Sunday, 30 April 2017

GA conference 2017

Last Saturday I headed to Guildford for my fourth GA conference. Below is a summary of some of the sessions that I went along to and some of the ideas that I picked up.

Student leadership and inclusive fieldwork - Steve Rackley

Steve had some really interesting ideas about how to not only make fieldwork more student inclusive but also how to involve students in the geography department in a more meaningful way. I have a group of enthusiastic Year 10 student ambassadors who would be very willing to come along to department meetings as Steve tried at his school. He included representatives from each demographic of the geography student body, including PP, SEN, A/A* and C grade students so that they all had a voice. The student representatives were able to plan the fieldwork and he trained a number of the students before the trip so that they were able to lead their groups in collecting the data.

I hope to implement some of these ideas in my own department and there are some good opportunities in this term to perhaps train Year 9 students to teach Year 7 students. This would encourage them to become more independent, learn skills needed at GCSE and give them a sense of responsibility, at a time when traditionally Year 9 students often lose their motivation and enthusiasm!

Let's play! Geographical games and simulations - Raphael Heath

This session had a huge number of resources and ideas that could be introduced into schemes of work. A number of them would involve time before creating the resources but would be worth to have in a department. The link below will take you to the resources (including free online games, a shanty town game, trading games and a rainforest DME)...

Using data as evidence - Margaret Roberts

At a GA conference I always make sure to attend a session by the legendary Margaret Roberts. She made some interesting points about teaching geography based on evidence at a time of fake news. She argued that resources should be based in reality - show students where the resources came from, don't just use stereotypical views and attribute viewpoints to real people. I found this really thought provoking as my enquiry style lessons always lead to students asking me if the people involved are real.

Students should be given opportunities in geography lessons to question the reliability of sources of data and should always look at more than one source.

Margaret suggested that students should consider the key five points of a graph instead of answering data response questions. They should explain which five points they think are most significant and use evidence from the graph to support.

Layers of inference (often used in history lessons) is also a good technique to judge a source and decide what it shows/what it does not show.

As Margaret argued throughout, teachers have a responsibility to enable students to judge the reliability of data.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

New role, new school. new GCSE....

It has been a long time since my last blog post. This September, I moved schools and became Head of Geography. It has been a whirlwind but one that I have loved. My colleagues have been warm, supportive and always greet me with a smile in the corridor.

On the days that have been difficult, as the students test the boundaries with me as a new member of staff, I have been grateful for my every growing support network of teacher friends. As much as my husband understands my job, the support of my teacher friends has been invaluable, particularly in a new role as a middle leader where you can find yourself stuck between SLT and your department.

There have been challenges. I have joined a department who did not have a head last year so understandably some things were left by the wayside. We spent the summer holidays clearing out resources from 20-30 years ago. We are starting a new GCSE specification with only two teachers planning the lessons and at the same time updating each KS3 scheme of work. Oh, and most of my department have other responsibilities so are not always around for meetings.

But I have relished the opportunity to tackle these challenges and love my job. My department have been so open to change and have been up for the challenge too. It helps too that the students have been receptive to the new schemes of work.

We are working on new KS3 sows that include lessons on the migration crisis in Syria, climate change and international development. Lessons that have become all the more poignant and important this week. The students are full of questions and opinions that should be explored in geography lessons. This week alone I have been bombarded with questions about the election and the impact on the UK and our future.

So I will try not to leave it too long before I share some more ideas but bear with me as I settle into my new role!

Sunday, 24 January 2016


Trying to motivate Year 11 students to revise for their mocks can be challenging. However, in the past few weeks my Year 11s have become increasingly engaged and competitive thanks to a website that a colleague introduced me to. Kahoot! is a website where you can create your own quizzes or use quizzes created by others. The students type '' into their web browsers and enter a code to join the quiz that you have chosen. You have the power to delete any inappropriate names as they join and at the end of the quiz you are able to download the results so that you can track their progress and highlight any areas for improvement.

To play the quiz a question appears and students are then given an allotted amount of time (usually 20 seconds) to choose the correct answer from 4 options. The quicker they respond, the more points they are given. After each question the students are shown their place on the leader board and the top 5 students are shown on the board.

To sign up as a teacher go to and create an account. It is simple and free to use but more importantly the students love it. I regularly get asked now when we can do the next Kahoot quiz. There are also other options to create discussions or surveys that I hope to use in future lessons to collect opinions.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Why did more people die in Nepal compared to New Zealand?

The Nepal (2015) and New Zealand (2011) earthquakes offer two contrasting case studies. With so many news stories about these two examples, I planned a Year 8 lesson that asks students to investigate the effects of the two earthquakes and then explain why more people died in Nepal compared to New Zealand.

The first task asks the students to become detectives who need to find evidence to complete case study files (image below) from information sheets. One half of the class works on the Nepal earthquake whilst the other half works on the New Zealand earthquake before switching and teaching someone else the half that they have studied.

Once they have completed their files, they then plan an answer to the main enquiry question in the form of a mind map. To stretch and challenge the most able students encourage them to include statistics as evidence or even manipulate their data.

Next I ask the students to choose a task (in comfort zone/stepping out of comfort zone/out of comfort zone) which all instruct the students to compare Nepal to New Zealand. It was interesting to see which students chose to step out of their comfort zones (not necessarily the most able) and it did take some encouraging to persuade students to not just take the easy road. Perhaps with more practice the students would become more confident to step out of their comfort zones.

Finally, the students assess their own work by using assessment sheets with ideas of WWW/EBI description phrases. When marking their work it became apparent that many students had not used evidence in their answers and that they needed to improve their 'PEEL' technique. This was then improved during their 'green pen time' when they respond to feedback.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

RGS Teach Meet

This has been my mega week of CPD - on every day apart from Tuesday I attended some type of course or INSET. My favourite has to be the RGS Teach Meet on Wednesday evening organised by David Rogers, Jo Debens and the RGS. I was brave and volunteered to lead a short (6 minute) presentation focused on literacy and creative writing in Geography. I have to admit that in the minutes before my hands were starting to shake as there were so many excellent ideas being shared by other teachers. It was the furious scribbling in my notebook that calmed me down! If you are interested in any of the ideas - check out the hashtag #tmrgs or Jo's blog with the attached PowerPoint presentations -

My highlights of the evening were...

1. Jo Debens (@GeoDebs) had some excellent ideas about introducing Shakespeare's language into lessons (DART analysis, comparative text analysis about volcanoes and fact vs fiction) and also how to introduce numeracy (drawing polygons on Google Earth, step challenges and using numbers to tell a story).

2. Liz Pattison (@LizBPattison) had some fab ideas for 6th form students - I find these lessons some of the most difficult to plan due to the pressure of content delivery. She explained how she uses SOLO taxonomy, the 'Pyramid of Dreams', lead learners and highlighted the good work in essays. Some ideas that I am definitely going to use this week!

3. Rupert Littlewood (@mrlittlewoodgeo) talked about building favelas with Year 9 students. I have always taken the more simple approach to this lesson and I really enjoyed some of the ideas that Rupert had. Making students play roles such as building surveyors and accountants makes the task more like real life and involves them in every part of the process. It made me feel brave enough to try it with my trickier Year 9 classes.

My overall highlight though was sharing my own ideas and seeing phones/tablets being held in the air to capture my ideas. It was such a buzz as I sat down and saw the 16 notifications on my Twitter account! For anyone who is thinking about contributing to the GA conference Teach Meet or any other event - DO IT! Sometimes the scary things are the most worthwhile!

Sunday, 4 October 2015


I recently went to see the disaster film, 'Everest' and was left in awe by the landscape and the determinism shown by each of the climbers. It is well worth watching if only for the panoramas of the Himalayas. It gave me a greater understanding of the scale of the world's largest mountain and the challenges that climbers face, often before they even reach the snowy slopes of Everest.

I was so inspired by the film that I have spent the past week planning two lessons about Everest. There are some brilliant resources from the RGS for Key Stage Two students that I have used to inform my planning (link below). The first lesson focuses on the formation of fold mountains and in particular the Himalayas. The students have been learning about plate boundaries, earthquakes and volcanoes so will have the necessary base understanding.

There is a fantastic free resource on Teachit Geography which explains the formation of fold mountains using towels (to represent the rock strata) and heavy boxes (to represent the two plates). I have adapted the worksheet so that students explain the formation process and focus on key terminology.

The second lesson is focused on the 'Death Zone' - the area above 8000m where humans cannot acclimatise, become ill and can die - and how the climbers survive in this extreme environment. I have used one of the RGS worksheets which asks the students to calculate how the temperature changes every 1000m and how the air pressure changes. The second part of the lesson
asks the students to 'blackout'/redact stories of climbing Everest that I found in "The Mammoth Book of Everest: From the first attempts to today, 40 first-hand accounts" (edited by Jon E. Lewis) by Bear Grylls and Rebecca Stephens. This makes the students focus on the important parts of the text. I am planning on handing students black markers and asking them to be ruthless by cutting out words - I had a go earlier so that I can model it too.

I recently went to my first Middle Leader training session and planning these lessons links to one of the opportunities that I wrote in my SWOT analysis of our department. All of the changes to KS3, GCSE and A Level offer us an opportunity to create up to date and engaging lessons. I hope to change these lessons when the DVD of Everest is released to include some of the more memorable scenes. The trailer is in the links below if you are intrigued! If anyone is interested in my lessons, send me a message on Twitter - @Geog_enquirer

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Two weeks in...

It has only been (nearly) two weeks of term but already the marking pile is growing, students are forgetting their homework and getting up at 6:30am is becoming increasingly dark. Back to business as normal. Which is why today I wanted to check if my goals for this academic year have already bee consumed or if I am trying to follow them.

Goal 1: Be prepared to take risks.

I feel pretty good about this goal so far. This week I have used digestive biscuits in my Year 10 lesson (majority of boys) to see how much they understand about coastal erosion. Some of them struggled to use their knowledge and creativity but some students made some brilliant diagrams using the biscuits. Some even thought to say that the blank piece of paper showed 'solution' as the sediment had been dissolved. I am going to use the digestive biscuit idea with my Year 12s as they are currently studying rivers to see how they tackle the task. My Year 12 lessons are also becoming more creative and I am looking forward to setting the 'River landforms Bake Off Challenge' soon!

I have also signed up for a middle leader course which will great to add to any future HOD applications. Last year I wouldn't have been brave enough to put my name forward as I felt like I was too inexperienced at the school.

Goal 2: Try writing more

I have been writing a diary this year and I have been trying to write in at least once a week even if I feel exhausted when I get into bed. This is also my second post in two weeks so that is a success!

Goal 3: Make time for friends, family and travelling

Over the past few weekends I have been to Plymouth to see family and met up with friends at home, making the most of my weekends. I need to get back to planning the California trip and finding out the best place to see the San Andreas fault!

Progress check: Making good progress