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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Monthly WARP – June

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 sixth WARP – for the month of June – consists of the following:


ScreenHunter_02 Jun. 22 15.54The ‘Information is Beautiful’ web site has been put together by author, writer and designer David McCandless. He has a passion for visualising information – facts, data, ideas, subjects, issues, statistics, questions – all with the minimum of words.
McCandless’ site supports geography teachers by providing resources (and ideas) that can be used to help students make sense of the world.
Infographics can be purchased online for download – at $5 some of them are really good value for large classroom posters – and there are always a few freebies highlighted that might be useful in the classroom. For example, this PDF titled ‘How Many Gigatons of CO2?’ is currently available.

ScreenHunter_03 Jun. 22 15.55This web site is a great tool to get the creative juices of students flowing. It allows you to build up a storyboard from a wide range of stick characters, backgrounds, text boxes etc. There is a free ‘lite’ version, and an educational version sells for under $10 per month. Finished strips can be saved as Powerpoint presentations, image collections etc. If you are looking for something with a little more sophistication than tools like Bitstrips, Comic Life, Pixton and the like – this may be worth a look.


Disaster Alert

ScreenHunter_01 Jun. 23 15.22Most of the apps that I have highlighted in recent blog WARPS have been generic apps that have a use across all subject areas. This month I have picked some with a specific use in the geography (or science?) classroom. ‘Disaster Alert’ provides users with near real-time access to data on active hazards globally—representing avalanches, cyclones, landslides, tsunami, volcanoes (and many others) on a Google map background. By clicking on a particular disaster, access is instantly provided to further information, large scale maps, and the ability to add different layers in a GIS format. Great for lesson starters and also for more detailed probing into particular disaster issues.


milliondeathquake_musson_000This month’s reading material is ‘Million Death Quake’ by Roger Musson. In this book, seismologist Roger Musson takes the reader on an informative journey through everything you need to know about earthquakes. He explores how the powerful geological forces that drive earthquakes and tsunamis were first discovered. He explains why places such as California and Japan are hot spots and why rogue earthquakes can potentially strike in unlikely places such as Charleston, South Carolina, and Hong Kong. The real danger of earthquakes isn’t the ones we are expecting – it’s the ones we aren’t. Surveying the future of earthquake prediction, Musson breaks down the science behind one of the world’s most terrifying natural disasters and shows how amazing feats of engineering are now making our cities earthquake-proof. Highlighting hot spots around the world from Mexico City to New York City, this is a compelling look at nature at its fiercest.

Some extracts:
“If I look at the global list of deaths from earthquakes in the last 400 years, a remarkable picture emerges; fully 85% are concentrated in a roughly east-west zone running from Portugal to Japan. This area accounts for a mere 12% of the Earth’s surface, but with a combination of strong earthquakes, high population and poor housing, it forms the world’s greatest confluence of hazard, exposure and vulnerability.” (pp 17-18)

“The northernmost coast of Sumatra, around the city of Bandeh Aceh, was swamped almost immediately after the earthquake. North of Sumatra, the fault runs almost north-south, and the wave launched eastward, straight at the tourist resorts of Thailand. But the wave was travelling westward as well, towards more tourist beaches on the coasts of Sri Lanka and southern India. The wave travelled straight across the Indian Ocean at high speed, arriving about two hours after the earthquake. The scenes of horror that had already unfolded in Thailand were repeated on the other side of the Bay of Bengal.
Except on one beach. There, as elsewhere, people noticed that the sea was starting to go out. It was like a low tide but more rapid, and the water went out a long way. This was puzzling to everyone except an English schoolgirl named Tilly Smith, who was enjoying a tropical Christmas with her parents. She remembered from her geography classes something called a tsunami, a destructive wave that sometimes accompanies earthquakes, and that sometimes before a tsunami strikes the sea recedes for no obvious reason.
Well, the sea was receding when it plainly had no cause to. When you learn about exotic things with Japanese names in geography class, you don’t ever expect to encounter them yourself, especially when your school is in England. But what other explanation could there be? So she told her parents that really, this was probably not just some inexplicable thing that was happening, but that they were actually in a lot of danger. Fortunately, her parents believed her and started yelling at people to clear the beach.
Sure enough, a little while later the tsunami rolled in – over a deserted beach.” (pp 123-124)

“The magnitude of the 1906 San Francisco quake was just below 8, but let us round it up to 8 for the sake of argument. At some point one can expect a recurrence – a similarly sized earthquake that will break more or less the same length of fault as ruptured in 1906. Current opinion amongst seismologists is that such a repeat earthquake may be due around 2030 – but don’t put this on your calendar, for the uncertainties are large.
One could argue along this line: In about 20 years’ time the strain that has built up since 1906 will be released in a magnitude 8 earthquake that will do a lot of damage. To stop that, we need to dissipate that strain energy in advance. Smaller earthquakes are less damaging than larger ones, so if we can release the energy in a series of controlled smaller earthquakes, we can prevent the larger earthquake from ever happening.
In theory this might be possible, although its hard to know exactly what would happen if engineers just started pumping water into bits of the San Andreas. But let us suppose that problem is solved. Let us suppose that a way could be found to know in advance that if you pumped X million litres exactly here, here and here, you could say precisely what magnitude earthquake would happen as a result – would that solve the problem?
The crunch is the way energy translates into magnitude, as I discussed earlier (in chapter 5). To use up all the energy that makes up a magnitude 8 earthquake, you would need the equivalent of 30 magnitude 7 earthquakes. Remember that the Haiti earthquake was a 7; that is how much shaking a 7 can cause. Do you really want to face 30 of those in Northern California during the next 20 years? So let’s opt for magnitude 6 instead. Now we need 900 of them to do the job, strung out across the 450 km or so from Shelter Cove to San Juan Bautista. That’s a lot of earthquakes – and even a magnitude 6 can cause damage. With a target of 900 quakes in 20 years, one would need roughly one a week to dissipate all that energy. Would people tolerate that?” (pp 150-151)


This month, I offer some rock formations from Tenerife:



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Monthly WARP – May

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 fifth WARP – for May – consists of the following:


ScreenHunter_02 May. 28 12.17 This site displays current news items in a giant tiled display – which looks really good when projected onto a whiteboard screen. It makes a nice starter, and a great support to bring topical news issues into lessons. Once you have registered, the display screen can be customised to focus on news items from a combination of countries, or just one specific location. I usually set mine to UK news, and also filter out certain themes, like business, sport and entertainment. If you hover over an individual news headline, more detail is given, along with links to a range of related articles. Boom!
ScreenHunter_01 May. 28 12.16>This site allows you to access newspapers from different locations on a world map. It is really useful for gaining an insight into a particular issue from a different country’s perspective. The map can be filtered by language, and also has a good search facility.

ScreenHunter_03 May. 28 12.48This month’s featured I Pad app is I GEOLOGY. This free app contains over 500 geological maps of Britain. Once the app is open, the GPS finds your location and allows you to discover the geology you are standing on, both bedrock and superficial. You can also search with place names and post codes. A useful support for fieldwork. The maps use the British Geological Survey’s national scale (1:625 000) and ‘Landranger’ scale (1:50 000) geological data sets of the UK.

ScreenHunter_04 May. 28 12.49There is also a 3D version available on the Google platform, which allows you to use your ‘phone camera to paint geological maps over the landscape in front of you.

ScreenHunter_05 May. 28 12.50A useful app to combine with I Geology is ‘MY SOIL’ , also produced by the BGS. This allows you to view a soil map in your local area, providing information about soil depth, texture, pH and so on.


planetoftheslumsMy highlighted reading this month is Mike Davis’s “Planet of Slums” – an exploration of the possible future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Davis traces the history of informal slum settlements from the 1960s ‘slums of hope’ through urban poverty’s ‘big bang’ of the debt decades of the 1970s and 1980s, right up to the current mega-slums of Sadr City, Cape Flats and the like.
“In China the greatest industrial revolution in history is the Archimedean lever shifting a population the size of Europe’s from rural villages to smog-choked, sky-climbing cities; since the market reforms of the late 1970s it is estimated that more than 200 million Chinese have moved from rural areas to cities. Another 250 million or 300 million people – the next ‘peasant flood’ – are expected to follow in coming decades”
“Of the 500,000 people who migrate to Delhi each year, it is estimated that fully 400,000 end up in slums; by 2015 India’s capital will have a slum population of more than 10 million. ‘If such a trend continues unabated’ warns planning expert Gautam Chatterjee, ‘we will have only slums and no cities’ “
“By 2015 Black Africa will have 332 million slum-dwellers, a number that will continue to double every 15 years”


A few photographs this month with a theme of ‘water’ from my annual school trip to Uganda. I am currently working on a report onthe trip, and will publish this in a later blog. More photographs from Uganda can be found at:




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Monthly WARP – April

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 fourth WARP – for April – consists of the following:

ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 29 09.41This site is a bit of fun – it generates screen images of mobile ‘phone text messages that you create yourself. It could be a useful classroom tool, though – I like to use it to generate little starters for lessons or introductions to exercises like photograph analysis.
ScreenHunter_02 Apr. 29 09.49

This site should be in the ‘favourites’ section of all geographers. There are nearly 700 maps to search through, all producing equal area maps representing the variable chosen. They make really useful additions in presentations, provide great starters for lessons, and can provoke deep thinking within students when accompanied by skilful questioning.

Pic C
One of my favourite I Pad apps is PIC COLLAGE. This app allows you to assemble a series of images in interesting ways, and also add text. Great for classroom posters, book covers, and providing creative opportunities for students.
ScreenHunter_03 Apr. 29 10.04>

Ed S

My highlighted reading this month is Ed Stafford’s “Walking The Amazon” – a narrative of his incredible 860 day journey tracing the path of the Amazon river from source to sea. It took Ed nearly two and a half years to achieve his goal, overcoming encounters with snakes, electric eels, tropical storms, and drug cartels. The physical and mental strength needed for such a journey come across clearly, as he became the first person to conquer this arduous journey.

For my photos this month, I have chosen some glacier images from Argentina:

More images from my travels can be found at:

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Premier League Apps – Avoiding App Frenzy

One of the exciting things about setting off on an I Pad journey in school is the exploration of the wide availability of apps available to support both learning and teaching. One of the significant advantages of Apple devices over their competitors remains the quality, quantity and low prices of available software. In November, 2012 Apple approved its one millionth app, and there have been no less than 60 billion downloads from the App Store to date. However, the wide availability of apps can also be a barrier to progress. One piece of advice I can offer to anyone starting off a new I pad project is to try to avoid the ‘app frenzy’ that seems to naturally arise at the offset.

It is great to hear colleagues talk with enthusiasm about a particular app that they have discovered, but all to easy to fall into the ‘there’s an app for that’ trap, and collect anything that seems remotely useful on your tablet. Apps form the basis of many conversations about I Pads, but the success of tablet provision in the classroom is certainly not underpinned solely by apps – I have made it clear in earlier blogs how I feel that pedagogy must be the prime mover when planning the use of tablets in the classroom. Once a clear direction and purpose in learning has been established, then suitable software can be chosen to support this. Therefore, rather than collect apps like stamps, I would suggest that it is more productive to carefully select a small number of generic apps and become highly skilled in their use.

A useful challenge is to try to limit your app collection to a single I pad screen. Without including any of The I Pad’s own apps like Calendar, Clock, App Store and so on, it is possible to fit 20 apps onto a screen (avoiding the use of folders), with the possibility of adding a further 6 on the home bar. This gives you a total of 26 apps to form your ‘premier collection’. The collective cost of this collection of generic apps that can be used to support learning in any subject area is probably less than a single glossy textbook, so represents real value for money!

I have included my ‘premier collection’ screen below:


‘Premier League’ apps (in no particular order):
EXPLAIN EVERYTHING – my main ‘go to’ app for students to compile their work and demonstrate their understanding
BOOK CREATOR – great tool for students to present their work and publish as an e-book
I MOVIE – allows students to curate and edit their own films along with clips from external sources. The I Movie Trailer tool is particularly useful
VIDEOSCRIBE – easy to use animation tool that students can use to demonstrate understanding
TELLEGAMI – can be used to make short animated films
POPPLET – mind mapping planning tool
PUPPET PALS – story telling / explaining tool using animated cartoon characters
QR READER – to read quick response codes
PIC COLLAGE – neat way to combine a set of images in a creative way
SOCRATIVE – excellent AFL tool that gives instant feedback and a way to quickly assess student understanding through quizzes and exit tickets
COMIC LIFE – turns pictures and text into comic strips to summarise key events or show understanding
WORD FOTO – constructs pictures from key vocabulary
I BOOKS – source of free publications, and a place to publish students’ work
DROPBOX – cloud storage site for completed student work
THINGLINK – make interactive maps and photos
STICK AROUND – students can make puzzles to demonstrate learning
SKITCH – annotate photos or maps
FX STUDIO – simple green screening tool works well with I Movie
PAPERPORT NOTES – simple note taking software
AURASMA – augmented reality key site

And on the home bar:
I MOTION – stop motion animation
EDMODO – ‘Facebook for schools’ facilitates student teacher communication and sharing of resources
SHOW ME (or EDUCREATIONS) – simple screen casting tools
SHOWBIE – shares resources and manages student work
VIDEO IN VIDEO – 2 films in one
HAIKU DECK – alternative presentation tool. PowerPoint with themes

This is today’s selection, but my choices would probably be different tomorrow! My favourite apps change from day to day as new ones are discovered or recommended. I will mention a few additional ‘near misses’ apps as my ‘subs bench’:

Pages, Keynote, GarageBand, Paper By 53, Action Movie, Rory’s Story Cubes, Autorap, Coach My Video, Bitstrips, Grafio and I Buttons all nearly made it onto the main screen.

I will give consideration to a set of 26 Geography apps in my next blog, and also attempt to create a ‘Premier Choice’ of 26 free apps. I would be interested to hear what apps would be selected by other educators – what gems have I overlooked?

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March 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 third WARP – for March – consists of the following:

<a href="
ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 23 11.59This site is run by an international team of developers, and researchers, and aims to make global statistics available in a thought-provoking and easily accessible way. It is a great reference point for geographers, providing real-time data for lessons. It works really well as a starter stimulus, and I quite like to have it running on the whiteboard as students enter the room. Often, they will form their own questions to answer in the lesson from the data changing in front of their eyes. The site contains data on world population growth, birth rates, death rates, cars produced, computers sold, cellular phones sold, Google searches, forest loss, CO2 emissions, world hunger, water consumption – and a whole lot more. Give it a try!

<a href="
ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 23 12.00I was alerted to this site by the excellent Sonny Sharma (@sanjeshsharma) from ‘New Ways To Learn’ – the company who helped us set up our I Pad programme. This free site (formerly known as ‘Edcanvas’) is a great user-friendly tool that can be used to gather resources and plan lessons, and share with just one link. It also has the capacity to measure progress through in-built quizzes. The schools version offers unlimited space for classes, students and lessons. This site has proved useful when setting cover work, resourcing ‘flipped’ lessons, project-based learning and differentiating resources. Students can also use the platform themselves to create ‘canvases’ where they can search for and pull in videos, URLs and text which they can then annotate and share. Search for it on You Tube to see it in action, or explore the site yourself!

thinglink_logo1-2ci0gdfThinglink is a web-based tool (and IOS app) that allows students and teachers to create exciting interactive images that come alive with music, video, text, and images. It is a simple tool to operate, and students can demonstrate their understanding of a topic by researching, selecting and quickly adding their own resources to an image through symbols that act as hyperlink hot spots. Thinglink works really well to add further information to maps.

Interactive mind map

Interactive mind map

???????????This unique web based tool (also available as an Android or IOS app) allows the user to make engaging animated videos that bring real impact to a message or offer a really creative opportunity to explain an aspect of learning. If you have been impressed by the RSA Animate series of films – for example, Ken Robinson’s excellent film on creativity – then this app is made for you. A free seven day trial will get you hooked, and the pro account (costing £119 a year) then opens up a range of extra gadgets and gizmos. A site-wide licence is available for use in schools.

ChinaMy chosen book this month is “When a Billion Chinese Jump”, by The Guardian’s Asia correspondent, Jonathan Watts. He examines China’s modern development, and how this has the capacity to affect us all in terms of climate change, resource use, energy security, and so on. The book is sub-titled ‘How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy It’, and is not just a bleak journey through China’s environmental disasters but also offers some hope for the future by examining some of China’s success stories in its bid for sustainable development.
Some brief extracts:
“On one hand, the country is taking bigger strides to develop renewable energy than any other nation. But on the other, the benefits are being outweighed by an energy demand that is growing even faster. Like Gulliver, a handful of huge, high profile, low carbon projects are being swamped by millions of tiny, barely registered, high-carbon habits. To overcome this, it will not be enough to throw up buildings; lifestyles will also have to be redesigned.”
“Despite its reputation as an agricultural civilisation, for most of the last 2,000 years China has been by far the biggest producer of coal and iron in the world, a status lost only temporarily in the early 19th century when Britain began industrialising. It is no coincidence that the country’s recent return to great power status has come at a time when it is once again number one in these basic industries and when large numbers of peasants are working below rather than on the surface.”
“For 3,000 years China has been a country of farmers. Suddenly, it was a land of city dwellers. Britain has five urban centres of more than a million people; China has more than 120. A few – Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Nanjing – are well known around the world. The names of many others – Suqian, Suining, Xiantao, and Xinghua – are unfamiliar even to many Chinese. Building them required cement, steel, and timber. Once complete, homes required electricity for fridges, microwave ovens, TVs and air conditioners.”

A couple of photographs this month from a recent British Council visit to Saudi Arabia. I was overwhelmed by the welcome received from the schools visited, and enjoyed the delights of a modern city – Riyadh – as well as a visit to the desert. Amazing to see petrol priced at only 10p per litre! In school, teaching plate tectonics can cross all language barriers! I am currently working on a report from the trip, and will publish this in a later blog.

Kingdom Tower, Riyadh

Kingdom Tower, Riyadh

Petrol at 10p per litre!

Petrol at 10p per litre!


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Further I Pad Investigations – Fair Trade

In my January blog, I described a structure I had devised to support a classroom investigation that made use of the tools provided by an I Pad. I have been sufficiently encouraged by the results of this investigation to expand the idea into other lessons.
Curriculum WheelOne unit in my current year nine scheme of work focuses on fair trade, and is titled “There’s Nothing Sweet About Chocolate”. I decided to modify my plans to give the opportunity to students to display their understanding of this topic in a different way, making use of our new tablet technology.
CocoaAfter some ‘background’ lessons that looked at cocoa farming in Ghana, I framed the new investigation with an open question – “Can Fair Trade make Chocolate Sweeter”, and introduced the work by getting the students to log onto a freshly created Padlet Wall ( and record their initial thoughts and ideas about the subject. We then completed a short class quiz about fair trade using the Socrative app. The Padlet wall and quiz results gave us a lot to discuss, and also gave me a really accurate idea of what prior knowledge existed within the group. We also shared ideas on how we might present the findings, and which of the ‘killer apps’ were to be used as the main vehicle to record our findings.
ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 28 12.27

Fair Trade I Pad Investigation

It is always a dilemma trying to strike a balance between offering some structure for the learners while not restricting their outcomes to a certain formula. I decided to stick with the ‘must, should, could’ structure that was used to guide learning in the previous investigation – mainly because this group was relatively inexperienced with the new technology, and I felt they would benefit from a degree of prescription. Their structure included suggestions of different apps that could be used in their work – and I explained to them the term ‘app smash’, and how they could consider combining different applications in order to display their understanding clearly.
All learners had access to a range to a ‘mini library’ of geography textbooks, photocopies, and reference books in the classroom to support their research – but, as before, I used this investigation to introduce the students to the idea of QR codes. Many learners were, of course, already familiar with these – but still enjoyed using the QR Reader app on the I Pads to access a selection of web sites to search for information on their chosen topics. I favour this method strongly, as it allows the learners to make their own selections and choices of information to use, while also reducing the inordinate amount of time wasted by fruitless searches of the vast array of web resources available.
As the students become more familiar with working with I Pads to support investigations like this, I will be able to pull further and further away from a supporting structure. Ultimately, they will make entirely their own choices of methodology and also their own choices of appropriate apps to incorporate.
We have only just started this investigation, but students have already impressed me with the their thoughtful comments made as an initial response to the main question. Most of them have recorded these thoughts using the excellent Tellegami app, but others have chosen text, short videos, and sound recordings. I look forward to helping them with their research into the support materials, and know I will be impressed by the depth and creativity that will result from me taking a step to the side to let the learning flourish. As the students’ work progresses, I pop in my ongoing assessment comments and advice using the recording tools. This is much easier than writing, and can include a lot more praise, constructive criticism and suggestions for future direction than I could ever hope to offer through written notes.
The completed results will be stored in our Dropbox account for final assessment, and will also then be available to use to model the task for future groups.

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