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 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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Discover the World Teacher Inspection trip to Azores Day 1

Discover the World are a travel company we have used a good few times for our trips to Iceland, plus a non-student trip to Morocco. I’ve always found the company so helpful, with great administration and very well organised. The tour guides we’ve had in Iceland were always excellent and really made an effort to enthuse students, sharing local stories and myths. DTW have recently starting looking into offering a new destination of the Azores, and so a group of twelve teachers (mostly Geography or Earth Science) were invited to go on a teacher inspection trip this week in order to road test the trip

The idea of this week is to visit as many locations as possible, and sample a wide variety of activities in each place that you might build into a student trip itinerary. We are also investigating the accommodation and services in order to see how feasible the trip is, and whether it would meet with curriculum requirements / health and safety / logistics etc,. Since the Azores has not been used before for student trips this is quite a big undertaking, and we have discussions throughout each day about what kinds of activities you could ask students to participate in and what they would get out of the trip itself. Since direct flights are limited (only one flight, once a week on Saturdays) this means you would be most likely looking at an 8 day trip including travel so is is quite a chunk of time to fill

Part of the evening time is given over to focus groups in order to troubleshoot and to plan suitable teaching style activities as well as considering what ‘awe and wonder’ activities you can partake and evening entertainment etc,. On our return to the UK we will also be involved with creating teacher study guide resources for teachers throughout the country or access for free (akin to the excellent Iceland and Norway study guides already available for free through the Discover the World website). Discover the World are teaming up with the Geographical Association for a three year contract to create a broad bank of resources for teachers and students to use before, during and after a trip as well as just use in the classroom to teach about place or case studies – this will be being launched soon and will build up over time to including every destination they include in their package

This week has been led by Nick and Sonia from DtW as well as Simon Ross, an experience Head of Geography, senior member of the GA and author of various teacher resources, textbooks and GeoActive resources. And the team of teachers who have been chosen come from a wide variety of backgrounds, of differing lengths of career and varied teaching styles, with a range of skills and with a wealth of experience of planning and leading school trips. So it is in good hands!

So, the trip. We had arrived fairly late on the Saturday to São Miguel Island so only really saw the drive from the airport at Ponta Delgada down to our accommodation at a youth hostel in Pousada de Lagoa. The accommodation appears very new and crisp on first impressions, and with a restaurant attached that is also clearly used as the local restaurant.

Day 1. We were collected by Eduardo our local guide who has been a really keen activist in the drive to try to bring Azores more into the public eye and to encourage tourism. He has an excellent breadth of knowledge on seemingly everything throughout the archipelago which is reassuring. We travelled to Furnas, meaning furnace which is an area of intense volcanic activity past and present. Present is purely geothermal, past included some large eruptions in the 15th and 17th centuries. There is an excellent tourist centre here by the lake Lago de Furnas. The staff of the Furnas Monitoring & Research Centre were clearly passionate and well informed. There is a broad range of information about the geological history, volcanic activity and interestingly what the local government, university and activist groups have been doing in the name of sustainability.

At Furnas the local watercourse has suffered badly from eutrophication and soil erosion as a result of semi-intensive dairy farming (with associated clear felling of vegetation for pasture and use of chemical fertilisers. The lake is within the large caldera created by the last eruption. It was discovered that within the watershed there was a clear tendency for leaching of minerals due to the heavy rains, and that these were being channelled straight into the lake causing a sediment residue build up and then subsequent eutrophication, algal blooms, vegetation blocking out sunlight and reducing photosynthesis elsewhere in the lake, etc,. So local charity and university workers decided to try to reverse this. There had also been a large problem with the introduction of non-native and invasive species such as the Japanese Cedar and Australian Box that had been used as borders around farmland and tea plantations, but which were spreading and choking native plants as well as reducing biodiversity. On top of this, the change of land use to dairy and clearing for pastures meant soils had been exposed and so soil erosion had taken place with vast channels sometimes up to 8m deep being created due to the heavy rains and lack of interception.

There is a programme in place to reclaim the lake, replace the land use and replant the area. The aim is to create a Landscape Laboratory. There is an educational and outreach aspect too. Local farmers were bought out, which has caused some social conflicts although many farmers have also been able to retire comfortably but since the area has naturally rich soils it is understandable how the conflict exists. Part of the agreement also sees farmers being offered silage and food stuffs at reduced cost that have been grown in their old lands that have now been replanted and afforested.

Planting has occurred on a large scale and is still ongoing. Reintroduction of native indigenous species such as blueberry and clover have then attracted more bees which in turn has led to opportunities for local farmers to produce honey and caramels which is then sold in local gift shops. The clover when cleared and harvested is used to create silage for the farmers for feeding cattle. They are also trying to encourage farmers to return to more traditional methods of using natural dung fertiliser to reduce chemical dependency.

It is clear that the project is well underway but has a long way to go. Many jobs have been created through forestry, beekeeping, tourism, etc,. It is hard to tell if water quality has improved much as it is early days but the flow of nutrients has at least stabilised and sediment production into the lake has slowed so that the lake bed is beginning to drop back to original levels. However, it is also clear that the project is lacking in funding for the next two years and so how can sustainability be achieved?

The centre has great resources for children of various ages, and keen staff. You can also arrange with the centre to conduct projects in the area, such as planting / tending / harvesting the area or testing water quality, soil quality, biodiversity, etc,. So this could be a really great place to call base camp for a day and then conduct your own enquiries in the area, perhaps even comparing to other sites in the island.

We also visited a tea plantation factory – the only commercial tea plantation in Europe and which is run on traditional machinery and with leaves hand picked and checked for quality

We explored Furnas hot pool in the Terra Nostra botanical gardens in the pouring rain! Feeling like crazy geography geeks we scrambled around in the cold in the gardens getting soaked and then swam around in huge hot pool for a while – alongside some swans! Very surreal. The water was heavy with iron and sediment so very brown and opaque but a lovely temperature and quite atmospheric with steam produced by the evaporating rain. We also visited some of the village fumeroles and hot springs, including the bubbling hot pools where our food was cooked – a cozido lunch. Large earthen pots laden with potato, kale leave, and a variety of meats are lowered into these pools and covered in earth then slowly boil / roast for 6 hours and then served. The meat did have a slightly eggy sulphury flavour but was very soft. And the Azoreans are very generous with their portions!

Back at Pousada de Lagoa for the evening meal some of us explored the town a little (it is very little!) and saw some fantastic crashing waves against the basalt cliffs and rocky beaches. There was also a stunning sunset.


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Celebrating European Day of Languages 2013

Room 18 for languages day

So Thursday was the European Day of Languages and I wanted to make sure that Geography supported the events going on in school. The MFL department had been busy making and displaying different flags and bits of information about other countries around the school, every department was meant to be meeting and greeting kids with a chosen language for the day, and we even had a more varied multicultural menu in the dining room for the day which was delicious. Naturally this is all geography really, so we needed to get involved.

I decided to draw on the work of Sam Atkins, and the work he produced last year for the mobile@priory project with his upside down map of the world linking to a lesson with EAL (English as Additional Language) – this project can be seen on the mobile@priory ‘cookbook’ here. The lesson slideshow for this week is below:

This is how I ran the lesson, the others may have done differently.

Slide 1) students were greeted at the door with the Icelandic for ‘welcome to Geography’ and had to guess what the phrase meant

Slide 2) I took a suggestions poll for how many languages the students thought were spoken at Priory. The answer is over 37. We then had a quick discussion about their surprise at this, and that 300 languages are spoken in London. Then students discussed in table groups how many languages they could speak fluently or conversationally, and which languages these were. I asked them to decide if there were any patterns to where these languages came from, i.e. are they from a predominant continent / group of countries, from a similar cultural background, etc,. Geography is all about people in the world, and about patterns, so we really hyped this up.

Slide 3) Priory is a Rights Respecting School, with the Level 1 award and working towards Level 2. We routinely link to the Unicef charter in lesson and it’s part of everyday conversation in school, so this came as no surprise to the kids. Article 30 states that each has the right to ‘use your own language’ – so we had a quick chat about this and what it means, linking to responsibility for attempting to learn other languages in order to make communications easier (they were well aware of reputation the English have; the classic example of going abroad and then assuming everyone will speak English and if they don’t we just speak louder English and use gestures!).

upside down world mapSlide 4) The main part of the lesson using the upside down map of the world superimposed over the school site map. I introduced students who hadn’t seen it before (I ran this lesson with year 7-9) and explained how to worked, we did some simple orientation exercises and practised some grid refs to acquaint them.

Slides 5-7) Students worked in pairs for the challenge. Each had a copy of the map, and a copy of the table sheet to complete. They could use an atlas, or a Win8 device, or their mobile to complete the enquiry. There were two versions to the challenge: years 7 & 8 used the first table, and I just wanted them to spend the time becoming familiar with comparing resources (i.e. which is quicker / more accurate / simpler to use – a device or an atlas), to become comfortable with locating places and finding information out about them – basic geographic skills; whereas year 9 had the second grid which links to their current topic on Development, so I wanted them researching whether a place qualified as an MEDC or LEDC and to source date to prove it, I told them I was pushing for GCSE skills of using evidence to support answers, of linking to fact, of comparing resources, etc,.

Slide 8) bit of a plenary pit stop, discussed some of their answers and talked about the reliability of data and which resource was best to use for the purpose of the enquiry (interestingly, most preferred a paper atlas for locating countries and found that using the internet was more time consuming for this, though they did pick up that the data in the atlas will be out of date too quickly and so they chose to use more up-to-date information from places such as CIA factbook, etc,.)

languages day activitySlide 9) discussion time, linking back to the original Rights, Respect, Responsibility and the Article 30. We talked about the implications of language in terms of school signage (all in English – if there are even any signs at all!), about problems and fears navigating, about language barriers in class, barriers to learning, the right to an education, etc,. I was thoroughly impressed with their suggestions and their ability to empathise, with how they could consider sensitive issues.

Slide 10) translation = What have you learnt? Asking them to guess first.

Slide 11) an exit plenary was a simple ‘what have you learnt’. Students had to demonstrate an increased awareness of languages and places across the world, to be able to express links to the Unicef charter and to language – education barriers. With some classes I did this as a simple ‘3 things I have learnt’ written activity, for others I went through the register and each had to articulate something, one class I asked for a simple 3 facts about the ‘countries visited on the map’, and with 9a1 I wanted 100 words to explain the links between language and the right to learn and to development. A myriad of activities would work, but basically each student had to earn their ‘visa’ stamp in order to leave the room – in this case they got their work stamped with a ‘mobile@priory’ or ‘guerilla geography’ stamp. They do love stamps 🙂

Slide 12) means Goodbye in Icelandic! One group in 9a1 stayed behind afterwards chatting to me and arguing with each other about how they felt the image represented a divided and diverging world, just like Iceland, that the gap between rich & poor was getting bigger and that education and language barriers they felt were one of the main reasons for this. Quite impressed. Each week that group seems to have a debate about something – I just light the fire and enjoy! Love it.

Slide 13-14) extension if needed, a card sort with Icelandic and Swahili phrases for students to attempt to match up and sort.

9a1 languagesNote: while students were on task in their pairs completing the world map challenge, I asked each member to come and tell me what languages they could speak in order to complete a class wordle of languages spoken. At the very end of the lesson I would show them their wordle and ask them if they could spot any patterns from it. The premise, if you are unaware, is that the larger the word is the more common it is. Over the course of the day I was able to compare these wordles with other classes, and then we could talk about that and whether there was a pattern with languages spoken and age range. We tweeted a couple of wordles out via @priorygeography and you can see in the gallery below two of them from 7b4 and 9a1 – it was interesting for me seeing the differences in the patterns with two years difference, and very different ability classes. Some students in 7a1 Friday actually afternoon picked this up and asked whether students in lower ability classes who didn’t have English as a first language would be having their right to education taken away, whether they would be able to succeed as easily or whether language was a barrier for them. They weren’t saying it in a negative ‘they can’t speak English so must not be clever’ way, they were genuinely concerned whether these students were being catered for and whether they would be able to make progress. All interesting.

7b4 langaugesSo there you have it. I thoroughly enjoyed these lessons and ran them as floating topicality with KS3 for Thursday & Friday. I intend to link them into our schemes of work to run with in future. @priorygeography is taking part in the Global Learning Programme this year as an Expert Centre and part of this work involves considering global dimensions of language, barriers to learning, education access, human rights, etc,. so this kind of activity could be run simply in any school, perhaps then being compared. It would be interesting to see if there are patterns within the UK for how many languages are spoken by students in a school, or to perhaps link to schools in other parts of the world and see what patterns exist there? Something to think about. If you are interested in sharing about your school then let me know!

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If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
‒Nelson Mandela

Review of TLA Berkhamsted conference – Geography workshops

As mentioned in the first #TLAB13 post, I appreciated the format of the day and found that having workshops grouped by subjects was useful for encouraging networking. Being around the same group of people but with three different inputs meant you had longer to share ideas and discuss them. The sessions were also informal and relaxed which was good. So who & what were they?

1) Carmel Greene – Letting Go of the Reins of Geography

Carmel spoke about moving her teaching, and classes, from being teacher-directed to learner-directed and shared a great range of simple and effective ideas to encourage more independence. She shared how she’d moved from feeling exhausted at the end of each lesson to now finding that both she and her students enjoy the lessons more. And that’s the point isn’t it, teachers as facilitators to guide but that students should be doing the hard work? If the teacher is feeling more exhausted at the end than the students, then the balance of effort is skewed and we are allowing students to sit back and be passive – linking to Bill Rankin’s brain activity graphs mentioned previously.

Carmel shared the common fears of ‘letting go of the reins’ and suggested ways to overcome. e.g. “If I leave them to work independently, they are more likely to misbehave” – this is a common fear for many of us, particularly for new teachers. Solution? “Well structured lessons with timings, planned transitions and a range of learning tasks”. Carmel Greene preziSimple. The link to Carmel’s presentation is HERE and includes a variety of different well structured activities so have a browse. I especially like her phrasing for differentiated resources / activity – e.g. ‘Spicy / Mild’. Clearly she has put a huge amount of time and effort into creating resources which should, in time, mean less teacher energy / input during class and more student-directed learning. However, it is also quite resource heavy/intense and would take a lot of time to prepare the first time BUT the end result should be “less teacher talk, more learner progress” – which is the right aim.

2) John Sayers – Personal Geographies

I was intrigued in advance about John’s presentation because it involved the setting up of various jenga sets and the alluring promise of a prize at the end. So that got my attention. I was also happy to be the person keeping track of time and given permission to throw something at him if he went over. Happy days. Having said that, I was so taken up with all the myriad ideas he suggested that I actually lost track of time myself. John’s blog is HERE and if you check through this and his twitter feed you will be able to find links to all he shared. It was a whistle-stop tour from AfL to questioning strategies, literacy to sensory learning. I wish he’d had more time as it there just wasn’t enough to go into it all. But there were a couple of things I shall definitely be trying.

The first thing I really loved was his idea of the ‘Superstars board’. In essence a display board showcasing quality work but taken up a level. Basically you can have the name / image of the superstar student for that week, and then a QR code linking to the work they had produced. Means you can share quality work that is in a digital format as well, or take pictures of work and share this online then link to it – hopefully encouraging a bit more peer learning and pride. Love it. I will definitely be looking to do this at school soon and will show what gets produced.

John is an advocate of the ‘messy learning’ / ‘guerrilla geography’ / mission:explore type activities and I particularly liked the idea of making displays with a message from waste. He shared how he wanted to show how much waste the school produced by collecting all the rubbish bins from each classroom then gathering it all together to make ‘art’ as a Maps from wastedisplay, making the message of recycling/waste a bit more real. Sounds like something from Art Attack but I imagine would be very hard-hitting. I also loved the idea of making maps out of waste, e.g. creating world maps from spilled drinks or orange peel (see image)! Just a bit more tangible perhaps.

The other thing that really interested me (there were LOTS of things) was the introduction to the Floodlines app. I hadn’t seen this before. It’s basically an augmented reality app to demonstrate the Brisbane floods, and as such is really useful for KS4 case studies on flooding, risk and management. Check HERE to find out more. What I liked? The fact that it is a visual representation of real flooding overlaying maps, and the timeline bar that means you can see the onset > peak > recession of the flood. Great visual learning tool.

The jenga I mentioned? An AfL tool. You write on each piece of jenga wood, could be a keyword or anything, then once it is removed you could quiz on it. Games based learning with the added element of fear from causing structural collapse 😉

John also shared some great ideas on planning questioning, and on evaluating / assessing how well children work in groups. Once I have a go trialling these I’ll write some more. Check HERE for his presentation.

Finally, I was very excited to get the prize at the end of the session – a set of Thinking DiceThinking Dice that each have a different question to pose. Again, just a way of adding game/chance into activities – similar to using dice and the learning grids perhaps in that sense. But it could be useful for revision/group activities where students have to develop questioning styles. Or for the teacher themselves to ensure variety of questioning. Will have a play with those.

3) David Rogers – Inspirational Geography

With a title as grand as that, and coming after two really great workshops and two inspiring keynotes, and being after lunch David was up against it to maintain the quality. But as David Rogersusual he delivered. You can see all the details of his session HERE but the focus was on guerilla learning and ‘un-planning.

David shared a variety of ideas, including:

– The Geography/EAL mash-up project that Sam Atkins in our department put together – students using upside down world maps, orienteering maps, QR codes and a tablet/smartphone to conduct an entire lesson in a foreign language.

Geocaching & BBC Report (mostly the work of myself and Sam) ; how to get projects having a wider impact, raising engagement & getting in the news 🙂 This always makes me smile on account of one student who, when the BBC arrived to film, stated ‘it’s ok, I’m media trained’…he’d been appearing on Super Nanny!

Simple un-planning tools; e.g. using the Bing homepage as your starter activity. Could be to do with links to industry, environment, country-specific, etc,.

– Using RSA style animations / Bob Dylan ‘esque’ posters to increase literacy and case study knowledge at GCSE

And many more. The message was about taking risks, having a go. And importantly, it was not about tech. Sometimes David (and @priorygeography) gets stereotyped into being ‘the high tech one’ or ‘you’re the one about mobile devices’, but creativity and risk-taking isn’t always about using a new piece of kit. Sometimes it’s as simple as a piece of paper and a felt pen. As ever, he was funny and practical, sharing a range of experiences and giving credit where due to whomever else was involved. I’ve mentioned before being lucky to be in my department, and it’s true. He’s the visionary one that has the great ideas that Sam and I then put into practice. That’s what makes us a good team.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.