Apr 082014
 
Two boys surviving winter in Norway in a small wooden hut

Connor (Year 9)

NorthoftheSun

I first came across this extraordinary independent film at the 2014 Banff Mountain film festival. It’s won countless prizes and awards and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. It’s downloadable at Vimeo on demand from this link. The teaser pretty much sums up the plot line…

I was curious to see how the film would be received by students of different ages and took the opportunity of an enforced absence to set it as cover. I set three simple tasks to complete after watching:

1) Where’s the geography? (Why do you think you are being shown this film?)

2) What questions do you have after watching it?

3) Sum up the film in a sentence

Collating the key words from the responses to the first question highlighted interesting variations in the way the film spoke to different year groups. Despite evidence to the contrary, Year 7  have not done any work on recycling, although the landscape project is still fairly recent in their collective memories and we did make reference to Svalbard at the start of the year. It does look as though they’ve been exposed to a degree of “greenwashing” (though hopefully not in my lessons.) Year 8 on the other hand, did weather last term, and clearly thought that the film was being shown for that reason. Year 9 have just finished a unit of work on development which included a reference to Bhutan’s slogan “Gross National Happiness is more important than GNP”  so I was very happy to see several students reflecting on the film’s references to quality of life vs standard of living.

Year 7

7nots

Year 8
8nots

Year 9

9nots

Responses to the second question were perhaps more predictable, with many students asking somewhat disappointingly what the two characters were trying to “achieve”. It’s quite telling that few students seem to be able to conceive of outdoor adventure and fun being an end in itself. Encouragingly, several wanted to know where the beach was located, which is slightly more encouraging and would make a good piece of detective work. (I found it in about 15 minutes on Google Earth)  More interesting was the student from year 8 who wondered if they could have managed without mobiles and a supermarket.

As a potential offering for the four word film review site, Ellie from Year 7 managed to be the most concise with…

“Surfing til dawn”

and Kathleen from Year 9 offered…

A truly amazing winter

nots

I’m certain that there’s a great deal of potential learning to extract from this wonderful film. Despite the prevailing orthodoxy, occasionally there is a strong argument to be had for not splitting films into bite sized chunks, and instead just give students the chance to be captivated. Whether the theme is landscapes as part of a “fantastic places” – type unit, the impact of latitude on weather and seasons,  a comparison place study, or extreme tourism at GCSE, the film has a lot to offer. I suspect it could be a good precursor for introducing the John Muir Award into a school.

If you do discover the location of the beach – do keep it a secret. I might even see you there next summer!

North of the Sun on Vimeo

 

Mar 082014
 

It’s been a number of years since I was indoctrinated by Professor Hans Rosling to no longer refer to LEDCs and MEDCs when referring to the development status of a country. Here’s why…

The AQA GCSE syllabus A requires that students are familiar with the correlation and analysis of development indicators and of course the Gapminder website is a crucial teaching aid. Students have to be mindful of the dangers of using a single statistical measure of development and aware that countries have different development priorities and  perceptions of quality of life. I devised the following activity as a group work task to sum up this aspect of the syllabus.

Five groups were established and the activity introduced via the first slide of the presentation embedded below. (Needs to be downloaded from Slideshare to work as intended)

Each individual was given a table of 2012 development statistics and a commentary. The examples were carefully chosen to represent nations with very different development priorities. Each group was tasked with creating a rank order of the countries based on the statistics, the commentary and their own opinions.

Once the initial task was complete, the groups passed their rankings clockwise around the room, spending a couple of minutes perusing and commenting on each others thoughts. Once the circuit had been completed, each group had to construct a final ranking, taking into account the all the information and their newly acquired understanding of development priorities.

As part of ensuring that everyone was fully involved, certain students were randomly selected to describe and justify their final rank order. Much debate took place, though there was 100% agreement in terms of the top and bottom placed countries. Conveniently, since they all chose Norway as the most developed nation, I was able to introduce the Human Development Index data for 2013 which confirms their finding and illustrates the usefulness of this measure of development.

This is a nice little activity which requires very little planning and develops really interesting interaction between group members. Groups become accountable to each other and nobody can opt out of the final task. Originally it was intended as an “expert groups” activity and the passing on of their work was actually suggested by the students themselves. To my mind it fits nicely with Dylan William’s assertion that group goals and individual accountability can double the speed of learning.

Oct 172013
 

I mumbled through a presentation on marking at the inaugural Taunton Teachmeet last night, still somewhat shell-shocked from a day of HMI. Here’s the presentation I used. I forgot to mention that one of the main justifications for this approach to marking (which I’ve been trialing for a while) is that it avoids the issue of students focusing exclusively on grades, rather than my carefully crafted, formative comments. I also neglected to say that students have their own assessment record sheet on which they record their grade and the main target for improvement. For what it’s worth the strategy seemed to sit well with an inspector-type recently. As noted in the credits, the whole marking strategy is a synthesis of ideas from a number of other people, particularly Alex Quigley, Tom Sherrington and Joe Kirby, and quite possibly David Didau.

Finally, congratulations to Bob Ayres at Bishop Foxes for hosting an excellent event.

 

Oct 052013
 

The new term has brought with it a workload of such epic proportions that I’ve just completed 21 full working days without any kind of break. My AST role has finally vanished, so it’s back to the rigours of a full teaching timetable, spiced up with five brand new subjects that I haven’t taught before. Hopefully this excuse adequately covers the lack of updates on the blog.

I’ve just finished teaching a short series of lessons on plate tectonics to year 9. We started by looking at the impact of tectonics on human history using the Deep Earth resource I wrote about last year. I used the 2004 SE Asia tsunami to illustrate short and long term aid (I save the Japan tsunami for GCSE) and finished with the classic Montserrat activity. I wanted to devise a differentiated  assessment that would recap and reinforce knowledge as well as allowing the students to show what they’ve learned. I came up with a simple concept map that is easy to modify for any topic. Students are given a list of key words from the topic, an A3 sheet and instructions to find and describe as many links as possible. There is a selection of bonus words to stretch the most able and a mark scheme. It’s super simple and brings nothing new at all to the world of assessment.

17/10/13 Update: I’ve discovered the hexagon generator from Pam Hook which may well offer a better way to analyse links between keywords.
May 052013
 

Digimap for Schools is a subscription service for OS maps. The service represents exceptional value for money and works seamlessly in all current browsers as well as iPad. With a range of very user friendly annotation and measuring tools and simple printing options, Digimap is far more than just a map viewer. It also comes with some excellent free teaching ideas by Alan Parkinson.

Here’s a short guide for students on how to make the most of Digimap in coursework projects.