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Idea 19 Happening Now!

Happening Now

This project idea was contributed by Peter S. Fox

Exam Board Components that this project links with
AQA A Unit 1, Section A: The Restless Earth and Challenge of Weather and Climate
AQA B Unit 2, Section A: Living with Natural Hazards
Edexcel A Unit 1, Section A: ICT and Enquiry skills
Unit 2, Section A: Tectonic Landscapes
Edexcel B Unit 1, Section A: Restless Earth
OCR A Unit A674: Issues in our fast changing world
OCR B Theme 3: Natural Hazards
WJEC B Theme 2: People and the Natural World Interactions – Weather, Climate and People


Fig 1 Earthquake makes front page

Information and Communications Technology provides an immediate window on the world and what is happening in it. Many of us live in a twenty four hour society surrounded by information and news from many sources. Making use of such immediacy in lessons gives geography an advantage over many other subjects and illustrates its relevance. News websites, blogs, webcams, pictures, videos and pod casts from around the world give us and our students access to information emanating not only from professional journalists but from others who wish to contribute. Such online debates often provide conflicting views which can challenge our ideas and those of our students.

Several examples are offered below as to how immediacy can and was used and how, in one case, students were involved in examining and sharing their own experiences of the event with others. There is a cost to this in that time is necessary for teachers and students to take advantage of the events and be willing to abandon schemes of work and curriculum plans for something that may be more motivating and of greater relevance.

It also important to note that often, when news stories ‘break’, it isn’t at first apparent if the story might be worth using and indeed, such is the nature of the news, this first information may be only partial and sometimes even incorrect. The full story may not be apparent for days ahead and a full explanation months ahead. This in itself provides an important learning point, but as a teacher the judgment has to be yours regarding the value of using any immediate story or event.

Case Study One: Were You Woken in the Night?

The Market Rasen earthquake took place during the night of 21 February 2008, and it certainly disturbed this author’s sleep. It occurred to me that this would be a ‘hot’ topic which students would want to talk about the following day. I decided to abandon part of my lessons and to quickly devise a handout which would promote discussion about what had happened to each student and between students. This sort of information is eagerly collected by BGS and USGS to allow them to work out the human effects of such events.

If there had been access to some computer facilities that morning perhaps I would have allowed students to record the information online, the information could then have been stored and used again when the topic of earthquakes was taught. I encouraged my students to interview students in other classes to complete the record sheet. The responses to this exercise were good; students did want to talk about the event and did want to ask questions. For example:

  • Why had it happened when Britain wasn’t on one of the ‘classic’ plate margins?
  • What would have occurred if it had been stronger?
  • Why didn’t the USGS think this was a serious earthquake?
  • What was the scale that was used to measure it?
  • How do they measure them?
  • What about the news coverage?
  • Where would the best place to be in the event of an earthquake?
  • Why did some people sleep through it and others felt the bed shake?
  • Are we going to get any aftershocks?

At the same time I decided to collect resources about the event; TV news clips, links to web sources, expert views from BGS and USGS and quotations from eye witnesses to compare these different perspectives with what the students reported. For example, the BBC and ITV web sites were both good sources for information, images and eye witness accounts.

The website of the British Geological Survey (BGS) had a press release and simple map and, later, more details and access to the actual seismograph plots for the event. From this it is clear that there had been activity many hours before the ‘event’ took place.

Case Study Two: Comparing and Contrasting Disasters

The Nargis cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) took place on 5 May 2008. Though this was a terrible event, it nevertheless makes for an ideal example of a hazard in a LEDC country and of what the primary and secondary effects of the hazard are on the resident population. It provided clear examples of how external factors such as the political regime of the country, the environment and infrastructures can inhibit the supply of relief and how the news media across the world reported the disaster and the relief effort. One week later on Monday 12 May 2008, the Sichuan province of China was hit by an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale at 14:28 local time. The earthquake affected a large area and was felt as far away as Beijing, Bangkok, Hanoi and Shanghai. The initial death toll was put at around 9,000.

These two disasters can be compared to illustrate the different media coverage and the differing responses to these events. Because the Chinese authorities allowed wide coverage of the event by the press and other media, both internal and international, for the first time, the event was covered my most of the world’s media for several days with graphic reports and images. The Burmese event, on the other hand, had much less coverage because of restrictions on the media and the policy of the government, although it has been suggested that more people were killed in this event. Note that in both cases the areas affected were in relatively inaccessible parts of the country.

Information from blogs, news reports and individual accounts provide graphic detail as to the nature of a disaster and its aftermath. A wealth of up-to-date material, immediate and interesting to students, was at hand for the discerning teacher willing to spend a few moments capturing the information and supporting them with images and information from the CIA fact book, NASA, Google Earth or Flash Earth.

Short of time to look for resources yourself? Whenever a big natural disaster occurs we do try to put together a page of links to news articles, video clips and other resources as soon as possible. For example, see our Investigating earthquakes and tsunamis page, put together immediately after the Market Rasen earthquake and updated after the China one.

The PDF download below contains more detailed information about both the cyclone and the earthquake. It also contains some useful links to diverse news sources that can be used to view a range of opinions.

Disaster Factsheet

Case Study 3: See The World

Webcams are underused in geography although they have been available some time. They can provide an interesting immediate view of the world which students can use to undertake a variety of tasks, varying from observing and explaining the weather to the undertaking of remote field studies or activities such as investigating traffic flow or enquring why the numbers of people on a beach may vary over a specific period.

The real problem the teacher has is finding the best webcams to use. A good starting point is the EarthCam website. Here you can find a world map of webcams. The map can be zoomed and places selected where webcams are located. These vary in quality, content and purpose; some are based in hotels or cafes, others designed for the monitoring of traffic. The cams vary in how quickly the image is refreshed. Some do not show a continuous image but shots every fifteen minutes or so. Because these are ‘real time’, locations will be in darkness or light but often there is a facility to view pictures from an archive.

Here are some sample webcams for you to try out:

Buenos Aires – This is a map locating the traffic cameras for Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Norway – This is webcam is of Tromso Northern Norway overlooking the fjord.

For more on the theory behind using webcams in geography, see our webcams project, conducted in 2006 – 2007.

Photo Credits

Fig 1: Photo by Flickr user CodeFin. Licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic licence. You may reuse this image under the conditions specified in this licence. Source.

Fig 2: Photo by Flickr user Bashed. Licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic licence. You may reuse this image under the conditions specified in this licence. Source.

Fig 3: Photo by Wikipedia contributor Miniwiki. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. In short: you are free to distribute and modify the file as long as you attribute its author(s) or licensor(s).

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