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Geography Lockdown

One of the special characteristics of our GA community is the willingness to share resources, ideas and experiences. During all three lockdowns, everyone in schools, both teaching and support staff, have faced personal and professional challenges. Here, in Geography Lockdown, several colleagues from every stage of teaching, at home and abroad, give us a snapshot of how they have continued to deliver quality geography to pupils wherever they are.

Thank you to those colleagues for sharing their geographical lockdown activities, and giving us stimulating ideas we can use at any time.

Isabelle Williamson – 3rd Year BA Geography and Sustainability, University of Exeter

As a geographer, I have always been used to working outdoors in the field and as a group. This year will be very different. I am a student at the University of Exeter, now entering my final year. Over the coming months, we will be undertaking ‘blended learning’, which will involve a mixture of virtual and face-to-face lectures/seminars/tutorials. Already, I have been informed that this will be predominantly online. Although this is quite a shock, and in many ways disappointing, I am trying to approach this new learning method as an exciting opportunity. With the right mindset, online learning could help develop technical and communication skills, and the reduced formal structure could improve my time management and self-motivation. Adapting to change and overcoming adversity is a key life skill, and I believe that adjusting to this ‘new normal’ has the potential for personal development. New methods of communication and interaction could also bring innovation to traditional methods of teaching, learning and fieldwork – with potential to benefit geographers worldwide. 

Ultimately, I believe that what one achieves over the coming months will depend upon one’s attitude and outlook upon the situation. Positivity and proactivity will be key to success in both academic and social life.

Grace Ball – Primary NQT

Unlocking geography in a Primary school

This whirlwind NQT year has been an eye-opening experience and I have been inundated with CPD opportunities to develop my teaching skills. Our thematic style of learning means that more time can be spent on foundation subjects and geography integrates well with these. I include geography at least once a week. To ensure a rich and diverse curriculum following the Covid-19 lockdown, I have included more open-ended exploration which enables a range of assessment and plus opportunities for pupils to fill gaps that may have developed during blended learning.

Our topic of ‘Journeys’ includes many aspects of geography within different lessons. Using the book ‘The Snail and The Whale’ by Julia Donaldson I teach geography through literacy by recounting and recalling journeys and describing countries travelled by the snail and the whale. This also consolidates pupils’ understanding of geography in KS1. Having an open ended discussion allowed me to follow pupils’ interest and curiosity. While reading ‘Snail and the Whale’ and comparing the illustrations to locations around the world, one child asked where the snail and the whale originally lived, so we were able to be flexible and spent ten minutes researching this question.

Many pupils developed geographical skills during their home learning and this has added to their enthusiasm and knowledge in lessons. Having a group of children so enthusiastic and inquisitive about geography has brought out my own passion for the subject further, and which will continue to grow each time I teach.

Steven Bresh – Secondary NQT

Challenges of beginning a teaching career during the pandemic

Everyone told me that the NQT year would be challenging. But starting an NQT year during the COVID-19 crisis – well that’s been a whole different challenge!

The first week was a logistical minefield. It was a question of locating classrooms, toilets and handwashing for pupils as well as the correct entry/exit points. One post pandemic day, this will make a great geography lesson. The lessons are double the normal length which is a challenge for over exuberant year 7’s!  Moving at speed between 15 classrooms each week to make it on time for lessons has definitely given added meaning to the new normal. In spite of all these challenges, I am confident in the knowledge that if I can teach map skills, without maps (!) in a science lab where the back row of pupils are so far away they are almost in another time zone, this can only be positive when we return to the old normal. I have also learnt more in my first few weeks of training about what to do in the event of IT network issues, than perhaps I would have done in my whole NQT year.

I am sure that in the future, I will look back at these experiences, these challenges, and this new normal and consider how much it has helped shape me as a teacher.

Hannah Finch Noyes – St Helen & St Katharine School

Cancellation of the fieldwork element of the GCSE specification for 2021 left a void in our teaching schedule. We missed our field trip to Snowdonia and were concerned about students lacking valuable field work skills. I devised a series of short fieldwork activities for students to enable them begin preparation for the demands of the NEA at A Level and become better geographers. In each of the three sets of activities, students worked independently and were introduced to the fieldwork enquiry process – from creating hypotheses to evaluating their results.

Section A activities consisted of simple data collection tasks. Students chose between measuring river velocity in a small local stream or completing a sustainable transport survey. In section B, students studied either changing land use or environmental quality along a transect in a local area. Knowing that access may be restricted during local lockdown, students could decide whether to work in the field or remotely via Google Earth street view.

In Section C students designed an online questionnaire to focus on either sustainable water use or strategies to mitigate climate change. Students were given homework time to collect their data and class time to analyse their findings. A geography selfie competition encouraged students to work outside and enjoy collecting data. Although only small in scale, students have embraced these opportunities to engage in field work, often planning to collect data together. This understanding of the fieldwork process also provides valuable support for students to analyse unseen data in their GCSE exam.

Richard Bustin

The sudden closure of schools in March 2020 caused unprecedented disruption and challenge for our entire education community. The ways we had to teach geography changed.

The resilience of people in much of the rest of the world who face tectonic hazards, daily food and water issues was brought into sharp focus in lessons. The ability of people around the world to cope with real daily challenges made our own coping with COVID-19 seem inconsequential. Somehow teaching about people living in slum dwellings whilst we ourselves were getting anxious about when we might next be allowed out to a restaurant put our problems into perspective. This was not lost on our students.

From a practical perspective the curriculum had to change. The whole summer term in year 9 is usually dedicated to a piece of fieldwork in our local seaside town (with a focus on physical processes on the beach as well as the ‘changing place’ of the seaside resort). The initial plan was to replicate the trip entirely in Google Earth but in the end the pupils enjoyed a virtual fieldtrip to Las Vegas- comparing the ‘Strip’ to some of the other (and quite diverse) neighbourhoods in the City.

Google Earth, Street view, GIS and various online visualisers, and clips of Simon Reeve came to our aid and ensured we could continue to offer the best geography we could. Technology forced pedagogical change but the aims of our curriculum remained: to introduce our young people to the varied, diverse and challenging landscapes of the world.

Brendan Conway – Notre dame School

The GIF that keeps on giving [a higher quality GIF can be provided]

Geogifs provide a helpful resource in remote learning. Like Harry Potter’s animated portraits, their iterative functionality means they can be ‘GIFs that keep on giving’. Their message is more likely to be committed to memory. This example shows a stepped narrative (see number sequence) about the Hogsmill River, an urbanised tributary of the River Thames.

The physical geography of the area is explored during a teacher-led discussion using digital layers in ArcGIS Online. A key question arises: Why is the Hogsmill source so far from the southern watershed? The adding of the brown-green geology layer points to an explanation: To the north – London clays, to the south – chalk. Chalk is permeable, whereas clay is impermeable. The source is precisely where the geology would suggest, along the spring-line at the rock type boundary. The Hogsmill is a chalk stream fed by aquifers, which is why the source is so far from the watershed.

Hogsmill-River---Catchment-course-source-geology-MAP-STEPS--IND-TASK-GIF-Low-res.gif

The geogif acts as a visual summary to be used as a support for remote learning during the follow-up independent task. It can be modelled and scaffolded as appropriate; the answers for self-evaluation are in red.

Hopefully such resources can assist students on their pathway to powerful geographical knowledge.

Claire Harrington – Head of Department

What I’ve learnt from teaching the same lesson 14 times

Schools have tackled COVID-19 in many different ways and the changes for me are significant. Our school’s bubbling process allocated teachers to strict year groups. As a curriculum lead I was allocated to year 11. Consequently, I teach the same 1h 50 minute lesson 14 times in one week. This has informed the greatest changes to my practice since I trained 8 years ago.

I wanted to summarise some of my reflections over the last 3 weeks.

Firstly, my greatest challenge is how desperately I miss teaching KS3 and the flexibility space to take geography off piste. Every year my year 8 China unit adapts depending on the interest and personalities of students. I miss this freedom to explore different aspects of China from political power to its varied environments.

Secondly, I understand the power of practice and repetition. As the week evolves so does my teaching, the use of anecdotes, examples and analogies to illustrate theory. By the end of the week the showmanship of the lesson is greater and the engagement from the students fantastic. I now realise the importance of thinking through lessons and of making reflective comments for subsequent years.

Finally, other colleagues talk of content fatigue, being bored and uninspired by repetitive lessons. In contrast, I feel that each lesson become richer and the temptation to squeeze in more knowledge and clarity increases. I realise how lucky I am to teach geography because it is an evolving and dynamic subject in which I can never get bored!

JP Davies – Head of Geography, D’Overbroeck’s Oxford

As a geographer I am forever ‘looking out’: I wake and check the news, WhatsApp while listening to sounds of the world on 6 music. Cycling to school I observe ‘others’ (delivery drivers, cyclists, walking commuters, strangers or familiar faces) all gaining some sense of place as they, like me, interact with the world. At school I pull on a mask manufactured in South Wales by my step-mum using upcycled materials during the first lockdown. I have my temperature checked, spray some anti-bac on my hands and open classroom windows. I login to MS Teams and OneNote pages – the ‘new-normal’ of ‘blended learning’.  I am stretched by the technical challenges of my inexperience in this new world. Students check-in from far-flung locations or from the self-isolating world of nearby homes. Others are actually in the room, their laptops replacing paper whilst redundant textbooks look on from the shelves. We talk COVID-19 (of course) but also of weekends and driving tests whilst settling into some population studies. There is confusion in the surreal landscape, fear of the next lockdown and concerns about exams next summer. We are planning for local versions of NEA fieldwork, mocks by Christmas, trying to catch up lost year 12 time and studying the regular spec. Yet because I am a geographer ‘looking out’, I see a new way emerging with better supported, more connected thinking, time-saved in learning and greater awareness from my students. Its early days but we are in this together and its pretty exciting…

Phil Humphreys  – Wychwood School

COVID-19 gave us the flexibility to play around with the curriculum a little. Whilst keeping subject content we could tailor what we taught, for something a little more creative.

We decided to teach a COVID-19 related aspect to our curriculum (Maths taught the reliability of graphs for example) and focussed on the positive and hopeful Geography messages which could come out of the pandemic. We explored contexts of pollution, sense of community, food and farming, employment, and travel and transport. Pupils then analysed life before, during and after lockdown. All the pupils’ efforts were then compiled into three newspapers and published as a culmination of their work. The outcomes were very impressive (I am happy to forward to anyone who is interested!)

One student redesigned Oxford into a post COVID-19 centre incorporating improved communication, pedestrianisation, and space.

Finally we undertook a co-curricular project where each subject contributed a series of lessons based on their curriculum, and the theme of Oxford. In geography we explored the Cutteslowe Wall, and looked for current disparities based on historic divisions. Pupils then wrote monologues from different perspectives from any aspect of study which had captured their imagination. Our school Drama genius created a film of this work, starring the girls, and once more the result was deeply powerful.

We are fortunate to have the curricular freedom to do this. Every lesson was taught remotely during lockdown and very real geography was taught across the year groups at KS3, GCSE and A level.

Lucy Fryer

It is certainly true that I have found the months since March a challenge but I feel I’ve learnt a lot.

I have used the Edmodo platform for many years so my students were already used to accessing lesson resources online and handing in assignments. This continued smoothly through our time away from school, and continues or students self-isolating. Recently I have started making more use of the quiz functions (automatically marked) because I can’t check so much work in the classroom and this enables students to check their understanding. A short presentation by Matthew Williams on the virtual RGS Teachmeet was helpful.  I haven’t used Edmodo very much for geographical discussion recently so I have challenged myself this year to make more use of it.

What worked really well earlier in lockdown was picking up the theme of “view from my window” identified by various groups from BBC to Facebook to Grayson Perry. We set KS3 the task of taking a photo from a window at home, and explaining what geography they could see. Not only did students really enjoy this task as it looked at their personal geographies more directly, but I was also able to create a display of their images (widened to include staff & governor participation) in the school reception. Although pupils were not in the school building, we emphasised that they were still at school, but now spread over a much larger area! There have been many lovely comments since, from a wide range of visitors and staff about the theme and inclusivity of this display.

Joanne Meredith – teacher and coordinator of geography, Secondary School – European School of Alicante, Spain

We first became aware that we were heading towards “lockdown” when our Italian student didn’t return to school after February half-term, followed rapidly by partner schools in Munich and Brussels. On 12 March we were told that we would be working from home and teaching online from the following Monday. We had one day to gather resources and ensure our classes all knew how to log on to Microsoft TEAMS. Fortunately I had used it before with my classes, other colleagues had a much steeper learning curve. We had to be prepared to teach like this for 14 days but never returned to teaching in-situ for the remainder 2019-20.

Spain entered a state of Alarm on Sunday 15th March and obliged its people to one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. We were not allowed out of our homes; the police circulated the streets handing out harsh fines for infringement of the strict rules. It was hard on adults, not being allowed out to even do exercise, but at least they could go to the supermarket every few days but for children it was tough not being allowed out to play or meet friends for three months.

We had to follow the timetable and our online presence was important. Initially it was difficult to get the balance right with the amount of work we could expect students to complete. The targets we expected from ‘in-situ’ teaching were impractical, so content was reduced to the essential with more project and extended assignments. Some older students preferred to have work set and plan their own time. Younger ones were motivated with live lessons. I used the chat function on TEAMS to speak to my students informally and individual video chats to try to keep things as “Normal” as possible. I had at least one live lesson with older classes each week to give new content and answer questions. Parents meetings were also done via video link.

Microsoft Teams enabled us to communicate professionally and informally with colleagues from the same school but also across our 14 European schools. Much time was spent chatting, video conferencing and sharing resources with the other ES Geographers though our ES Geographers TEAM. We also held online CPD during this time too. I was very grateful for the support network of geographers across the ES system.

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