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‘Geography, geography and more geography!’ (Department of Education, University of the West of England, Bristol)

The above was the theme for the Department of Education’s annual geography conference, this year held on Wednesday 14th June 2017 at UWE’s Frenchay Campus.  Mark Jones, PGCE Geography Tutor and UWE Teaching and Learning Fellow, once again invited me to attend for ‘free’ if I was prepared to contribute to the ‘market place sessions’ that he had planned for the afternoon (what a bribe!).  I agreed to this and said that I would take delegates off on an awesome, Arctic adventure, showcasing a recent Global Learning Programme (GLP) KS2-KS3 transition project that I had steered and sharing a number of new resources/web-links related to the Arctic region and climate change.

Following a formal welcome by Mark Jones and Garry Atterton, the Geographical Association Bristol Branch President, it was over to Mary Biddulph, the current Geographical Association President, for the keynote address, entitled ‘Inclusive geographies’.  Mary was actually one of my tutors when I completed by PGCE at the University of Nottingham many moons ago!  It was lovely to see Mary again and chat with her over break and lunch later on too.  Mary spoke confidently and provided much food for thought.  She began by stating that students should be given the opportunity to formulate and share their perceptions of place; this is often shaped by their own experiences, which may be very different to ours.  Mary highlighted the dynamic world in which we live (our world is very different now to simply a year ago) and reinforced that geography has a role to play in explaining this to students.  There is a need to address ‘diversity’.  We should also refrain from labelling students time and time again to avoid them believing they are ‘a nothing’. Some youngsters really struggle to determine who and what they are and this is something that geography can help to tackle.  It is important that we, as geography educators, ‘bring the world into the classroom’; we cannot always take learning outside its four walls.  In addition, Mary emphasised that ‘expertise’ really matters and days like this, when geographers come together, are wonderful.  She shared with us several ‘must reads’ and ended with one of her favourite clips; a lad called Anton, from London, talking about geography.

Next, it was time to update our subject knowledge further.  Harry West and Michael Horswell, both based at UWE, discussed GIS.  They introduced many of us to the amazing Mentimeter tool for the first time (https://www.mentimeter.com), in order to gain some insight into our opinions about, and experiences of using, GIS.  Harry and Michael then focused on the ArcGIS online platform and covered basic data visualisation, spatial analysis and the use of ‘story maps’ to present findings. I found this session to be hugely enlightening and inspiring.  I intend to trial Mentimeter as a means of collating feedback at a forthcoming CPD workshop for teachers that I am delivering.  Now that I am aware of the ESRI schools programme being FREE for secondary schools, I will share this with colleagues at The Crypt School at a geography planning day next week and discuss how it might be used to support fieldwork activities at Key Stages 4 and 5.  It may even be that Harry West can come and work alongside teachers and students on such days.

Delegates were then split into two groups, with one attending a lecture on ‘urban geography’ given by Dr Andrew Tallon, Senior Lecturer in Urban Policy and Programme Leader for BA Geography at UWE, and the other listening to Joan Foley, a Senior Lecturer in Education and PGCE English Tutor at UWE, who spoke passionately about ‘place in literature’.  Both were incredibly knowledgeable and had the audience engaged throughout.  I have done much to promote literacy in geography over time, but it was great to pick up several new ideas from Joan, which will certainly feature in my future lessons with Key Stage 3 and 4 students at The Crypt School.  Andrew ‘zoomed in’ on the city of Bristol, identifying its key contemporary issues and outlining its many urban regeneration projects, past and present.  It was interesting to learn about Bristol’s ‘cargo zone’, a venture involving the conversion of cargo containers into food and drink outlets and so forth, that is now being replicated elsewhere.  It seems that Bristol is no longer a ‘copier’, but an ‘innovator’ of urban regeneration.  Andrew also suggested trying to portray a place through photographs and video clips; this would make a great fieldwork project around the Gloucester Quays with Key Stage 3 students at The Crypt School next academic year.

With rumbling tummies, we were keen to head towards the street cafe for lunch.  As usual, the catering team had done a fine job of preparing and presenting a delicious and varied cold buffet.  There was a real ‘buzz’ about the place too; individuals took the opportunity to catch up with some familiar faces, as well as introduce themselves to others. Geographers tend to be hugely multi-skilled; most are extremely sociable and have very enquiring minds, always keen to discover more!

The afternoon was referenced as ‘subject-specific CPD opportunities – consuming and contributing’ and slightly less formal.  It was divided into four sessions, namely:

1. ‘Future CPD for geographers’, which touched upon face-to-face and virtual networks, as well as communities of practice and the role of subject associations (Geographical Association and the Royal Geographical Society).

2. A ‘market place’, where delegates could trade ideas and contribute to discussions.

3. A ‘Teach Meet’, with contributions given by experienced teachers, NQTs and PCGE students.

4. ‘Final comments and ways forward’.

Since I had been given responsibility for the delivery of two market place sessions, I was only able to ‘dip into’ some parts of the afternoon.  However, it was great to witness such enthusiasm for the subject and have the chance to do a spot of networking.  There will definitely be a few individuals whom I will be e-mailing shortly, some approaches that I will put into practice once back in the classroom, e.g. Frankenstein exam questions, T marking, exit tickets, listening triads and web-links/resources that I endeavour to explore further, e.g. Oxfam: Mapping our world (http://www.oxfamblogs.org/education/mapping_our_world/mapping_our_world/l/home/index.htm).

My ‘market place’ contribution showcased a Global Learning Programme (GLP) KS2 to KS3 transition project that I had recently steered between four Gloucestershire schools (one secondary and three primaries) (see for further details: http://espley.creativeblogs.net/2017/03/03/global-learning-programme-glp-ks2-ks3-transition-project-cirencester-deer-park-school-cdps-gloucestershire/) and shared a number of new resources/web-links related to the Arctic region and climate change, e.g. Wicked Weather Watch (https://wickedweatherwatch.org.uk/) and Charles Rawding et al.’s efforts (https://www.wilabonn.de/en/projects/723-expedition-greenland-sustainability.html).  I took along some fliers about the Arctic Alive project (http://www.canadaukfoundation.org/arctic-alive/) that had been sent to me by the Canada-UK Foundation (http://www.canadaukfoundation.org/), along with a few complimentary copies of The Week Junior (http://offers.theweekjunior.co.uk/), a fantastic, topical resource for use with both KS2 and KS3 students.  Some participants had come across Arctic Alive and The Week Junior before, but all picked up some new resources/web-links and ideas for teaching about the Arctic, the tundra biome, cold environments, climate change, etc.

Time to get delegates working!

A quick starter activity … identifying links to the Arctic at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5.

Sharing teaching and learning experiences.

Many thanks for inviting me along today, Mark and Garry.  Excellent organisational skills ensured that this was a worthwhile, insightful and well-attended event.  I look forward to seeing you all again in 2018!

 

 

The Education Show, Birmingham (16th to 18th March 2017)

Despite it being the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, a Friday and endless roadworks on the M5 with speed restrictions in place, my journeys to and from the NEC were bearable.

It was not Young Voices calling this time around, but The Education Show (http://www.education-show.com/)!  I try to visit annually or bi-annually to keep abreast with developments within the realm of education, attend keynote speakers sessions and meet individuals whom I have had contact with via e-mail, tweets, etc. (it is always lovely to be able to put a name to a face).

The NEC was heaving this year as there were three shows in the neighbouring atrium to The Education Show, plus the Big Bag event that numerous schools appeared to be attending judging by the amount of minibuses and coaches in the car park!  It threw me somewhat having to park and exit from the north side … usually I approach from the east side.  The shuttle buses were very frequent and soon took us to the exhibition halls, however.

Once inside, there was a real buzz.  It can be quite bewildering at first as the stands seem to go on forever.  Nevertheless, once you have viewed the floor plan and identified the zones that are most applicable to you, it does become more manageable.  I negotiated a good half of the exhibition before stopping for a well earned coffee break.  Not only did I seize some great offers on educational supplies (stocking up for private tutoring), but also spoke with several people manning stands that I felt might be relevant to my freelance consultancy and authoring work, e.g. British Council, Artsmark, Ministry of Defence schools, Jack Cherry.  It was also good to catch up with representatives from organisations that I have recently provided services for, e.g. Ed-Coms, Canada-UK Foundation.

What did strike me is how much emphasis is placed on maths/numeracy, English/literacy, SEND, online safety/technology and outdoor spaces.  Foundation subjects seemed somewhat marginalised … I think I only saw one stand linked to history!  Perhaps, a target for 2018 should be to have a greater range of exhibitors displaying their products/services?  Often, with so many budget cuts, it is foundation subject leaders that fail to gain the support that they require.  In my opinion, and this was also reinforced at a primary geography conference I attended a fortnight ago, achieving mastery in maths and English is far more effective when it has a clear purpose, e.g. links to a real-life situation/context that children are able to easily relate to.  There is still room for foundation subjects … after all, we should be aiming to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools.

Now, back at home, I must pursue leads that I have made and sift through the various leaflets/brochures that I have been given.

Be brave … it is worth the trip if you have yet to experience a show!