‘Let’s go on an awesome, Arctic adventure!’ (yet again)

Longney C of E Primary Academy, Gloucestershire


I was really looking forward to visiting Longney C of E Primary Academy again on Friday 29th September 2017.  Over the years, I have had much contact with staff and pupils at the school, whether it be supporting their former Geography Subject Leader with curriculum development, fieldwork/’taking learning outside the classroom’, Frederick Soddy Trust Award and Primary Geography Quality Mark (PGQM) applications or filming opportunities with Twig World in conjunction with the launch of Tigtag Geography.  Like myself, their Head Teacher has presented at several global learning conferences due to the school being heavily involved in the Comenius Programme and having strong overseas links.  Although the staffing had changed since my last visit (several young teachers were ready to move ‘up the ladder’), the warm and friendly atmosphere still remains. Not only is the original school building in superb condition, but the setting is also idyllic too.

After attending a CPD event organised for local Geography/Humanities Subject Leaders and KS2 Curriculum Coordinators last June where previous Arctic-themed workshops were showcased, a request was made by Liz Price for a similar day at Longney C of E Primary Academy for their 60 or so KS2 pupils.  Since this tied in well with the whole school’s topic for Terms 1 and 2, it seemed ideal for this to be sooner, rather than later in the Autumn term.  I managed to persuade Sarah Shaw to venture back to Gloucestershire to deliver one of our infamous workshops (she has recently moved to Hampshire to be closer to family, but loves to come back to her home county from time to time to visit friends and schools with whom she has had close dealings with during her years as a teacher and freelance consultant).

As usual, we began with a formal introduction and starter together in the school hall.  Children worked in small groups and were challenged to piece together a jigsaw puzzle to discover where we might be heading for the remainder of the day.  I had hoped to take pupils on a virtual journey to the Arctic using Google Earth, but, unfortunately, this was slow to download and run on the laptop in the school hall , so I had to resort to my inflatable globes (their Geography Subject Leader had tested this tool in advance as requested, but in a neighbouring classroom).  I invited youngsters to come up to the front and explore the globes with me, questioning them about the direction that we would have to travel in order to reach the Arctic, the distance involved and how long it might take.  We considered its location in relation to other countries too.  Not only did I identify key physical and human features, but also introduced topical vocabulary and several issues, themes and concepts in the process.  After sharing the learning objectives and format of the day with staff and pupils, the youngsters were placed into mixed age- and -gender groups, each named after a country found within the Arctic Circle.

Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland joined me in a neighbouring classroom to develop their place and locational knowledge through a series of hands-on activities, whilst Greenland, USA, Canada and Russia remained in the school hall with Sarah for a spot of dance and drama.  After a short break, the groups swapped over so that they all enjoyed the same cross-curricular experiences.

The session that I led aimed to provide answers to two, important questions:

  • What are the challenges facing the Arctic today?
  • What will the Arctic look like in the future?

We undertook three or four different activities: a card sort to produce a Venn diagram of ‘true’, ‘false’ and ‘unsure’ facts; a matching exercise of images with their appropriate captions; the generation of an Arctic word cloud and, if time allowed, a ‘spot the difference’ challenge.  Pupils were able to recall several points raised in our starter discussion, which helped them with the first sorting activity.  When pupils were asked if there was anything that surprised them, they mentioned the sheer size of a polar bear and that around 4 million (10% of which are indigenous peoples, such as the Sami and Inuits), live within the Arctic Circle.  The matching exercise introduced further new vocabulary, e.g. tundra, permafrost, mires.  Several children also stated that their perceptions of the Arctic had somewhat changed after viewing the images: it was greener than they had expected; a variety of wildlife could be seen in the area; people lived in real houses, not just igloos!  We had some powerful adjectives to describe the Arctic as well, e.g. spectacular, breath-taking, exquisite, aqua-coloured, stunning.  I hope that their word clouds can be used as a stimulus for future literacy work.  The children managed to identify the key differences between the two satellite images (taken of the same place, at the same time of year, but 32 years apart) and became quite adept at using locational and positional language in order to describe their observations.  This also provoked some lively discussion about the impact of climate change upon the region.  It was interesting to be able to observe and engage with the different ‘country groups’ during these four activities and witness the team-building and decision-making skills that were being developed.

Meanwhile, Sarah expertly transported students to the Arctic, where they became explorers, setting off over snowfields and across great glaciers.  On the way, they met wildlife on land and in the sea and came to appreciate how their habitats are under threat due to climate change.

The short, plenary session in the school hall together before lunch provided an opportunity for pupils to reflect upon their learning and experiences. The ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’ approach was used to review the learning outcomes. The majority of pupils displayed the ‘thumbs up’ sign as each learning outcome was read aloud.  They all said that they knew more about the Arctic now than they did at the start of the school day and had something to share with parents/carers or siblings when they returned home.  I also encouraged a degree of contemplation by posing the following questions to youngsters:

  • What do you think the Arctic will be like in 2050?;
  • What now needs to be done in order to secure a positive future of the Arctic?;
  • Is there anything that you could personally do?

Their responses were quite profound, with higher-order thinking being applied.  We concluded that the future appeared rather bleak for the Arctic unless we act now and that everybody can have a part to play in preserving our wonderful planet.  After a very eventful and intensive morning, the children had certainly earned their lunch and play-time!

A ‘working lunch’ was designated for staff, in order to provide them with further information, web-links and resources.  They too were prompted to reflect upon the day, identifying what had gone well (WWW) and what could be improved (EBI) so that the event could be perfected for next time. In addition, each teacher completed an annotated footprint/s to illustrate their ‘next steps’ from here. A few of their attempts can be viewed below:

After lunch, Gill Johnson from Wicked Weather Watch (WWW) had arranged for Digby Rawlins to pay a visit to the school and share his first-hand experiences of the Arctic following his recent expedition to Greenland with Northabout.  He was also able to discuss the issue of climate change in more detail.  The children had numerous, and some often quite taxing, questions to ask Digby, which he answered willingly and confidently.  Even I learnt a few more facts about the Arctic as well!

Pupil, parent/carer and staff voice after the workshop was hugely positive:

‘High levels of engagement and enjoyment.  A great starting point for future discovery.  Thank you.’ (Year 5/6 class teacher)

‘Good to have a whole day working/thinking about it all.  Good mix of thinking and moving (some of my class really need to move!).’ (Year 3/4 class teacher)

‘The children were really engaged in the presentation lead by Digby.  They found it fascinating and want to continue finding out about the Arctic.’ (Year 1/2 class teacher)

‘I have ordered a large map to be placed outside to continue the Reception children’s interest in the world.  All the children enjoyed watching the presentation and finding out about the journey to the Arctic.’ (Reception class teacher)

‘ … thank you for leading the Arctic Day.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the whole experience.  I am sorry I wasn’t able to be there.’ (Head Teacher)

A selection from Goldfinch class:

‘We were amazed how tall a polar bear is.’

‘We loved the video and watching the journey of the boat.’

‘We liked hearing ideas of how we can help with global warming.’

‘Working in mixed groups was good.’

‘The man answered lots of questions.’

Well done to all involved, and many thanks to Liz Price for organising things so efficiently at Longney!

Note: Many of the resources used were extracted from Wicked Weather Watch’s KS2 scheme of work and are FREE to download via their website (https://wickedweatherwatch.org.uk/teaching-resources/).

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