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Following the success and very positive feedback from previous multi-schools events (https://create2inspire.co.uk/2020/10/15/lets-go-on-a-scintillating-south-american-adventure/ and https://create2inspire.co.uk/2020/12/03/off-to-south-america-once-again-virtually-of-course/), we decided to offer another virtual ‘amazing Amazon adventure’ to Lower and Upper Key Stage 2 teachers and their pupils. This time, more than 250 children and staff from five schools across the UK were involved (The John Moore Primary School in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire; Clifton High School, Bristol; Maple Walk Prep School, Harlesden, London; Blue Bell Hill Primary School, Nottingham and St. Matthew’s C of E Primary School, Birmingham).
The day took a similar format to before, with the content tweaked very slightly due to our previous experiences.
I began by sharing the learning objectives with participants, many of which linked very closely to the National Curriculum Key Stage 2 programme of study for geography and encouraged the development of critical thinking skills, as well as the format of the day:
- To locate the world’s countries, using maps to focus on South America, concentrating on its environmental regions, key physical and human characteristics, countries and major cities.
- To understand geographical similarities and differences through the study of human and physical geography of a region in South America.
- To describe and understand key aspects of physical geography, e.g. climate zones, biomes and vegetation belts.
- To describe and understand key aspects of human geography, e.g. types of settlement and land use, economic activity including trade links and the distribution of natural resources, such as energy, food, minerals and water.
- To use maps, atlases, globes and digital/computer mapping to locate countries and describe features studied.
- To understand how our modern lifestyles are impacting upon the Amazon rainforest.
- To create a piece/s of artwork using natural artefacts.
- To connect with a Brazilian school and share your thoughts and feelings about the Amazon rainforest, as well as pieces of artwork.
- To formulate and express your opinions/thoughts clearly and concisely.
- To encourage high quality independent, pair and group work.
- To evaluate your work/performance.
Each school was given a name based on groups with an interest in the Amazon region, e.g. loggers; miners; conservationists; indigenous people; researchers.
In order to ‘set the scene’, I accessed Google Earth and took pupils and teachers on a virtual trip from Bristol in south west England to Manaus in Amazonas. I emphasised the cities, regions, countries and continents being explored at the same time too; many children seem to find it very difficult to grasp the difference between a country and a continent! I quizzed pupils about how far they thought we had travelled and how long it might take to get there. This also provoked discussion about the means of transport that might be used and costs involved. I then showed the following movie clip so that the children gained an insight into ‘what it is like’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYAZ3NWVgtc.
The morning session, led by myself, had a geography focus, but attempted to integrate literacy and critical thinking too.
Firstly, we looked at the distribution of tropical rainforests. Within their classrooms, pupils either worked in pairs or independently (whichever their teacher deemed most appropriate given the current situation and their setting). They were asked to access Google Earth, use an online atlas, such as Digimap for Schools, or a globe to discover the answer to the question: ‘On which continents and in which countries are tropical rainforests found?’. Pupils were expected to write their answers around the outside of the map that they had been given. Next, they were prompted to ‘zoom in’ on South America, Brazil and the Amazon basin to gain a ‘bird’s eye view’ of an extensive area of tropical rainforest. Afterwards, I called upon different schools to provide answers to the above question and, again, reinforced the difference between countries and continents.
Working once more either in pairs or independently, pupils were given a climate graph and data for Manaus, a city located on the River Amazon in the state of Amazonas in northern Brazil. They were requested to use these sources to help them identify or calculate answers to a number of questions on the sheet that they had been given. After pupils had attempted all of the questions, which included identifying months with the highest and lowest temperature and precipitation and calculating the range in temperature and annual precipitation, we reconvened to share our findings.
The third activity concentrated on the tropical rainforest biome. The children were given a short piece of text to read carefully and expected to select a word from the table to fill the gaps. I later revealed the answers on the screen and then asked pupils, ‘What have you learnt about the tropical rainforest biome?’. Not only were they able to recall many details, but also use topical vocabulary accurately and confidently.
Before we embarked upon the fourth activity, I provided a little background information as to why the tropical rainforests are so important and, since we are living in the throes of a global pandemic, shared a few facts and statistics about its status as a ‘pharmaceutical wonderland’.
Tropical rainforests are both a local and global resource. They are coming under increasing pressure as countries see the exploitation of rainforest resources as a way of earning money in order to improve living conditions in some of the poorest parts of the world. Consequently, there is often conflict between developers and those who feel that the rainforest should be conserved for future generations.
Activity 4 explored deforestation within the tropical rainforest. I showed a couple of short movie clips (https://www.wwf.org.uk/where-we-work/places/amazon and https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/videos/amazon-story-how-will-it-end), before displaying an image on the screen and using the 5Ws + how? approach to convey some fundamental points. The main threat to tropical rainforests is, in fact, illegal activity. It is estimated that 50% of deforestation in tropical rainforests is due to illegal activities, such as logging, mining and agriculture. These activities create few opportunities for the local people and bring no benefit to the government, thus adding very little to the overall well-being of the population. Illegal deforestation causes huge amounts of environmental destruction too since it is unregulated and ignores any environmental laws that exist. These people destroy large areas of the forest to obtain the most valuable trees and their mining activities pollute the land and rivers. Deforestation has increased significantly in the last couple of years. If illegal activities could be controlled, then the threat of deforestation would be reduced and tropical rainforests could be managed more effectively. I projected some statistics to highlight how drastically things have changed and the gloomy predictions for the future; half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed within the past 100 years and, at current rates, will disappear completely within the next 100 years. We discussed action that is being taken, but also appreciated that much more needs to be done.
After a short break, pupils and teachers returned to the classroom for our final activity centring on a ‘thunk’ about the Amazon rainforest. Working in pairs or independently, pupils viewed three images of the tropical rainforest and selected a suitable caption to go alongside each one. Next, they were asked to consider the following options and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Option 1: Let the indigenous people live and manage the land as they have for thousands of years.
Option 2: Clear the land for cattle ranching.
Lively discussions ensued in each classroom, which was lovely to witness.
In order to inject some positivity and provide inspiration for the second half of Activity 5, I outlined some ways in which the tropical rainforest might be protected, e.g. selective logging; replanting trees (reforestation/afforestation); introducing environmental laws to make logging illegal (this can be hard to police, however); setting up national parks and nature reserves; encouraging ecotourism; persuading people to stop buying tropical hardwood; helping poorer countries develop, so they do not have to use rainforest resources unsustainably. Next, the children were asked to think deeply, philosophically and for themselves about the following ‘thunk’: What would your ‘dream’ Amazon be like?. I emphasised that they could not be wrong, or right. It was suggested that they jotted down a few key words and tried to expand each of these until they had a series of bullet points or paragraph of writing. They were then asked to share their bullet points or paragraph of writing with one or more of their peers and ponder whether their ‘dreams’ for the Amazon were very similar or different. During the subsequent discussion, I invited one or two pupils from different schools to reveal what their ‘dream’ Amazon would be like. I sincerely hope some of these become reality for the future of the Amazon.
After lunch, we came together again virtually for the afternoon session, led by Adriana Meirelles, a Brazilian film producer with first-hand experience of the Amazon, to learn about the indigenous people’s culture and lifestyle through the medium of art and design and technology. Adriana encouraged the children to imagine that they were in Manaus. Using a series of photographs, she took them into the heart of the Amazon to visit a smaller town and some indigenous communities. Adriana explained that the rivers are seen as roads and she projected images of river boats with hammocks and many people. She talked about some of the issues people in the Amazon face and asked the children to consider how this might relate to them. Next, a film about riverside villages and indigenous people was screened. Adriana explained that people live in the forest and work with nature, protecting it and living in harmony. They have a simple life, living in communities and maintaining strong traditions. They live extensive distances from each other. Such traditions encourage them to meet up, have fun and help each other. Adriana discussed the indigenous people’s philosophy in order to ensure the sustainability of the tropical rainforest; living within its limits; relating to it in an ‘affectionate’ way; ‘dreaming’ about the forest; belief about ‘forest spirits’.
Marcella Haddad, a professional photographer and close Brazilian friend of Adriana, had spent a day with the indigenous people in Adriana’s film and has helped her establish contact with the Kambeba community. Adriana recently showed them the short promotional film relating to our multi-school events; the children all gathered round to watch it as it was projected onto a television screen within the grounds of their community. The only way Adriana managed to achieve this was by using Whats App; they connected a mobile phone to the television and she turned her mobile phone to her screen. They do not have a computer and the internet only works when it does not rain! However, Adriana said it was lovely to make contact. Taratukupi is now ten years old and as charming as she was in the original film. The monkey, Nico, is still around … in fact, they now have two monkeys! At the end, they sung Adriana a song … a thank you for the financial contribution that she sent when D. Teka (the older, very wise and highly respected woman in the film) was in hospital with Covid-19. Adriana intends to send 5% of the proceeds from each multi-schools event to the community in order to help them build a centre for D. Teka to treat her patients. Most of their income was suspended due to Covid-19, but she thinks slowly, with these small contributions, they will manage to keep going.
Adriana also held up some items that she had collected on a previous trip to the Amazon rainforest and demonstrated how she had used these to create her own ‘forest spirit’ and allow its character to be unveiled using her fantastic animation skills. It was then time for pupils to be creative! She invited the children to create their own ‘forest spirit’ using natural artefacts (an English forest spirit, who would become friends with a Brazilian forest spirit). Teachers were requested to take photographs of pupils’ artwork, so that they could be shared with Brazilian teachers and pupils. In two weeks’ time, Adriana will be teaching some art and animation to the children in Kambeba and she will share this with us all afterwards. Subsequently, Adriana led a whole group discussion, challenging pupils to think about what the children in Brazil have taught them, e.g. living in a simpler way; helping communities; exploring their own traditions to keep them alive, as well as having fun at the same time, and envisaging what they might now do to support those in Brazil. This generated some deep and thoughtful answers from the youngsters.
Fifteen minutes before we were due to finish, we gathered for a period of reflection and shared our learning and experiences. Both pupils and teachers were asked to sum up the day in five words or a sentence or two. Some of their ‘concluding comments’ can be viewed below:
‘… The children thoroughly enjoyed the day. Thanks so much. They really learnt a lot.’
‘Amazing; informative; fun; enjoyable; interesting; engaging; thought-provoking.’
‘We liked learning how to save the Amazon for the future. It was an amazing, Amazon adventure!’
‘Thank you so much for a fantastic day! We had a brilliant time.’
Next, I posed a number of questions to pupils, namely:
- What do you think the Amazon will be like in 2050?;
- What now needs to be done in order to secure a positive future for the Amazon?
- Is there anything that you could personally do?
The children responded willingly with some very profound answers, demonstrating that they had acquired much knowledge, in-depth understanding and new skills during our virtual adventure.
A review of the learning outcomes received plenty of thumbs up from both pupils and teachers in the five schools that had taken part. Another thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding, if not rather exhausting day!