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Our last virtual ‘amazing Amazon adventure’ for this academic year was slightly different to previous events; this time, it was delivered as a bespoke workshop to both Lower and Upper Key Stage 2 teachers and pupils at just one school, Coxhoe Primary School in County Durham.
The day took a similar format to before, with the content tweaked a little to cater for our younger than usual audience.
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.
Each class was given a name based on groups with an interest in the Amazon region, e.g. loggers; miners; conservationists; researchers.
In order to ‘set the scene’, I accessed Google Earth Pro 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 a degree of 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 Pro, use an online atlas, such as Digimap for Schools, a hard copy of an atlas 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 classes 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. Even one of the teachers admitted that he had learnt some new words too!
After a short break, pupils and teachers returned to the classroom for two further activities. Before we embarked upon our 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’.
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.
Our final activity of the morning centred 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.
Subsequently, 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 three pupils from each class to reveal what their ‘dream’ Amazon would be like. I sincerely hope some of these become the 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. Firstly, Adriana talked about her origins (Sao Paulo), emphasised the extent of Brazil by comparing it with the area of the UK and highlighted how diverse the country is. The children were then asked to imagine that they were in Manaus. Using a series of photographs, she took them into the heart of the Amazon. 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 indigenous community. Adriana shared footage and information that she has gained from her regular conversations with members of the community.
Adriana referenced 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 produce 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. 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 within their community; 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:
‘An eye opening and factual experience that has taught me a lot about rainforests.’
‘An interesting day learning about the Amazon and the impact on the rainforest from around the world.’
‘An eye opening experience showing the impact of humans on our planet and environment.’
‘Animals and humans should be respected alike.’
‘The Amazon rainforest is special.’
‘We should protect the Amazon rainforest.’
‘I’ve learnt about the village’s culture.’
‘I learnt what deforestation means.’
‘I have learnt that the people in the Amazon sleep in hammocks and jump into rivers from the trees.’
‘I have enjoyed learning how people in the rainforests live.’
‘Full of facts, colour and inspiration. We’ve explored the advantages of the Amazon rainforest. Deep in the heart of the forest, I have learnt lots and had a good experience.’
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.
‘There will only be a few trees left. It will turn into savannah if we don’t start to look after it.’
‘I do not want the rainforests to be destroyed.’
‘Stop deforestation or plant more trees.’
A review of the learning outcomes received plenty of thumbs up from both the pupils and teachers that had taken part. Another thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding, if not rather exhausting day!