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

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

My goals for this academic year

New term, new school year, new married name (which I am hoping will instil fear into the hearts of the new Year 7s) after the most incredible summer holiday spent getting married and travelling to Oman, the Maldives and Ireland (Geography teacher's dream really). I have spent a long time away from the blog as other things have distracted me and felt like it was time to set some goals for the new academic year, as I will be asking my tutees to do later this week.

Mrs Hawke's goals for this academic year:

1. Be prepared to take risks

This year I want to take more risks in planning my lessons by using new activities and giving the students more independence. As my second year at my current school I feel more confident now to try new things and push the boundaries some more. The best Head of Department that I have had (so far) was not afraid to throw things out of the window and start again - I need to use this more as inspiration this year. I also want to take more risks professionally and volunteer for new opportunities. I started last term by volunteering for the RGS TeachMeet on Wednesday 4th November (details found on below website) which is both terrifying and exciting!

2. Try writing more

Since my own school days I have loved writing and have always harboured a desire to write my own book. Small things like writing a piece in the university paper and slightly bigger things like having my article published in Teaching Geography have spurred me on. I am aiming to write more on my blog (perhaps every week is a little ambitious but at least twice a half term) and perhaps in my free time will start ideas for that novel!

3. Make time for friends, family and travelling

Things in my life have settled down a lot since the wedding and I have more free time to enjoy! This year I want to make sure that time is made for friends and family (closer and further away) but also plan lots of travelling in the holidays! I currently have a pile of books about road trips in California for next Easter (already picking out the geographer's highlights) and am looking forward to Stockholm in October half term.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Forget the 'outstanding' and remember the inspiration

The biggest message that I came away from the GA Conference in Manchester was that to be an outstanding teacher you need to forget about the pressure of lesson observations and instead focus on inspiring and engaging students. Too often can we get bogged down with trying to reach the requirements to be judged as a good or outstanding teacher. This is only my 3rd year of teaching and my first year in my second school so I have found it difficult to escape observations and the hoop jumping that goes alongside them. The sessions that I attended at the conference gave me renewed inspiration to do what I want, not what I have been told to do (within boundaries, obviously).

Professor Danny Dorling, in his keynote speech, used a number of maps from a project by Ben Hennig which totally engaged a room of Geography teachers - audible 'wow's could be heard in the lecture theatre. Have a look at the website link below and I guarantee that you will get lost in it for hours. Danny was also keen to express that we should use maps carefully as data can be easily distorted to show particular viewpoints. This is particularly true in the case of the upcoming election where the BBC have used several different maps to show the influence of the different parties. This made me think that planning a one off lesson on the Geography of the Election might be a project for the next few weeks. A very inspiring lecture on something that could have been dry because of the images used.

"He who no longer pause and wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." Albert Einstein.
This was a quote given at the start of the GA Secondary Phase Committee's workshop on awe and wonder in Geography. We were encouraged to think of those 'wow' moments that students have experienced in our lessons and perhaps to create a diary of them in the future. These are the important moments in our lessons when the students are totally engaged and want to find out more. I try to create this with enquiry questions each lesson as it makes my students ask questions about the lesson before they have even sat down. A recent lesson on ageing populations asked students - "Would you want to live forever?" and even the less well behaved and less engaged students started discussing with their peers.

There were also some brilliant ideas of how to create awe and wonder in your lessons. For example, aerial photographs can get students questioning and creating theories. The Earth From the Air (365 days) by Yann Arthus-Bertrand provided a range of interesting images and students were asked to describe what was happening in each. Students could also research awesome facts as a homework task and it could be turned into a competition as a Pointless game so that students are encouraged to find the most unique facts. Fieldwork ideas included: taking photos to show how a place is unique, walking along a 100m stretch and identifying all of the hazards, writing a guide for a visitor from space for a particular environment, imagining you are homeless and explaining where you would sleep and why.

"It's not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren't doing it." Terry Pratchett
David Rogers (@davidErogers) gave a clear message in his workshop that inspirational Geography has more of an impact on performance than last minute interventions. He spoke about his time as a Head of Department and how ruffling some feathers lead to improved GCSE Geography results. Thinking about how to improve learning is the most important thing to remember and all Geography should aim to be inspiring. Using apps/websites like Fotobabble ( where you take a picture and record 30 seconds of speech can inspire students. Using literature can inspire students and teachers are never "off duty" from finding new ideas to use in lessons. One book that I am keen to put into lessons about the Arctic is Michelle Paver's 'Dark Matter' - a ghost story about Arctic exploration with some brilliant descriptions. Above all else, we should aim to make our lessons engaging so that the students want to learn and improve.

We should learn about student's personal geographies before teaching them Geography.
Margaret Robert's lecture was all about connecting with the students so that they find Geography more relevant to them. She argued that we should start with questioning students about their personal geographies so that we can understand their world and how they approach our subject.

"We make sense of the world not with empty minds but with assumptions about how things are and how things work" (GTE, 2013). Margaret used this quote to explain how constructivism is a powerful theory and that students are not 'empty buckets' when they arrive in our classrooms. Too often, we ignore this to create perfectly timed and planned lessons. It made me think that instead of starting Year 8 lessons next week with maps of the world that I should instead use an idea that Margaret used with her PGCE Sheffield students. Ask the students what they know about their local area, the UK and the world - getting them to map their ideas about the world. Almost like those maps created to show the US perspective of the world which clearly show misconceptions. 

Other practical ideas about how to connect with students included intelligent guesswork. Students are asked to choose the countries with the lowest and highest life expectancies and then questioned why using socratic questioning. This allows teachers to deal with common misconceptions and challenge what students already know. Similarly, a range of pictures could be shown and students asked to decide where in the world they were taken. Tricking them with pictures from the same place - which I have done before to show that Africa is not the poor place that they assume - helps to challenge misconceptions even further.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the GA Conference because I am now full of ideas and excited to start working on my making my lessons more inspirational and involving the students more. Something that becomes difficult to remember when exam revision starts to crank up this term and reports are looming ahead. Inspiring lessons will create inspired kids. And inspired kids will want to do well. Simple really.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Red herrings

This week I used these red herrings with my Year 11 class. I printed them out and then laminated them. They were then shown a number of different management techniques of avalanches. When they saw the "red herring", they had to hold the card up. It worked really well as the students were paying close attention and trying to figure out if I had tricked them - some of them did fall for it. They were much more engaged and I will be using these red herrings again with my KS3 classes to see how it works with them.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Differentiated homework tasks

Over the past term I have been trying to create homework tasks with more purpose and also find a way to easily differentiate the tasks.

I came up with a PowerPoint slide which shows three levels of homework - much like a takeaway menu but on a simpler scale.

The pictures of the cakes relate to the different levels of homework task. I have used this now for several weeks with Year 8 and they now understand that they choose their own task in relation to their target level. They are able to choose a task and I have only had to discourage a few from choosing a too simple task.

My next challenge will be to further differentiate the tasks - I hope to make the challenging tasks different compared to a higher expectation of the simple task.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

TES resources

After years of using fantastic resources on the TES website, I decided that today I would share some of my own.

So if you are interested, I have uploaded some of my favourite KS3 lessons that I have planned and taught over the past couple of years. There is a selection of:

1. What can a rubber duck teach us about oceans?

2. Sandboarding in the Namib desert - adventure landscapes - What is Simon doing in the desert?

3. Antarctica Today - Who lives in Antarctica?

4. Animals in the savannah

5. Why was it too cold for the polar bear?