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Our first multi-schools event of this academic year was very aptly scheduled; just as the Amazon and deforestation were being discussed by world leaders at COP-26! On board for this ‘amazing Amazon adventure’ were more than 200 teachers and Key Stage 2 pupils from three schools in different areas of the UK, namely St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Bromley, Kent (https://www.st-josephs.bromley.sch.uk/); St.Mary’s C of E School in Truro, Cornwall (https://www.st-marys-truro.cornwall.sch.uk/web) and Chandlers Ridge Academy in Middlesbrough, Teesside (https://chandlersridge.org.uk/). Andrew Hadley, Director at the Centre for International Learning and Leadership (https://cill-uk.com/), also joined us at various stages during the day to discover more about what the children (and their teachers) were learning and experiencing. I accessed Digimap for Schools (https://digimapforschools.edina.ac.uk/) and projected a map of the UK on the big screen to locate us all too; you cannot let an opportunity to enhance locational knowledge go by!
The day took a similar format to before, with the content tweaked slightly to incorporate some recent material provided by the Kambebas children for our collaborative project with The House of Fairy Tales/The Great Imagining at Tate Modern (http://houseoffairytales.org/) and following discussions about the Amazon and deforestation by world leaders at COP26.
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; farmers/agriculturalists; tourists.
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 part of the following movie clip so that the children gained a real insight into ‘what it is like’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JvJCvdqvYs.
The morning session, led by myself, had a geography focus, but attempted to integrate literacy, numeracy 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.
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 still 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. Afterwards, to prevent any eco-anxiety, I projected a list of possible actions that might be taken to protect the rainforest and played a movie clip, fresh from the BBC’s website this week in fact, which highlighted various viewpoints regarding deforestation (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59088498).
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 there was no right or wrong answer here. 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 and animator 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 some incredible 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:
- ‘Creative young people like you will make the future bright, for the Amazon and the UK!’
- ‘An amazing, once-in-a-lifetime learning experience that will stay with the children. We have absolutely loved today!’
- ‘There were so many good things about the day – it was a great way to identify links in the children’s learning for one. Every single child in my class was engaged and has been inspired – for this I am ever grateful!’
- ‘Realisation that we can make a difference – a wonderful learning experience that means something for all our futures. We have really enjoyed today!’
- ‘Thanks so much for a fantastic day yesterday. Staff and children had the most wonderful time learning with you.’
- ‘Year 6 completed their ‘Dream Amazon’ writing today, along with some beautiful illustrations! I will be sure to photograph some on Monday to share with you. One of the girls in the class came to me on Thursday to say “I really loved our geography day yesterday”. Thank you so much for inspiring them! 🌍. We will certainly look forward to participating in more events like this in the future.’
- ‘I have enjoyed working with my class on such important issues to do with our wonderful planet. We have been learning about rivers, so studying the Amazon, the rainforest and its people have been so interesting. I particularly loved watching the video of the Kambeba community, because I saw how differently they live, but also how much about us is the same! The children love to learn, play and care for animals, just like Year 6 do. Thank you for a lovely day!’
- ‘Our key words and learning from today: understorey, deforestation, types of trees, afforestation, animal species and what has been happening to the rainforest and how we can make a difference!’
- ‘Educational; fun; different; exciting and interesting. We have had a lovely time.’
- ‘We all really loved the day! Thank you so much.’
- ‘Thank you so much!’
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 the pupils and teachers that had taken part. Another thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding, if not rather exhausting day!