November WARP

I made a New Year promise to include a regular slot in my blog for 2014, called my ‘monthly WARP’. This is based on an acronym where the ‘W’ stands for a web resource, the ‘A’ for an app, the ‘R’ for a reading resource, and the ‘P’ for a photograph or image.
My eleventh WARP – for the month of November – consists of the following:


ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 24 20.16‘What Three Words’ (w3w) is a funky new way to locate specific points on a map. It consists of a giant grid of the world made up of 57 trillion squares of 3 metres x 3 metres. Each square has been given a 3 word address comprised of 3 words from the dictionary. what3words is a unique combination of just 3 words that identifies a 3mx3m square anywhere on the planet. It’s far more accurate than a postal address and it’s much easier to remember, use & share than a set of GPS co-ordinates. It’s a tiny piece of code that works across platforms & devices, in multiple languages. It also works offline, where there is no data connection and it works too with voice recognition.
ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 24 20.16Poor addressing might seem no more than “annoying” in some countries, but it costs businesses billions of dollars, and around the world it hampers the growth and development of nations, ultimately costing lives. The founders of this new method of geo-location claim that around 75% of the world suffers from inconsistent, complicated and poor addressing systems. This means that around 4 Billion people are invisible; unable to report crime, get deliveries, aid or simply have a name for where they live. It is their intention to give everyone in the world the ability to talk about a precise location as easily as possible. It is their mission to be the world’s address system; the universal standard for communicating location.
ScreenHunter_03 Nov. 24 20.18Each square’s address contains totally different words to its nearby squares – an example might be: Each w3w shortlink uses the w3w address in the link, such as: This can be embedded in a web site or blog, or e-mailed to a friend. By clicking on the link, you are taken to the specified location on a map on the w3w website.
It is also possible to reduce the 3 word code to a single word to make life even easier – at a cost of £1.49 a year.
If you want to check it out, try clicking on the links below to take you to my school:
I opted for a One Word Code:*Dreamland as I wasn’t too keen on the three word code: for my place of learning!


Real Chalk HD

chalkThis fun app satisfies my nostalgia for working with chalk! It is a simple programme that can be used to make display posters, leave messages on the whiteboard or make slides for presentations. The adverts are annoying, but these are lost when you upgrade from the free version.
chalk sample
There is another similar app called ‘Chalkboard’ – but it doesn’t have the quite the same chalky effect as this one!


AttentionMy selected book this month is “Attention All Shipping” by Charles Connelly. This is an extremely funny travelogue based on the different zones listed in Radio Four’s shipping forecast. These names are firmly planted in our subconscious, but do we really know where these places are, and what secrets they might reveal? Connelly sets out on a tour of the forecast to discover the answers – and along the way, discovers some of the history and culture of one of Britain’s best-loved broadcasting institutions. A must-read for all geographers!
Extract: (Describing Viking, North Utsire and South Utsire) – useful to support one of the classic coastal case studies on many a GCSE syllabus: “The North Sea. For me, the name itself conjures up swelling mounds of black water crested by foam and pockmarked by rain. It carries none of the attractions of the Caribbean Sea, with its clear, light-blue water scattered with shimmering sunlight, nor any of the mystery of, say, the Sargasso Sea. No. This is a sea, and it’s in the north. No mucking about.
It’s a stroppy old sod, the North Sea. Stormy and heavily tidal, it’s also shallow. Only north of the Shetlands does the depth reach a hundred fathoms. Over Dogger Bank the depth subsides to as little as fifty feet, and by the time you get to the Strait of Dover, you couldn’t sink St Paul’s Cathedral, even in the unlikely event of you wanting to. The North Sea pounds the east coast of Britain, knocking great lumps out of it when and where it can. Two and a half miles of coastline have disappeared since Roman times, accounting for some 30 towns and villages. Take Ravenser, a town that stood at the mouth of the Humber and was once so significant it returned 2 MPs. Gone. Claimed by the North Sea sometime in the early 16th century. Dunwich in Suffolk was once a thriving town and one of the most important ports in England, boasting six churches, a monastery, and even a mint. All gone, a new village having sprung up further inland. Half a mile of Suffolk has been pilfered by the North Sea since the 14th century.” (pages 35-36)


This month, I offer some more of my favourite photographs from a trip I made to Antarctica. Some of the ice scenery there was breathtaking:

More photos from my travels can be seen at:

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October WARP

I made a New Year promise to include a regular slot in my blog for 2014, called my ‘monthly WARP’. This is based on an acronym where the ‘W’ stands for a web resource, the ‘A’ for an app, the ‘R’ for a reading resource, and the ‘P’ for a photograph or image.
My tenth WARP – for the month of October – consists of the following:


ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 31 10.39We all use Google as a search engine, but how many make use of Google’s ‘reading age’ tool when performing a search?
This can be a useful tool for teachers wanting to cut through the mass of resources available on the web, and highlighting appropriate resources for their pupils. It should also speed up student searching for relevant materials.
To use this tool, enter a search term, click on return, and then open the ‘all results’ tab. From here, choose ‘reading level’ and all of the resources for the chosen search term will be sorted into three reading levels – basic, intermediate, and advanced. If you then click on one of these, the search will home in on the reading level of your choice, and filter out the rest. Magic!


Comics Head

ScreenHunter_04 Oct. 31 10.54Comic Life is a popular tablet app that allows easy construction of comic strips so that pupils can explain a concept or represent an issue in an interesting way. But in recent times, I have preferred to use a similar site called ‘Comics Head’. At a cost of only £2.49, this app has a much wider range of backgrounds, characters and props to pick from – and is incredibly easy to use. A great tool for storyboarding and creative classroom work – highly recommended!
ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 31 10.51


untitledMy selected book this month is an old favourite – “Into the Heart of Borneo” by Redmond O’Hanlon. This hilarious travelogue was published back in 1984, and has received more re-reads than any other book in my library. It traces O’Hanlon’s journey with companion James Fenton into the interior of a tropical jungle aiming to reach the Tiban massif. It tells of their battle with insects, discomfort and setbacks in a real adventure-story style full of humour – but at the same time a serious natural history journey into one of the last remaining unspoilt paradises.

“On the tarmac, crossing to the airport sheds, the heat of the equator hits me for the first time. It squeezed around you like the rank coils of an unseen snake, pressing the good air out of your lungs, covering you in a slimy sweat. Fifteen yards of this was enough; a mile would be impossible; five hundred miles an absurdity.” (Page 11)

“I looked at my legs. And then I looked again. They were undulating with leeches. In fact, James’ leech suddenly seemed much less of a joke. They were edging up my trousers, looping up towards my knees with alternative placements of their anterior and posterior suckers, seeming, with each rear attachment, to wave their front ends in the air and take a sniff. They were all over my boots too, and three particularly brave individuals were trying to make their way in via the air-holes. There were more on the way – in fact they were moving towards us across the jungle floor from every angle, their damp brown bodies half-camouflaged against the rotting leaves.” (Page 117)


This month, I offer some of my favourite photographs from a trip I made to Antarctica. After the horrors of crossing the Drake Passage, the ice scenery in the tranquil waters off the Antarctic Peninsula was a welcome relief!

More photos from my travels can be seen at:

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September WARP

I made a New Year promise to include a regular slot in my blog for 2014, called my ‘monthly WARP’. This is based on an acronym where the ‘W’ stands for a web resource, the ‘A’ for an app, the ‘R’ for a reading resource, and the ‘P’ for a photograph or image.
My ninth WARP – for the month of September – consists of the following:


ScreenHunter_01 Sep. 21 11.23This site is arranged in a very simple and accessible way, and allows students to examine population pyramids at a world, regional, and country scale. ScreenHunter_02 Sep. 21 11.24
It is easy to search for a pyramid of any individual country, and it is also possible to compare pyramids of different dates from 1950 to 2010. Neat!



get-attachmentThis free IOS app displays ‘real time’ data by either: year, month, week or even by a single day. Data includes – total population, births, deaths (and reasons), oil production and so on. It can be used as an interesting starter – and its on screen accumulation of data for one single day will surprise many students. There might be some questions to ask about the accuracy of the figures as they display, but it is still a thought-provoking tool for any geography lesson.


LongitudeMy selected book this month is “Longitude” by Dava Sobel. This easy read covers the problems faced by sailors in the eighteenth century in accurately locating their position by using longitude. The author writes a brief history of astronomy, navigation and horology to help describe the problem, and at the centre of the story is John Harrison, the self-taught Yorkshire clockmaker, whose forty year obsession with building a perfect timekeeper helped lead to a revolution in navigation at sea.

“The equator marked the zero degree parallel of latitude for Ptolemy. He did not choose it arbitrarily but took it on higher authority fromhis predecessors, who had derived it from nature while observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and planets pass almost directly overhead at the Equator. Likewise the tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, two other famous parallels, assume their positions at the sun’s command. They mark the northern and southern boundaries of the sun’s apparent motion over the course of the year.” (page 3)
“Harrison spent the next five years piecing together the first sea clock, which has come to be called Harrison’s No. 1, for it marked the first in a series of attempts – H1 for short. His brother James helped, though neither one of them signed the timepiece, strangely enough. The going train ran on wooden wheels, as in the pair’s previous collaborations. But overall, it looked like no other clock ever seen before or since.
Built of brightly shining brass, with rods and balances sticking out at odd angles, its broad bottom and tall projections recall some ancient vessel that never existed. It looks like a cross between a galley and a galleon, with a high, ornate stern facing forward, two towering masts that carry no sails, and knobbed brass oars to be manned by tiers of unseen rowers. It is a model ship, escaped from its bottle, afloat on the sea of time.” (page 77)
“Sauerkraut. That was the watchword on Captain James Cook’s triumphant second voyage, which set sail in 17772. By adding generous portions of the German staple to the diet of his English crew (some of whom foolishly turned up their noses at it), the great circumnavigator kicked scurvy overboard. Not only is sauerkraut’s chief ingredient, cabbage, loaded with vitamin C but the fine-cut cabbage must be salted and allowed to ferment until sour to be worthy of the name. Practically pickled in brine, sauerkraut keeps forever aboard ship – or at least as long as the duration of a voyage around the world. Cook made it his oceangoing vegetable, and sauerkraut went on saving sailor’s lives until lemon juice and , later, limes replaced it in the provisions of the royal Navy.” (page 139)
“”I am standing on the prime meridian of the world, zero degrees longitude, the centre of time and space, literally the place where East meets West. It’s paved right into the courtyard of the Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich. At night, buried light shines through the glass-covered meridian line, so it glows like a man-made midocean rift, splitting the globe in two equal halves with all the authority of the Equator. For a little added fanfare after dark, a green laser projects the meridian’s visibility ten miles across the valley to Essex.” (page 165)


This month, I offer some photographs from a trip to Costa Rica, part of a tour of Central America:

More photos from my travels can be seen at:

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Monthly WARP – August

I made a New Year promise to include a regular slot in my blog for 2014, called my ‘monthly WARP’. This is based on an acronym where the ‘W’ stands for a web resource, the ‘A’ for an app, the ‘R’ for a reading resource, and the ‘P’ for a photograph or image.
I managed to miss my eighth WARP – for August – as I was away on my holidays, so to catch up, here it is in September! The belated August WARP consists of the following:

ScreenHunter_11 Sep. 15 21.05This site has been around for a while, and provides a really thought-provoking collection of animated graphics describing our use of water. Angela Morelli is an Italian information designer based in London. Her love of design led to a long journey through industrial, communication and information design, while her love for the planet led to a strong passion for global water issues.
The site presents an interactive visualisation explaining how much water we consume indirectly through eating and drinking different foods and drinks. Coffee and beef have two of the most water-intensive production processes, with thousands of litres used to provide the amounts of food and drink you might consume in a typical day. Scroll down through the graphic to watch the story unfold. Figures displayed in this graphic come from the Water Footprint Network.
Angela has also produced a TED video called ‘The Global Water Footprint of Humanity’:

Guardian Eye Witness
This free photo-journalism app ceased to be offered as a stand alone app in September, but the service still exists as part of the Guardian newspaper ‘mother app’ – which is also free, and offers an excellent news resource. Eye Witness is a great tool that can support work in any classroom, offering a daily high quality and often thought-provoking image that can be projected onto a whiteboard and used as a starter.
Displaced people queuing for food in the Central African RepublicFor example, I recently started a lesson on ‘development’ using a ‘step into the photograph’ exercise with the recent image below of displaced people queuing for food in the Central African Republic:
Students were given speech bubble post its, and after paired discussion, chose a character in the photograph to bring to life. They thought about what the character might be thinking or saying, wrote this on the post it, and then added it to the photograph on the whiteboard. We then discussed some of the comments as a class – and it could quite easily have filled the whole lesson or led us into new directions with the chosen subject.

Some other recent Eye Witness images shown below were used at the beginning of a year seven lesson on ‘Amazing Places’ (see August 2013 blog):
Eyewitness: Migingo Island, Kenya


fatalshoreMy selected book this month is “The Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes. The Fatal Shore was first published in 1987, and follows the history of convict transportation from Georgian Britain to Australia. It describes Australia’s painful transition from prison camp to open society, and tells the vivid story of the 160,000 men, women and children who were shipped off the face of the known world to suffer, to die, to succeed, and to go on to found a new nation. A gripping read that is hard to put down – great background to one of history’s great forced migration case studies.

“The effort to perceive the landscape and it’s people as they were is worth making, for it bears on one of the chief myths of early colonial history as understood and taught up to about 1960. This was the idea, promulgated by the early settlers and inherited from the 19th century, that the First Fleet sailed into an ‘empty’ continent, speckled with primitive animals and hardly less primitive men, so that the ‘ fittest’ inevitably triumphed. Thus the destruction of the Australian Aborigines was rationalised as natural law.” (page 7)
“As Mary Gilmore would write in 1918 of the prisoners who built Australia:’I was the convict sent to Hell, to make the desert a living well: I split the rock, I felled the tree – The nation was because of me.’ ” (page 128)
“One. Convict, Thomas Milburn, would later describe the voyage in a letter to his parents, later printed as a broadsheet in England:’We were chained two and two together and confined in the hold during the whole course of our long voyage … We were scarcely allowed a sufficient quantity of victuals to keep us alive, and scarcely any water; for my own part I could have eaten three or four of our allowances, and you know well that I was never a great eater …When any of our comrades that were chained to us died, we kept it a secret as long as we could for the smell of the dead body, in order to get their allowance of provision, and many a time have I been glad to eat the poultice that was put to my leg for perfect hunger. I was chained to Humphrey Davey who died when we were about half way, and I lay beside his corpse about a week and got his allowance.’ ” (page 145)

This month, I offer some photographs from my most recent trip abroad. In August, I travelled to Mauritius for a golf break – but still managed to fit in some geography!
These images were taken at a place called ‘The Seven Coloured Earths’ at Chamarel in the south west of the island. No-one has been able to categorically state why these undulating, dune-like knolls vary so widely in colour. Some believe the seven shades of earth were formed from volcanic ash deposits cooled at different temperatures, while others would suggest the colours of the mounds can be attributed to the differing quantity of metal oxide they contain. They are especially breathtaking first thing in the morning, when the sun is at its brightest and the colours deepen.

More photos from my world travels can be seen at:

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Get Set For The New Geography Curriculum

September will see the first teaching of the new National Curriculum for Geography. The first National Curriculum was established in 1988, and this will be the 5th revision of the original document – I have been in the job long enough to see them all.

When the first outline of the new curriculum appeared in print, many of my colleagues greeted it with disapproval, and in some cases sheer horror. However, as much of the dust gradually settled, it became apparent that this latest revision actually offers a liberating opportunity for innovation and change.

When the 2008 revision came to life, I was heavily involved with the GA, offering advice at regional meetings or in individual schools on curriculum planning. Some funding was available, and it provided me with an opportunity to travel to many schools in the South west region and forge new contacts.

My own offering then was based on a ‘curriculum wheel’ covering all years in key stage three, and divided into six separate sections to correspond to the six school half terms in a year.
I considered modifying this simple structure to accommodate the change in content of the new document, but decided it had become a little too rigid and prescriptive in recent years. Staff in my department felt tied to the inflexible time allocations, and were often frustrated by having to bring some work to a halt just as it was beginning to bear fruit. Something different was required.

ScreenHunter_02 May. 13 10.06The new programme of study states that geographical education should “inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world and it’s people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives” – therefore, it will be necessary to plan well beyond the content of the document itself, and not just use it as a checklist of places, topics and skills. The new document is just a framework that sets the ‘big picture’, behind which the micro scale work can be prepared. Creative teaching will be more important than the ‘what’. I decided to allow my planning to be guided by the principle of ‘doing less but doing it better’, and adopted a new angle of approach, using a series of lead enquiry-style questions to reflect geography that is current, fresh and relevant to my students.

david-lambertlarge“Make the learning relevant, exciting, memorable and high quality” (David Lambert)

qs“It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the questions” (Eugene Ionescu)

The lead question will become the learning objective for each lesson – avoiding deeply prescriptive objectives for individual lessons that can often restrict students’ learning paths.

After an introduction of ‘traditional’ lessons to cover some of the key knowledge, concepts and skills, the lead question would then encourage open-ended investigations that fits comfortably with new structures I have been introducing using tablet technology (see September 2013, January and February 2014 entries on this blog for examples of I Pad investigations).

By drawing from a bank of enquiry-style questions, teachers have the opportunity to be rather more flexible and make choices of their own, determined by their own interests and those of the students in their teaching groups. They would also be free from strictures of time, and could continue to ‘drill deeper’ into topics that had generated particular interest. It’s important to note that an enquiry approach does not necessarily mean 0% teacher work and 100% student work! It is more about raising curiosity and a desire to learn and then getting them to think deeply about a particular subject theme.

Incorporated into the stock of possible study questions is a ‘joker’ card of ‘flexible topicality’ that can respond immediately to current events of interest – a volcano erupting, an emerging issue of political interest, or a particularly thought-provoking news headline. For example, a recent tornado event in the USA led me suspend current lesson themes and craft the question: “How did twins cause devastation in the USA?” to briefly study this unusual topic.

Within this structure, it is also possible to give students the freedom to form their own enquiry questions. There is an element of risk here as the teacher has to give over a degree of control, but I have enjoyed many successful lessons that have followed an unpredictable direction using a ‘philosophy for children’ approach. An example of this is described in detail in the blog of February 2013 on this site.

ScreenHunter_01 Aug. 05 18.12I did preserve the original curriculum wheel idea to a point, and classified my topic questions into 4 broad areas in order to guarantee a balanced coverage of subject content for each year group. This also made it easier to plan for progression between different year groups.
New Curriculum Wheel 2014

Examples of enquiry questions to fund these sections include:

“How can a spit in the river affect so many people?” (Reference to Dawlish Warren spit in the Exe estuary)
“Does aid for Africa really work?”
“Who would win a fight between a cold desert and a hot desert?”
“Why did Tilly Smith listening in her geography lessons help to save lives?” (Warning of a tsunami given by an 11 year old girl)
“Will my Grandchildren ever get to see a glacier?”
“In the age of sat nav – do we still need maps?”
“Should London be made a national park?”
“Should we fear Iceland’s volcanoes?”
“The MINTS are coming! Who are the MINTS?”
“Why does palm oil threaten the home of Fernando?”
“When is doing nothing doing something?” (Coastal management at Brownsea Island)
“Will there be water wars in the Middle East?”

A full list of enquiry questions to be used for the new key stage three schemes of work can be downloaded here:
KS3 Enquiry Questions

What big questions for the rest of this century have I missed? Can you add some edgy questions I can add to my bank?

SpiralThere were a number of other factors that were given consideration when the curriculum content was being set out. I wanted the new key stage three to fit into a broader context of a spiral curriculum that progresses coverage from key stage one right through to key stage four and five. Consideration was given to the geography experienced by students in key stages one and two before they arrived at my school, as well as how the new planned curriculum could help prepare students for work covered in our chosen examination syllabus (OCR ‘B’) at key stage four. Indeed, the latter part of year nine teaching is to be specifically crafted as ‘GCSE Lite’ to support this. This spiral structure allows revisiting places and topics to build a depth of knowledge and understanding.

ScreenHunter_01 Aug. 07 11.48Underpinning the plans for the new curriculum was a constant reference to concepts, skills & subject knowledge – the ‘Golden Threads’ of curriculum planning.

I was pleased to see that fieldwork has been made explicit in the new curriculum, and I hope to include at least one enquiry question that will be answered through fieldwork in each year group. I hope to commit to more than just ‘doorstep fieldwork’ and have already booked a day on Exmoor for year seven students. I also intend to take year eight students to the Exe estuary, and year nine students to the city of Exeter.

Changes in the key stage three curriculum also provided an opportunity to look again at our homework provision. In the old curriculum wheel, an extended homework task was set in each of the six sections – providing a wide range of choice of tasks for students to consider. A detailed article on our extended homework can be found in October and November 2013 blogs on this site. We have enjoyed considerable success with this structure – in terms of developing independent study skills, research skills and time management. We have also been impressed by some tremendous work outputs, so did not want to abandon this method of working completely. We have a bank of extended homework tasks we can continue to choose from at appropriate times, but in order to cater for shorter sections of work, we will now explore the idea of takeaway homework sheets that has become popular in the twitter-sphere recently. More of this in a later blog.

As part of the planning for the new curriculum, assessment remains a central issue. This has recently become something of a prickly area following the government’s move to withdraw a structure of levels and not replace it with an alternative. The old levels are no longer directly relevant to the new curriculum content, and therefore no longer fit for purpose. It is likely that a number of different local systems more relevant to individual schools and their students will evolve to fill the void left by the old levels, but whatever new system of assessment we decide upon, there should be more room to refocus on student learning, and I believe a leading priority should be to improve formative assessment and feedback. The whole issue about assessment and monitoring progress should be viewed as another opportunity for change and improvement, and this topic deserves a blog of its own, soI hope to return to it in the near future.

Little seems to have been shared to date about the new curriculum changes in geography, but I am convinced there is a real need for us to work together as curriculum makers to provide the best deal possible for our students. I would be grateful if you could direct me to any blogs that tackle this topic, and I encourage your responses to this article. I have nothing yet firmly in place for September, and am prepared for some constructive criticism before I fully commit. Tear these ideas apart if you think I am completely off track and let’s share some fresh ideas in these exciting times.

Posted in Curriculum, General Geo, Human World, Maps, Physical World, School, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I made a New Year promise to include a regular slot in my blog for 2014, called my ‘monthly WARP’. This is based on an acronym where the ‘W’ stands for a web resource, the ‘A’ for an app, the ‘R’ for a reading resource, and the ‘P’ for a photograph or image.
My seventh WARP – for the month of July – consists of the following:


world-life-expectancy-map-36343143This site has been developed by LeDuc Media, and displays a variety of life expectancy data in an easily understandable format. safe_imageMaps and statistics represent different causes of deaths across the world, and the section titled ‘world health rankings’ includes dynamic population pyramids, demographic summaries, and death rate data for all countries of the world. It is also possible in this section to compare data between two selected nations.


Elevation Chart
elevation-chartThis app is a great tool that can support work in class and in the field. It is possible to pin locations on the Google map, and view not only their elevation in feet or metres, but also the longitude, latitude and address. By placing two pins on the map, it is possible to see the elevation profile and walking distance between these two points.


KrakatoaMy selected book this month is “Krakatoa – The Day The World Exploded” by Simon Winchester. Published in 2003, this book chronicles the destruction of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa in 1883. Apart from the vivid descriptions and clear explanation of this catastrophic eruption, Winchester touches on a range of geographical topics – including Darwin and evolution, the creation of Morse code, the rubber trade and Alfred Wegener, the German explorer and father of geology.
“Krakatoa is a stark reminder of the truth of Will Durant’s famous aphorism ‘Civilisation exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice’ “ (page 301)
“The earth fashioned three of the five greatest volcanoes of historic time in this one gigantic factory. The largest the world has ever known was made there: Mount Toba, which erupted 74,000 years ago in what is now northern Sumatra. It had a Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI, of 8 – the highest on a scale that is now universally used to classify all eruptions (save for those which merely ooze lava, without exploding). Toba’s humongous explosion – the curious adjective is now officially used to describe giant volcanoes, the equivalent of the cyclonic sea-state that is these days termed phenomenal – left behind an immense lake, fifty miles long and fifteen wide, with the sheer caldera cliff rising 800 feet straight out of the water. The eruption left layers of dust eighteen inches thick on the ocean floor 1,500 miles away, and must have placed a severe crimp on the development of such Ur-humans as were struggling for existence in those times: it must have lowered the ambient temperature by many degrees, and made even more harsh a climate that was already in the midst of changing into yet another Ice Age.” (page 309 & 311)


This month, I offer some more photographs from a recent trip to the Azores with ‘Discover The World’ (see July blog):
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More photos from my travels can be seen at:

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Checking Out The Azores – A New Destination For School Geography?

IMG_1591During the Easter holiday, I was given the opportunity to join a teacher focus group to visit the Azores. The trip was organised by ‘Discover the World’, a tour company who specialise in taking school parties to exciting locations. They are already a market-leader in school trips to Iceland, and were keen to investigate the possibilities of expanding their portfolio, and offering trips to this Atlantic archipelago.
Before departing for the Azores, I was surprised how little was known about the islands by my friends and colleagues – and more strikingly, by fellow geographers. I managed to find time to carry out some research before my visit, but this did not prepare me for the stunning landscapes and distinctive atmosphere of the islands I was about to visit.
The Azores may not have the same breathtaking unique sights as Iceland – but it has a character of its own, and plenty to offer in terms of landscape ‘wow’ factor. The natural environment of the Azores is well protected and respected, and remains at present unspoilt by excessive tourist development.
It is difficult to imagine that this destination will remain under the radar of holiday-makers and school visits for much longer. With its direct flights, short flight time (less than 4 hours), similar time zone (minus one hour GMT), and relatively low domestic costs compared with northern Europe, the Azores has a head-start on many other locations.
The Azores consist of a chain of nine islands, and although the underlying theme of stunning volcanic landscapes makes this a very special destination, each island has its own characteristics and identity. It is therefore easy to understand why ‘Discover the World’ has recognised the rich potential of the Azores, and is keen to pioneer the development of this destination for school visits.
It seems likely that any study-based trips would be best aimed at either key stage four or key stage five students. An exciting programme could also be provided for key stage three students, but a number of activities included in the sample itineraries demand a degree of physical challenge, and any students from this age-range would need to be carefully selected.
It would not really be practical to visit all of the islands on a school trip, but clusters of the islands are close enough to each other to make it possible to include three or perhaps even four islands in a week- long trip. During the focus group trip, we were able to explore three of the islands – Sao Miguel, Pico, and Faial.
The flight from London Gatwick brings the visitor direct to the largest island in the archipelago, Sao Miguel. The main settlement of Ponta Delgada provides a mix of traditional and more modern architecture, and as it is the largest settlement in the archipelago, it has something of an ‘urban’ feel to it. We did not have much of an opportunity to explore the town, but a visit to the nearby Gruta da Carvao lava tube is worthy of a mention.
IMG_1460<The highlight of our time on Sao Miguel was undoubtedly our visit to Sete Cidades (‘Seven Cities’) , on day two, which certainly delivered some ‘awe and wonder’ right at the beginning of the trip. With a theme of ‘volcanoes’ for the day, a visit to the Vista do Rei viewpoint provides a unique opportunity to observe a large intact caldera and gain a clear understanding of how this special landscape has been created. Many calderas in other parts of the world are either too large for youngsters to appreciate, or have a broken caldera wall which disrupts not only the overview, but also the understanding of what is seen before them. From the viewpoint, students can begin an exciting journey that takes them into a volcano, dropping down to the caldera floor and the lakes contained within. Local legend links these impressive water features to two lovers – a shepherd boy and a Princess – who were forbidden by the King from seeing each other after their love was discovered. Upon this separation, the green-eyed shepherd’s tears fell to create the green lake, while the blue-eyed Princess’ crying formed the blue lake. The village on the lakeside provides a quiet and safe environment for students to roam with a degree of independence, and potentially address enquiry-based questions on tourism or industrial location (through the new EU funded work units). This location also offers excellent opportunities for challenging physical activities on or around the lakes. We were given a taste of these, trying our hands at canoeing on the lakes as well as a cycle along a lakeside mountain bike trail.
The next day on Sao Miguel gave us the chance to visit the area of Furnas to examine themes of ‘sustainable geo-tourism’ and ‘sustainable farming’. A short walk alongside Lagoa dos Furnas took us to the modern and well-equipped interpretation centre. Here, enthusiastic staff delivered an introduction and audio visual presentation before outlining a variety of themes that could be examined by students through pre-prepared enquiry activities. Topics such as tourism, eutrophication of freshwater environments, freshwater flora and fauna, vegetation sampling or sustainable land use and dairy farming can all be studied in this area.
IMG_1364Just a short walk from the centre it is possible to see ‘cozido’ lunches being prepared – by burying meals of meat and vegetables in the thermally-active sand, and allowing it to cook over a period of a few hours. Tastes good!
We were also able to visit the nearby Terra Nostra Gardens to bathe in the iron-stained thermal baths which became known to Iceland veterans as the ‘brown lagoon’! Later we also visited the Caldeira Velha site, where a similar thermal bath experience was offered. Another brief excursion on our first day took us to a working tea plantation.
IMG_1395There are many locations on the island of Sao Miguel that lend themselves to the study of ‘sustainable energy’. A number of geo-thermal power stations such as the Central Geotermica de Pico Vermelho provide guided visits, and it is also possible to visit to a working HEP station for comparison.
A dramatic and easily accessible coastline free from tacky tourist development on Sao Miguel provides potential for coastal geography studies. Our group visited Ferraria, where we were able to enjoy close-up views of some impressive coastal geology and landforms – including arches, stacks and blow-holes. While I leant against boulders to photograph these, the sea pounded the volcanic rocks beneath me, causing the whole cliffline to vibrate.
After a couple of days on the main island, we took a short 45 minute early morning flight to the second island destination of Pico. Here, we were able to make an ascent of the classic strato-volcano that forms the core of the island, and gives the island its name. This proved to be a physically demanding trek needing a full eight hours, but had as its reward stunning views from the summit. This would undoubtedly be a special highlight and achievement for students. It might be necessary to select students for this activity, depending on their physical and mental fitness. If not all trip members are capable of attempting the ascent of Pico, an alternative physical challenge – probably an extended trek – could be arranged.
Also on the island of Pico is the World Heritage site of the Craicao Velha vineyards, where vines are cultivated between shelter walls of basalt rock, forming a unique man-made landscape. In addition, the Gruta dos Torres lava tube provides a far superior experience to the one at Ponta Delgada. Thought to be one of the largest lava tubes in the world, this subterranean landscape has been kept very much in its natural state with few concessions to visitors like concrete walkways and lighting. A guided walk by torchlight revealed vast caverns, collapsed lava benches, pahoe-hoe and aa lavas, and lava ‘stalactites’, that had the appearance of melting chocolate.
IMG_1719To explore the third island on our tour, we took a 30 minute ferry journey from the town of Madelena on Pico to the island of Faial. The short ferry trip really helps to emphasise a sense of adventure for students, and also makes clear the physical division between the different islands they are scheduled to visit. Faial is a choice location for a whale-watching trip – although the same service is advertised from Sao Miguel. The surrounding waters here provide far more reliable sightings than other locations around the world. It is also possible to include a visit to the whaling museum at Porta Pim (preferably before the whale watching trip) to discover some of the history that helped to make the Azores famous. The attractive main settlement of Horta provides opportunities for town-based studies or a tourism enquiry based around the marina and port area.
There is an opportunity for another (less strenuous) physical challenge on Faial, a trek with an underlying theme of volcanism. After a short trip by coach to the viewpoint at the main caldera on Faial, a group can be then moved on to a convenient start point on the ‘10 volcanoes trail’ where it can follow a geological transect to the Capelinhos Visitors Centre. The final part of this trek takes you across volcanic ash fields that mark the recent 1957 eruption that created this peninsula and literally extended the island into the sea. Lava bombs litter the sides of the trail, and surface water has carved crazy patterns in the soft ash and pumice. The Centre itself has won a number of European awards, and a generous amount of time is needed there to explore the variety of photographic and video displays. These explain not only the creation of the Capelinhos peninsula, but also cover the subjects of volcanism and plate tectonics in an interesting and lively way.
it is also possible to visit the Botanical Gardens on Faial, where a lot of work has been done to protect native species through the creation of seed banks and reintroduction programmes. Enthusiastic staff are on hand to provide excellent information about the endemic plants of the island, as well as the invasive plants that have become such a threat. Some background knowledge of plant succession gained here proved invaluable on our walk to help us understandi the way in which the island’s plants have responded to the creation of the ‘new’ land of the Capelinhos peninsula.
Accommodation during our trip was based in local Pousadas, or youth hostels. These were similar in standard to UK youth hostels, and perfectly adequate for adults, but would need some modifications for use by school parties. The Pico hostel is particularly suitable for group visits, the layout of the rooms being ideal for school groups, and with generous living spaces that could be adopted for group use.
‘Discover the World’ are currently offering a short itinerary that explores just the largest island of Sao Miguel, and a longer trip (that would be my preference) to combine time on the islands of Sao Miguel, Pico and Faial. However, they are entirely flexible with their programmes, and will adjust itineraries to match any desired combination of islands, as well as any particular study theme. This could range from a general ‘look and see’ travel experience to a subject or theme based study trip, with work activities provided. The company has an outstanding reputation in the area of education travel, and its trips to Iceland and Morocco are especially popular. They are now applying their experience to offer this new and exciting destination, and I would highly recommend it be considered for your own next school adventure.
Sustainability may well be a ‘unique selling point’ theme for a school trip to the Azores. Students could then have a key question as a recurring reference, for example: ‘Is the future of the Azores sustainable?’ or perhaps: ‘Where will sustainable development take the Azores in 50 years time?’ Alternatively, a theme could be adopted to act as a specific focus for each day, or It might also be possible on multi-island itineraries to attach a particular theme to each island, in order to emphasise the individuality and distinctiveness of the different island locations. For example, Sao Miguel could have a theme (perhaps with a key question) of ‘sustainable energy’, Faial could have a theme of ‘volcanic landscapes’, and Pico’s theme could be ‘geo-tourism’.
Due to the changeable weather, it is difficult to predict the best time to visit the Azores. A trip could certainly be planned in the calendar between May and October half terms, but a July trip is likely to provide the better weather, better whale watching, and higher visitor numbers for data collection.
Details on school visits to the Azores (and all the other locations in the portfolio) along with sample itineraries can be found on the ‘Discover the World’ web site at:
Or, ring 01737 218800 and ask to speak to ‘Red Leader’ (Sonia) – she will tell you all you need to know.
Photos from the focus group visit can be found at:

Post Script: There is also a new resource bank being created by ‘Discover The World’ in conjunction with the Geographical Association at:
This will provide quality teaching aids for the Azores as well as other locations, along with tips on planning overseas fieldwork. The site is currently under construction with resources being updated in the next few months and it is free to register – well worth checking out!

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