Well, there was certainly a real buzz in the air at the Geographical Association’s Annual Conference, this year held in its home city of Sheffield and celebrating its 125th anniversary. The early start and late finish, plus delayed train travel, was worth it to interact with like-minded people, feel inspired and revitalised about teaching geography and gain many new ideas to share with others locally. Add in a few freebies too and you have one very happy geographer!
After perusing the conference handbook, I decided to head up to Level 10 for a workshop being led by Dr Susan Pike , a Lecturer in Geography Education at DCU Institute of Education in Ireland. The focus was ‘Primary geography in the school grounds: place, decisions and butterflies’, which sounded somewhat intriguing. Using an example of a butterfly, this workshop demonstrated how familiar places in the school grounds could be used as a basis for examining the big ideas of place, location and decision-making in both geography and environmental education. It was very practical in nature too, including some time outside to explore the immediate vicinity. I will certainly share this enquiry-based activity with primary Humanities/Geography Subject Leaders at our next network meeting in April. With The Butterfly Garden (http://www.thebutterflygarden.org/) close to hand for many Gloucestershire schools to visit, this would make an ideal task for the period post SATs. Susan also mentioned Ireland’s Eco Detectives initiative (http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/primary-students/5th-+-6th-class/5th-+-6th-class-environme/climate-change/teachers-notes-eco-detect/) and Margaret Roberts’ framework for enquiry, which I would like to delve into further once home.
Following a much needed hot chocolate and mooch around the exhibition, I decided to pop along to Workshop 9, entitled ‘Should India go to Mars? Re-defining curriculum through student-led enquiry’. Although Harriet Lowes had only been in the profession a few years, she was full of vitality and provided much food for thought. Once again, Margaret Robert’s enquiry model was referenced as it was seen to provide a fantastic foundation for enquiry curriculum development. Harriet shared her Rex Walford Award-winning scheme of enquiry, centred upon India’s development and its controversial space programme. Delegates were encouraged to participate in both small and whole group discussions at various stages, enabling teachers to bounce ideas off each other. I will certainly consider using the BBC’s home page and local newspaper’s website more often to select an image and headline as a theme and stimulus for enquiry-based learning within the classroom. Her plenary slide prompted ‘quality’ reflection and I will endeavour to incorporate this into a forthcoming CPD session scheduled for later this month.
Lunch called in the light and airy basement of the Owen Building and was a great opportunity to chat with other attendees too. I met a lovely lady, who after having taught for a spell in England, was now based at an independent school in Aberdeen, provided further insight into the Scottish school system. As I had some time before the next session commenced, I was able to venture back to the Exhibition Hall and visit a few more stands. I think I may have finally been persuaded to apply to become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and even consider submitting an application form and evidence for Chartered Geographer (CGeog) status. One to do over the summer holidays, perhaps?
Since I would like to advertise a Viking-themed, cross-curricular workshop for Key Stage 2 pupils from September 2018, I next opted for Workshop 15, which was co-delivered by Alf Wilkinson, an avid historian, and Ben Ballin, a GA Consultant with whom I have come into contact on several occasions previously. The Vikings were great explorers, traders and raiders. Alf encouraged us to consider what made them so adventurous, where they went and what legacy they have left. Supported by Ben’s geographical background, they highlighted how history and geography could come together to enhance pupils’ understanding of their world, past and present. Alf and Ben showcased a number of practical classroom activities that could be used to bring Scandinavia and the Viking world to life. Towards the end of the session, I also pointed delegates towards Wicked Weather Watch’s website (https://wickedweatherwatch.org.uk/) should they wish to explore contemporary issues affecting the Arctic region, including Greenland, in more depth. Not only is there a scheme of work and accompanying resources that teachers could easily adopt/adapt/develop for use with their Key Stage 2 pupils, but there may also be an opportunity for a real-life explorer to pay a visit to their school.
As I have recently been asked to provide some consultancy support to a primary school in Nottingham, I headed along the corridor for my final workshop of the day, run by Jon Cannell, Primary Curriculum Leader at the Geographical Association. Jon had selected a number of high quality teaching ideas and activities from 2017 Primary Geography Quality Mark (PGQM) applications to inspire us. My favourite was the ‘silent debate’ approach, which Jon actually challenged us to do during the session, and one which I will aim to integrate into a future CPD event that I offer to Gloucestershire teachers.
There is only so much that you can absorb in one day, so after a final wander around the exhibition, I made my way back to the railway station for my journey home. Armed with plenty of material to read and web-links to view, I was certainly not bored on my return to Gloucester. In fact, I now need a couple of days ‘in the office’ to update my ‘favourites’, investigate topics further, send corresponding e-mails, etc.
Great CPD and feeling passionate about geography once again! Many thanks to all at the GA – lots of work goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the three-day conference goes smoothly and has something to appeal to everyone.