Using I Pads To Link Ecuador and Exmoor

images7S3VYODVI have always been keen to promote departmental work with an international theme, and was delighted last summer to be involved in a project linking my school with students in Ecuador.

The venture was set up by Neil Emery from Trilby – a company specialising in the use of digital technology in education. Neil has organised two previous projects in Ecuador, visiting tribal groups and delivering technology workshops to pupils at local community schools. Further details of his achievements can be found at:

The 2015 project involved six UK schools. Apart from ourselves, Flitton Green Academy, Elm Park Primary School, Willow Wood Primary School, Malmesbury Church of England Primary School and Lever House Primary School are all working on contributions to the project, and all received Skype calls from Neil from Neil as he visited the Ecuador schools earlier in the year. The idea of the project was to use I Pad technology to connect UK and Ecuador students while working on a common focus. This year, the students were set the challenge of examining water quality in their local areas, and we focused on the river Lyn on Exmoor – famous for the devastating Lynmouth flood disaster that took place back in 1952.

I PadOur students teamed up with Dave Gurnett, a Ranger from the Exmoor National Park, to run tests on the East Lyn river. They began with some standard river profile measurements (cross section, wetted perimeter, water velocity, bed load etc), and followed with an examination of land use in the valley and surrounding area, noting the influence on water quality operated by agricultural practices, moorland conservation measures, and tourist visitors in this part of the National Park.

Working In RiverThe students then worked in small teams to complete a biological assessment by running kick samples on stretches of the river to examine insect life as indicators of the health of the water.
TrayMacroinvertebrates (animals without backbones that are large enough to be seen without the aid of a microscope) are valuable indicators of the health of rivers in part because they are benthic, meaning they are typically found on the river bed and do not move over large distances. Therefore, they cannot easily or quickly migrate away from pollution or environmental stress.
InsectBecause different species of macroinvertebrates react differently to environmental stressors like pollution, sediment loading and habitat changes, quantifying the diversity and density of different macroinvertebrates at a given site can create a picture of the environmental conditions and health of the river. Species intolerant to environmental stress disappear (eg mayflies, stoneflies and caddie flies) while tolerant species will be the only survivors in a dirty river, eg leeches and tubifex worms.

iPhone_wAirlink_70059Students were also able to make use of their I Pads to operate a Passport AirLink 2 measuring instrument donated by Pasco, an electronics company, who have given their support to the project.
ProbeSensitive probes and sensors, combined with the SPARKvue app, allowed accurate measurement of water temperature, acidity, conductivity and dissolved oxygen levels.









It was difficult deciding which students should be chosen to take part in this project, so we tried a completely different approach, forming a study group comprising a number of high attaining geography students along with selected Pupil Premium students and a number of students with special educational needs. This blend proved to be tremendously successful, allowing the gifted students to delve deep into new aspects of the topic – a particular interest being shown in the Exmoor Mires Project, where we were shown how management and restoration of peat bogs in the catchment area of the river helped to improve overall water quality. They also adopted mentoring roles to support the other students in the group, who rose magnificently to the challenges of the data collection and presentation tasks set before them.

After returning to school, students began to write up their findings using I Book Author software, which they had not previously used. Their efforts will later be merged with work prepared by students in the other schools to produce a shared e-book, which will eventually be published and sold to raise funds to support future projects. Neil’s dream is to restore and equip a boat to travel the rivers of Ecuador and visit local schools to deliver his I Pad lessons, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to continue to be part of this exciting venture.

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

Time To Retire – It Wuz The Chaffinch Wot Dun It, Guv!

I took early retirement from my teaching post on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 – drawing a close to a 35 year career.

_62194851_specialsI began teaching in 1980, when the pop charts were ruled by bands like ‘Dexy’s Midnight Runners’, ‘ The Boomtown Rats’, and ’The Specials’ – and my bedroom wall was adorned by posters of Debbie Harry. Showing in the cinemas were blockbusters like ’The Shining’, ’Raging Bull’ and ’Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back’. This was the year of Thatcher’s ‘The Lady is not for turning’ speech, the shooting of John Lennon, and the last time the old sixpence figured as legal currency. To emphasise the depth of my 35 year teaching career, I had already been working for seven years before my youngest teaching colleague had been born.

Times were certainly very different then. My first exam class was filled by no less than forty students, all crammed into my room to admire the beautiful chalk art work created lovingly for them on a old chipped blackboard. I remember the extended lunchtimes very well – over an hour of relaxation time to join in with students’ sports practices, or take a place in one of three bridge schools in the smoke-filled staffroom.

I smile now to think back to the technology available to support my lessons. Today, I try to16mm_projector-p push the boundaries of learning with I Pad tablets, but I remember cutting my technological teeth on computers that demanded you sitting for ages while the software loaded via cassette tape. This was the pre-video age, and visual treats had to come from 16 mm films hired from the county library service. Then video arrived (anyone remember the battles between Betamax and VHS?), and moving with the times, my school created a dedicated ‘video studio’ that teachers could book out. The whole class was marched up to the room, and sat in front of Geography legends of the day like Bernard Clark or Bill Grundy for a full fifty minute lesson – probably a welcome break from their Waugh textbooks.

There have been very few low moments in my 35 years, although I was attacked in school by a parent many years ago. After (rather effectively) defending myself, I ended up in court accused of assault by my attacker. Fortunately, the incident was seen by a number of school cleaners and pupils, and they later gave their accounts in the witness box. I was quite shocked when my assailant arrived at court in handcuffs, accompanied by a prison warden – but It later transpired that he was at the time serving a sentence for fire-arms offences. That probably didn’t do his case a power of good, and charges were eventually dropped.

Nearly all of my school memories have been good ones, and it is very hard to pick out particular highlights. My most embarrassing moment came in my first few years of teaching, following a visit to school from an environmental health inspector. One of my many hobbies is taxidermy, and I had persuaded the food tech teacher to help me out by providing some freezer space, as I had filled up mine at home. While the Inspector was checking out the school freezer contents, he was horrified to discover a badger pelt, a fox head, a mole and a couple of plovers – all neatly wrapped and labelled. I was called to account, and let off with a stiff telling off – not so sure I would have got away with that one today.

DSCF1198Probably my best school memories involve the residential fieldwork excursions I have organised. In my career. I have led 7 European ski trips, 20 Lake District field weeks, 18 Lundy Island field weeks, 6 whole year seven trips to Dartmoor, and most recently, three 10 day trips to Uganda. When added together, this amounts to over 2000 students benefitting from great experiences beyond their local area – I am proud of that fact. Interestingly, they combine to over 370 days (a full year) away from home! I would not be able to accurately add together all of the day or part day trips that have also been enjoyed over the years – and this is genuinely a part of my job I will miss in retirement.



So why did I decide to retire? I always intended to stop at 55, so I like to think I carried on for 2 extra years rather than finish (at 57) three years early. My epiphany moment involved a common garden bird – hence the title of this piece. One morning back in April, I was walking my dog through the 3 acre woodland I planted over twenty years ago. While I rested for a moment on my favourite seat, a chaffinch flitted amongst the branches above me. The chaffinch is the UK’s second most common breeding bird, and easily recognised by everyone. But how many people can recall with any accuracy the real detail of this spectacular bird? Who can picture the blue-grey crown of the male, or the chestnut back that contrast the bright pink chest? Who has noticed the jet black bar at the base of the beak? Who remembers the double white wing bars that flash so brightly when it flies? Picking out those colours as the little finch posed for me made me realise how little time I have in my life to pause and study things in such detail. Everything moves at such a rapid pace, there is only time for a brief acknowledgement of what is there – no time to dwell, reflect and enjoy. It reminded me of the delightful poem by W H Davies:

 “What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass.

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like the skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can,

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poorer life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

In recent months, my responsibilities of Head of Geography combined with my Senior Leadership role, had become all-consuming. Although I continued to relish the challenges on offer – there was less and less time for any other distractions. I was missing the detail of life going on around me, and decided there and then it was time to step off the treadmill and take things a bit slower.

I do leave with a number of concerns for our education system, and will watch closely how it shapes in future years. Although I fully understand the need to evidence progress, I have been increasingly concerned by the way data has come to dominate our work. We have so many labels for our students – pupil premium, FSM, SEN, GAT – and so much data on each of them, that I worry we are starting to blur their identities and lose the individual and unique back story each one of them has. I am not convinced that the same joy of learning and breadth of experience in schools is present in the same amounts as when I started out. avatarThis was all brought to a sharp focus for me when I was using the new ‘Mint Class’ programme our school has recently installed. This excellent piece of software presents all of the key information needed for each student in an easily accessible arrangement, along with a picture of the individual concerned. One student in my group had only recently joined the class, and a photo was not yet available. So, on the screen I had this grey shadowed avatar accompanied by a pile of data about reading age, target grades and so on. This acted as a frightening metaphor for my concerns – an anonymous student, neither male nor female, identified purely by a scramble of numbers.

However, I do still hope to be involved in education – and think it would be a shame not to continue to make use of the subject knowledge and experience built up over such a long time. I will happily return to my old school for cover work, and have offered my services to the Geographical Association – having been on their consultants’ register for ten years or so. I should also have more time to devote to regular blogging – not just the quick single offering each month. My real passion over recent years has been the use of I Pads to enhance learning, and I hope to be able to offer support and advice to teachers wanting to make progress in this area. I would really love to get the opportunity to apply to be an Apple Distinguished Educator in the future.

Outside of education, my 7 acres of land and gardens will receive the attention they deserve, and hopefully, my golf handicap will shrink a little with the extra practice. l have promised Mrs B I will make more of an effort in the kitchen, and my ‘new skill’ to learn will hopefully involve the making of pies – although there is absolutely no connection here to my taxidermy hobby which I also intend to develop. I have been fortunate to have many opportunities in my life to travel far and wide – visiting all seven continents – so now the plan is to spend more time exploring the corners of my homeland – searching for the detail on the chaffinch, so to speak.

I am not really sure what the immediate future holds for me – but I kind of like that. Let me sign off by quoting the words of Groucho Marx: “There is one thing I need to do before I quit – and that’s retire” – so that’s what I have done.

Posted in General Geo, School, Students, Teachers, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Myth-Busting the New ‘San Andreas’ Movie – Sorting Fact From Fiction

I managed to catch the new movie ‘San Andreas’ last night – perfect timing for a unit of work I had just started with year nine students, looking at earthquake preparedness in California.

It is a classic American ‘action movie’, and if you can tolerate the weak script and clichéd drama – the 3D special effects come to the fore, and very impressive they proved to be.

Film trailer:

San_Andreas_posterA number of my students had either already been to see the film, or were planning to over the next few days – and it was pleasing that much of the content was actually accurate and directly relevant to the work they were doing in class. The San Andreas Fault system was obviously highlighted, but there were also good references to seismologists, plate tectonics and some coverage of the earthquake history in this dynamic part of the world.  There were also mentions of the Moment Magnitude measuring scale, as well as some reference to rebuilding after a natural disaster in an MEDC. I particularly liked the coverage given to earthquake drills such as ‘duck, cover and hold’ as well as one scene where the lead actor ‘The Rock’ (who was actually very good, I thought, despite the poor material he was given to work with) encouraged a group of citizens to brace themselves against a solid wall to avoid flying debris.

However, watching as a geographer, there were also many inaccuracies that were given film license. I promised Mrs B I would not harp on about these on the journey home after the film, but I feel I need now to get them off my chest.

First of all, let’s deal with the main premise of the movie – that an earthquake of M 9.1 has shaken California, and a further 9.6 earthquake was on its way.  Although this region surely faces the impact of a potentially large ‘quake in the short-term future, earthquakes of the size suggested in the film could certainly not be generated from the plate dynamics here. The San Andreas system is noted for producing large earthquakes in the past, but a magnitude 9 or larger is virtually impossible because the fault system is not long enough or deep enough. In the film, the entire fault ruptured from Mexico to Oregon, and this kind of event has never been seen before, and is a highly unlikely scenario for the future. The most powerful ‘quakes recorded in history have struck along offshore subduction zones where one tectonic plate dives beneath another (the 1960 magnitude 9.5 earthquake off Chile is the current ‘world record holder’, and did get a mention in the film). Modern computer models show that San Andreas is capable of producing a magnitude 8.3 earthquake, but anything larger is dubious.

Next, the tsunami.  Although there was a nice mini-scene where ‘The Rock’ spotted the tide receding, and correctly identified this as a warning sign of a tsunami  – the San Andreas cannot spawn these giant sea waves. Most of the San Andreas Fault is landlocked, and where it heads offshore, it occupies only shallow waters. In the 1906 earthquake, a less than half a metre wave was generated. Landslides resulting from the Santa Barbara ‘quake of 1862 did produce a tsunami of several metres in height – but this nowhere near matches up to the mega-tsunami in the movie that destroys the Bay bridges and flips container ships onto the shore. Most tsunamis are triggered by underwater ‘quakes that lead to giant sea waves formed when the Earth’s crust violently shifts to displace huge volumes of seawater. The San Andreas is a strike-slip fault, where opposing blocks of rock slide past each other horizontally. A big San Andreas ‘quake can spark fires and cause building collapse, but it could never displace water and flood San Francisco Bay! The numerous small tsunamis that have been recorded in the past along the Californian coast have been mainly triggered by far away tectonic events, and the threat from local events is not significant.

maxresdefaultTo portray the aftermath of the major earthquake, the film showed giant fissures appearing in the ground that swallowed up cars, people and whole buildings. Most earthquakes that cause ground rupture do have associated tension cracks that can, at times, get large enough to place an arm into – but the giant chasms of the film would not be realised.

San-Andreas-featured-imageThere were some brilliantly made images of collapsing skyscrapers in the film – but it is more likely that they will remain intact due to the high technology foundations and structures employed in their construction. Even in the recent Nepal earthquake, where poor standard construction was common, destruction looked nothing like that shown in the film. Most damage in any future Californian earthquakes will more likely focus on unreinforced masonry and soft-storey buildings, not the modern ones which will shake, rattle and sway – but not necessarily tumble down.

Some of the most dramatic special effects in the film depicted the collapse of the Hoover Dam because of earthquake activity. Could a large earthquake in Nevada trigger the San Andreas system into action to destroy the dam? There are certainly fault lines in this region that are capable themselves of generating earthquakes in excess of M 7.5, but they are nowhere near the dam itself. It is extremely unlikely that any disturbance to the San Andreas system would result in serious damage to the far away Hoover Dam.

One underlying theme in the movie was the work of the scientists at Caltech (a real university) who had successfully developed methods to accurately predict tectonic events. Although, we might accept that we need to listen carefully to scientific research, even the richest and most technologically advanced nations are still a long way from accurate and reliable earthquake prediction. All possible warning signs – including animal behaviour, weather patterns, electromagnetic signals, atmospheric observations, levels of radon gas in soil or groundwater – have failed, and scientists are generally pessimistic about ever having the ability of earthquake prediction. The latest focus in high risk areas has been to create early warning systems that give a few seconds’  warning before the strongest shaking is felt by residents.

Another fallacy in the film was the suggestion that the Californian quake would release so much energy, it would be felt in New York City. Even the largest San Andreas shaker would not rattle the east coast of the USA! Historic accounts show that shaking from the huge 1906 San Andreas ‘quake was barely felt even in nearby western Nevada and southern Oregon.

imagesSo, ‘San Andreas’ is certainly a treat for fans of CGI graphics and special effects, and the geographical theme makes it a ‘must see’ for budding seismologists. Interestingly, on May 29th of this year – the same day the film was released – a M 3.8 earthquake was reported near Indio in California. So whatever the scientific flaws of this movie, at least it might remind us of the potential reality facing this part of the world. If nothing else, the film might rekindle a serious public conversation about the possible consequences of a large earthquake in modern America, and how best people might prepare for it. Check the movie out, and let me know what you think.

Tomorrow,  it’s time for ‘Mad Max’ – and I will probably have to think water issues or recycling themes if I am to connect it to next week’s geography lessons!

Posted in General Geo, Physical World, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Instant Images – Visualisers in the Classroom

Visualiser 1I have recently fallen back in love with one of my older classroom tools – my visualiser. I have used a visualiser for a number of years, but have spent more time recently using I Pads and Apple TV as a classroom camera. However, I still try to keep the visualiser permanently connected to my whiteboard, and when I stick to the habit of switching it on at the start of the day, I find a multitude of uses during lessons.

It is possible to spend a small fortune on a visualiser, but few department budgets would stretch to this. At the end of the day – all a visualiser is merely a digital camera on a bendy wire with a few tools and controls in the base. Even the most basic models (retailing around £100 or so) do come with basic functionality like zooming, freeze-frame, screen capture and split screen.

I use my visualiser mainly to quickly display a student’s work to the whole class – perhaps to model a particular piece as good practice I have spotted – or to offer a sample to the class for constructive criticism as peer assessment. I have used it a lot recently with year eleven students – dissecting exam questions and applying mark schemes to students’ attempted answers. However, it is also regularly used to show extracts from textbooks, maps, daily newspapers, pictures and photographs, and also objects such as rock samples.

The visualiser is particularly helpful in allowing fragile rock or fossil samples to be shared with the students, and is great for showing detail such as crystal structure to the whole class, labelling the image (using the whiteboard tools), before freezing the screen – and then passing the specimens around for the students to handle themselves.

A visualiser can also allow the class to see quick experiments and demonstrations without having to leave their seats and fight for a place around the teacher’s desk. Things like acid reactions on carbonate samples, acidity testing of liquids and the like can be made easily accessible to all.

EpidiascopeVisualisers are not necessarily new additions to the classroom – when I first started teaching back in 1980, I had the use of what was then pretty impressive technology – an epidiascope. This worked on the same principle as a desk camera – projecting an image up onto the screen – but was an enormous shiny silver contraption that resembled a baby armadillo and took up a complete table by itself. Technology has certainly come a long way since those days!

I use an Aver Vision camera, but there are plenty to choose from in the marketplace today. IPevo make a popular range of good-value cameras, and I have also had recommendations from colleagues for Genee Vision and Easi-view models.

Visualiser 2I regularly use I Pads in my geography lessons, and love the way Apple TV or apps like Reflector and Air Serve allow all the functionality of a visualiser, in addition to giving each student a chance to take control of the screen and share their work. The camera in all I Pad models is so good that combined with pinch-finger zooming, produces an amazingly sharp close-up view of a section of a map or photograph, or a sample of writing. I recently invested in a specialist stand to hold a single I Pad for use as a visualiser, but if you search on You Tube, there are some great short films that show how an old OHP can be converted to perform the same function.

If you haven’t yet made use of a visualiser in your lessons, try to get hold of one to start the new academic year. Set it up to be ‘live’ each time you fire up your lap top or desk PC, and I guarantee you will soon be using it throughout the day. It won’t be long before you are wondering how you managed without it!

Let me know if you come up with any novel ways of using your visualiser in the classroom, and I will include them in a later blog!

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GA Conference 2015 ‘Teachmeet’: Mr B’s Magical Mystery Matrix – A Geography Smorgasbord

One of the highlights of the 2015 Geography Association Conference at Manchester was the inaugural #gaconf15 Teach Meet. I was lucky enough to get a slot to share some ideas, and (as promised to the audience) this blog expands upon the content that I rushed through in the brief six minutes of the presentation.

Magic Square I’m not really sure where the title came from – I must have had a few ciders when I came up with that – but the thinking was to give the audience a little taster of some of the ideas that I incorporate into my teaching. Aiming to cover 16 ideas in 6 minutes only gave around 19 seconds for each one, so if any of the ideas struck a chord with the audience, they could then visit this blog to read them explained in more detail.

The Powerpoint used at the Teachmeet can be downloaded here:
Geo Conf 2015


get-attachment A lot of recent research has been published about homework, most of it showing that it has significant benefits as a learning tool. A few years ago, I decided to remodel our homework policy and introduced extended homework tasks to our students. Our key stage three curriculum at the time divided neatly into 6 discrete work units for each year group, one for each half term. Although we still set occasional tasks for homework, each of the curriculum units included an extended task – therefore the students completed at least six each year. Some samples of the extended homeworks are included below:

Extended Homework Geography And Me
Extended Homework Volcanoes

shelter These tasks ran over up to 5 weeks, and were designed to remove the achievement ceiling (especially for more able students), allow students to explore a topic in unusual depth, afford student choice (according to their own preferred learning styles), and also develop time management skills. They always needed some preparation in class to develop planning and research skills, and consider the different ways the finished product may be presented. From week to week, some students need extra support – especially those who find the wide range of choice difficult to deal with. At the beginning of each year, students are issued with the support sheet downloadable below:

Extended Homework Instructions

After the key stage three curriculum was recently reshaped, we decided to keep the extended task – mainly due to positive feedback from the students themselves. However, with the greater flexibility offered by the new curriculum, we found we were able to cover a greater variety of topics, and also found room to include a number of ‘takeaway’ tasks – which have a shorter turnaround time, are slightly more prescriptive, but still allow the important element of student choice. Students can choose from a menu of tasks, which are categorised by the different levels of challenge they offer. We are currently building up a bank of these resources, and I intend to blog about them next month – watch this space!
Check out the blog on this site in September 2013 titled “A New Twist on Homework”, and also November 2013 for “Student Responses to Extended Homework”.


Headlines All of our key stage three geography content is now framed around an enquiry title question chosen from a central ‘question bank’. This is amazingly flexible and allows teachers – and even students – to choose the topics they want to study and the time they want to spend on the chosen question. This approach also allows teachers to break off at any time to focus on any newsworthy events. As geographers, surely it is our responsibility to respond to such current events?

Sometimes this calls for some speedy preparation, but teachers can get ahead of the game by preparing some lesson templates which can be quickly adapted to specific world events. this approach works well for ‘geo’ events like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tropical storms, major floods, a passing deep depression, snow storms, thunderstorms, and particular local events like planning issues etc

the day Our school library subscribes to a digital publication called ‘The Day’, which is an excellent source of hot off the press news items connected to geography.
Check out the blog for August 2014 on this site to see how we have planned for the new curriculum.


“The infantile mind is the most creative” said Picasso – and who am I to argue with that statement? This idea may not be for everybody, but I love to entertain with my collection of inflatable toys (available from Amazon for just a few pounds each), and I find this an effective way to make a particular point to students, or help them remember some key information.
I use a parrot on a student’s shoulder to squawk ‘So What?’ each time they give a (brief) answer in an attempt to get them to deepen their explanation with additional information. This is a particularly useful tool for GCSE groups dealing with extended answers, especially in their longer case study questions. We talk about ‘Sexy’ answers – S = statement, E = explanation, X = example – and get the parrot screaming in their ears to think further than just a single one mark statement, and encourage them to develop their answers further to maximise their marks.
The crown is my favourite toy, and is worn during the lesson by different students as a ‘King for the day’ or ‘Queen for a moment’ award when they make a significant contribution through things like an excellent answer, a challenging question, a moment of geographical inspiration, or perhaps just a display of especially good manners.
The microphone is used in group situations to encourage the students to respect the rule of one person speaking at a time. With only the person holding the microphone being allowed to speak, group discussions run more fairly and efficiently.
The hammer is a great demonstration tool to ‘hammer a point home’ – be it a particular fact, rule or statement – either on the desk or on the student’s head (I didn’t really say that).
The shark patrols through the shallow waters of Mr B’s geo rules, on the prowl for spelling errors, undated work, untidy presentation or any other such issue that I want the class to focus on.
The aeroplane flies through the room to deliver special gifts to deserving students, or extension tasks to those who are performing particularly well. Students love to have it land on their desk, and be instructed to board the flight to ….. by the airport announcer.
The guitar is purely random, and is often used to accompany the starter music or support a solo rap about the day’s learning.

pig I must also confess to a collection of glove puppets that have become popular characters in my lessons. Agnes the Pig or Rio the monkey usually invigorate Friday afternoon lessons, when the students are sometimes a little jaded and winding down to the weekend. This started with year seven pupils, but (sadly?) has become a highlight for key stage four geographers at the end of the week!


This is a very recent addition to my room, and is modified from a door shoe rack, available cheaply from Amazon or your local poundstore – more of this later). There are 20 separate pockets in the rack, and they house a number of occasional resources that can be easily accessed by students. I find this really helpful to provide extension tasks for more able students, differentiated tasks to fit student’s needs, and ‘fill in’ tasks to maintain engagement when a lesson finishes ahead of time. I currently have my 20 pockets filled with the following, but already I have noticed that this can be easily altered to accommodate new ideas as they arise;

1. Atlas challenges
thunks 2. Geo Thunks (inspired by Ian Gilbert’s book – ‘The Little Book of Thunks’). These provide neat thought-provoking ‘ungoogleable’ questions to hurt student brains, such as: ‘Is there more happiness than sadness in the world?’ ‘What colour is poor?’ ‘Who would win a fight between a rain forest and a hot desert?’
3. Step into the photograph exercises (students complete speech bubbles to describe feelings or ask questions of different characters in a photograph)
4. Odd one out (classic ‘thinking skills’ exercise where students have to identify the odd one out in a group of three – and also justify the reason for their choice)
5. Countries and capitals (some good old-fashioned ‘place’ geography – Mr Gove would be proud!)
6. Post its (used for a multitude of tasks, my favourite being to record thoughts at the start of a lesson on a topic or question, and place on a line on the wall ranging from ‘I know nothing’ to ‘I know everything’. This can then be reviewed in middle of lesson and also at the end – with students adjusting the position of their post-its accordingly. Great to demonstrate progress within a lesson).
7. ‘Ready steady cook’ cards (containing a visual representation of a number of ingredients. Students have to use them to plan a five minute lesson starter or plenary)
8. Student questions (for students to pose their own questions for the teacher – perhaps from the current lesson, or maybe from more general geographical topics. Great to then use as a starter for the next lesson)
9. Sweets or credits
10. Customer feedback (I am always comfortable for students to give feedback on lessons, activities, teaching style etc. Many of the comments submitted in this way have helped to inform lesson planning and even whole curriculum planning for the future)
11. Clothes pegs (for students to use to add their work to a display clothes-line, or to use to attach comments to an opinion line that ranges from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’)
12. Volcano top trumps (what a great game!)
13. John Davitt challenges (unusual twists to tasks to extend students’ thinking, such as ‘summarise a topic as a mime. See loads more by logging on to John’s site at:
lego 14. Lego challenge (to create 3D graphs and population pyramids, and also for planning buildings, urban areas etc)

playdo 15. Play Doh challenge (to construct 3D models of physical features like volcanoes, to explain physical processes like longshore drift, to construct stop-motion animations)
16. Literacy challenge (sentence structures, capital letters etc)
17. Maths challenge
18. Matchstick challenge (logic puzzles)
IMG_170719. Rory’s Story Cubes (to encourage creative writing)
scrabble20. Scrabble tiles (to develop vocabulary)

Recent additions include: SOLO cards (printed with the different stages of SOLO along with associated key words), web sites to investigate, tweet sheets (to summarise a topic or task in just 140 characters), map challenges (using cut-outs from old exam maps)


Where would we be without the creative resources and up to the minute factual information available on the Internet? Numerous web sites help to keep our subject current and up to date, for instance, sites showing real-time earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, population changes etc. I would like to construct a magical matrix of my favourite web sites in a later blog, so I will restrict myself now to just one site –

zaption This site allows you to quickly create and share engaging and interactive video lessons by adding text, pictures and questions to any on-line video. It’s basic service is free, but you can upgrade to the Pro version for £60, or get a quote for the whole school – prices vary according to number of students on roll. It can be used by students to select appropriate video, and then demonstrate the depth of their understanding by adding extra features. Teachers can use the site to embellish video they have taken themselves, or enhance a clip from You Tube or Vimeo. It is possible to get this functionality to work within the usual tight filtering services employed by school networks. I have used it in a similar way to another app called ‘thinglink’ (oops, that’s a second app mentioned!), which has become popular in schools recently.
Each month on this blog throughout 2014, a WARP highlighted particularly interesting web sites.


I used to hate shopping days with Mrs B, but as long as there is a Poundstore trip included – I now tolerate the experience with a little more enthusiasm. It is great fun visiting pound shops with other colleagues, and competing with each other to see who can come up with the most creative ideas. On my last visit, I invested in the following items for use in my classroom: plastic tablecloths (for brainstorming, mind mapping, and note taking. I used to use the desk and table surfaces directly – along with windows and doors, but the cleaners were not impressed!), cut-out figures (used to record ideas and opinions of different stakeholders in issues of conflict), lollipop sticks (to use as an alternative to my bingo caller machine to select students for tasks or to answer questions), and paper plates (for a new twist on displaying work). I also topped up my supplies of post its (much cheaper than elsewhere), playground chalk, liquid chalk pens and clothes pegs (to create student work gallery ‘washing lines’.


glasses Although poundstores often stock cheap versions of classic games, a visit to Toys R Us often throws up some new ideas for toys and games that can be converted for use in the geography classroom. Jenga, Connect Four, and Twister can all be adapted for use in lessons – particularly in revision sessions. I keep a stock of Play Dough in my room for use in physical geography lessons to model different landscape features like volcanoes, coastal scenery and tectonic plates as well as physical processes like longshore drift. However, it really comes into its own when used with stop-motion apps on the I Pads. Students can create their own sequences to explain the formation of things like fold mountains, and research and then narrate their own commentary.
I have built up enough Lego cubes over the years for whole classes to construct 3D grabs from data (one of my best lessons builds graph columns for population changes in world cities), population pyramid graphs, and also use for planning topics and things like urban zones.
Since my now 2 year old Grandson arrived, I have had a great excuse to make regular calls to my local toy stores, and apart from buying him the odd gift, I have picked up a load of props for my lessons – including my ‘geography glasses’ for students to wear when analysing a scene, pirate’s hat and cutlass ( for ‘answer only like a pirate’ sessions), slime tubs of slime (to demonstrate the mantle and convection currents), slinkies (to demonstrate earthquake shock waves), foam dice, team buzzers, baseball caps (in different colours for students to wear when using De Bono’s thinking hats approach to topics), and liquid chalk pens (for ‘free writing on desks and windows).


pitWhen I am planning lessons (yes, I still do – even after 35 years!), I strive to take students into ‘the pit’ for at least a small period of time. Guy Claxton says we should think of lessons as mind gyms where students get mentally hot, sweaty and tired, and ‘the pit’ is a place where this can happen – a place for deep thinking. Not all lessons can create this opportunity for all students, but it is a great principle to keep in mind when designing activities for learning. As John Hattie says: “A teacher’s job is not to make work easy. It is to make it difficult”


badgesI always grasp any opportunity to raise the profile of my subject in school. The best way to do this is through consistent high quality teaching, but I make no apologies for ‘branding’ my department to keep it in the mind set of students, other teachers and parents. I make sure we figure prominently on our school network of public area plasma screens, with lots of images of fieldwork, trips, students at work and samples of completed work. We have our own departmental polo shirts (ideal for field trips, parents events etc), headed notepaper and memo pads, department pens (great for rewards), and a collection of badges (available from the GA – and really useful around option choice time). I have built up a large collection of geography themed ties to wear to work, including a rather natty world map silk bow tie.

notepaper Other ways we maintain our profile include department bookmarks (left in books in our library), reward postcards for students, social media, regular QR code treasure hunts around the school, and corridor masking tape maps and messages.
tiesEvery half term, we designate a ‘Geo Day’, when all department members have to carry a large inflatable globe with them throughout the day to lessons, assemblies, the staff room, dining hall – the whole lot. It generates a huge amount of questions from students (as well as staff).


MonetArch We often use selected photographs (often as starters) to develop deep questioning skills. Using ‘Geography glasses’ students can search for the geography in an image, supported by this great quote from Rudjard Kipling:
“I keep six honest serving men,
They taught me all I know,
Their names are what, and why and where,
And how and when and who”
(‘Just So Stories’)
For more detailed analysis, this excellent question grid devised by John Sayers helps students to probe more deeply:
Question Grid John Sayers 2
I also like to use pieces of art for this task, and there some great paintings that can help develop geographical thinking, as well as broaden the minds of our students. LS Lowry’s industrial scenes are particularly powerful resources, as are the rural scenes painted by Constable. Selected music and poetry can also be used as resources in much the same way – but more of that in a later blog.


DIRT Banksy Marking student’s books has been part of my life for thirty five years – but only recently have I reflected on how little benefit there has been from this time consuming chore for the students themselves. Assessment for learning theories moved things on from just assessment of learning, and in these more enlightened times we talk about feedback policies rather than marking policies, A number of techniques have recently emerged to reap greater learning gains from the comments added to student workbooks. My favourite is DIRT (dedicated improvement and reflection time), which has recently been incorporated into whole school policies. It involves selecting a specific part of a student’s work to target for DIRT (perhaps a paragraph of writing or part of an exam answer). This is highlighted in yellow, and a number of codes are recorded from the table below (customised by each subject area). Part of a lesson (maybe 20 minutes, sometimes more and sometimes less) is then devoted to DIRT time to allow the work is returned to the student for reflection. He or she translates the code and responds to any other prompts listed by the teacher. This method certainly cuts down the time a teacher often used to spend adding lengthy meaningful comments – which were often left unread and only rarely actioned. The time spent in lessons provides much more efficient and useful feedback which can encourage progress in the students. More of this in a future blog ……


doink2 I am passionate about the effective use of I Pads in my teaching, and this section certainly deserves its own magical matrix in a later blog. Perhaps I will save this for my next Teachmeet opportunity? For now, I will highlight just one app that I have been using recently – Do Ink Greenscreen, which costs just £2.29 to buy. There are many apps that allow students to green screen – that is, film themselves speaking in front of a background of their own choice – but none as straight-forward and simple to use as this one. It is a great way to provide students the chance to be creative in a new way, perhaps writing news reports from specific events, or technical narrations in front of an erupting volcano or collapsing cliff, or a travel report from an exotic location.
Check out blogs on this site for articles explaining how I Pads are used at South Molton School – June 2013 (Introducing Tablets For The First Time); July 2013 (First I Pad Review), June 2014 (Jurassic Coast and I Pads), February 2014 (Fair Trade I Pad investigation) and March 2014 (Avoiding App Frenzy). There is also a monthly WARP throughout 2014 which highlights particular I Pad apps.


hex SOLO stands for ‘structure of observed learning outcomes’, and is a simple to follow framework that
provides a shared language for students and teachers to talk about learning and progression. It
may have important role to play in schools following the removal of National Curriculum levels, and
if nothing else, I urge you to use the ‘hexagon challenge’ inspired by SOLO to allow students to demonstrate relationships between different aspects of a topic.
Check out November 2012 on this blog for an article titled: “Introducing SOLO for the first time”. A further blog in May 2013 describes how SOLO can be used in the geography classroom.


snow This has got to figure in any list of key ideas. I still put a lot of energy into our flagship trips – to Uganda (working with the Amigos charity – usually with connections to providing clean drinking water in rural areas), and to the Lake District (for GCSE Geography study plus hill walking, canoeing, caving, abseiling etc. The experiences enjoyed by students on these adventures remain long in their memories – I am always pleased when reference to geography trips are affectionately recorded in the year eleven leavers’ books.
Our new curriculum plans for trips for all students in Key stage three – year 7 to Exmoor for river quality studies, year 8 to the Exe estuary for coastal features, and year 9 to Exeter’s shopping centre for a ‘clone town’ study.
Apart from all of this, we try to get outside of the classroom at every available opportunity. We use the school grounds for mapwork (scale), orienteering, geo-caching, affective mapping (what parts of the school make you feel happy, sad, safe, threatened?), longshore drift demonstrations, solar system demonstrations – and so on.
I relish the opportunities provided by ‘snow days’, when half of our students are stuck at home in remote farms and villages. This is a great chance to put coats on and get outside to build snow sculptures of physical features such as Old Harry, pyramidal peaks, upper course river valleys, and the like.
Check out the blog on this site in January 2013 titled “Snowday Geography”.


vis When I started teaching we used a fantastic device called an epidiascope (anyone out there remember these?) It looked like a giant metal armadillo, and made a fearful noise, but did a good job of projecting an image onto the board (blackboard covered in white paper!) from a textbook or photograph.
Well, things have moved on a bit, and I now have an ‘Aver Vision’ Visualiser on permanent stand-by attached to my desk computer. This does the same projection job – great for instant presentation of textbook pages, newspaper headlines, pictures and so on – but best of all, can be used to model students work, and use samples for peer assessment. I wouldn’t be without this piece of kit now. One recent innovation has improved things further – that is the use of a specialised stand for my I Pad that by making use of the camera tool and Apple TV, turns it into a visualiser. This is a super resource if you have just one I Pad in your Department. The advantage it has is that by pinching to zoom on the I Pad, you can reproduce amazing clarity and quality on the board. Fantastic for zooming in really close on OS maps and atlas pages!


masking I made a pledge this year that within our new curriculum plans I would give a real focus to developing ‘place’. I have long been a fan of the ‘maps from memory’ thinking skills exercise devised by David Leat, and have really enjoyed working with students on corridor maps using masking tape (another poundstore resource). The students have given really positive feedback for this lesson, and love to see their finished maps left in place for a few days for others to admire. Of course, it is not sustainable to use this technique too often, so we also make maps out of wool and string on our desks.
I have made sure that students make regular reference to globes when studying aspects of the world map – explaining how this is the most accurate representation of the world, and how flat maps have to ‘compromise’ the true shape of some countries and continents. I have found a class set of small, hand-held globes a real asset to the department, and often get the students to make their own globes by drawing maps on balloons (thanks, poundstore) and oranges – which can be safely eaten afterwards with a nod to whole school healthy eating policies.
Check out the blog in December 2013 titled “Geography Games” and find out about Seterra in the blog for August 2013.

If anyone would like to comment on any of the elements of the magical matrix, please complete the form below. I would love to hear of any possible developments to these ideas you can suggest, or ways that they – or other ideas you can give me – have worked in your classrooms.

I am already forming outlines for follow-up magical matrices for future Teachmeets or future blogs – perhaps an Apps matrix, a web site matrix, a You Tube matrix, a mystery photos matrix, an amazing maps matrix – this could be the start of a new series!

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

Living With A Changing Coast

3I was grateful this month to receive an excellent third free gift package from the ‘Living With a Changing Coast’ Project. This consisted of a book and DVD of ‘A’ Level teaching resources to go along with the superb primary and secondary resources that were issued last summer.

The Living With a Changing Coast (LiCCo) Project is a cross-channel initiative that ran from April 2011 to September, 2014, focusing on the Exe Estuary and Poole Harbour in South west England and a further five coastal sites in Normandy, France. The mission of LiCCo is to help coastal communities to adapt to coastal change and climate change impacts such as sea level rise and erosion. UK partners in the project are: the Environment Agency (main partner), National Trust, Exe Estuary Management Partnership (Devon County Council), and the Dorset Coast Forum.

All resources are free for teachers, and the primary and secondary materials for the UK sites are currently available online at: It is also possible to download resources for the sites in Normandy from here. The A level resources can be ordered by post from the address listed on the web site.

2Using the Exe Estuary and Poole Harbour as case studies, all resources are designed as investigations based around key enquiry questions to help pupils investigate how the coast is managed for people and the environment. Each investigation includes background information, detailed planning, and a wide variety of learning and teaching resources.

 The Secondary resource pack contains the following investigations:

Enquiry 1 (Exe Estuary): How can flood risk and habitat change be managed most effectively in the Exe estuary?

Key Question 1: How has flooding impacted upon Devon in recent

KQ2: What are the key geographical features of the Exe Estuary?

KQ3: What happens when the coast gets squeezed?

KQ4: Why is climate change likely to make the problem of coastal squeeze worse?

KQ5: What is the risk of flooding in the Exe Estuary?

KQ6: How vulnerable to flooding are the key coastal management sites in the Exe Estuary?

KQ7: How can we manage the Exe Estuary?

KQ8: How can we maintain the natural balance of the Exe Estuary?

Enquiry 2 (Dawlish): What coastal processes are occurring at Dawlish Warren and how can they be most effectively managed in the future ?

KQ1: What are the physical and human geographical features of Dawlish Warren?

KQ2: Who visits Dawlish Warren?

KQ3: Which stakeholders are impacted upon most by the changing geography of Dawlish Warren?

KQ4: Why do we manage the coast?

KQ5: How effective are the existing coastal management strategies at Dawlish Warren?

KQ6: How does a cost-benefit analysis of coastal management schemes at Dawlish Warren help to evaluate their effectiveness?

KQ7: Where is Dawlish Warren most vulnerable?

KQ8: What would happen if Dawlish Warren was left unmanaged?

KQ9) What should be done at Dawlish Warren in the future?

Enquiry 3 (Starcross): Why does the Parish Council at Starcross want people in the village to develop more of a ‘Dutch mentality’?”

KQ1: Where is the settlement of Starcross situated and how has it changed?

KQ2: How does Starcross depend on the railway?

KQ3: What are the possible implications of climate change for Starcross?

KQ4: Why did one resident of Starcross say on Facebook ‘we had better pray that Dawlish Warren is not breached in our lifetime’?

KQ5: What is being done at Dawlish Warren to ensure that it continues to protect the Exe Estuary in the medium term for the next 50 years?

KQ6: What is likely to happen at Dawlish Warren in the long term after 2060 and what will this mean for Starcross?

KQ7: What is a ‘Dutch mentality’?

KQ8: How are the people of Starcross developing a ‘Dutch mentality’?

Enquiry 4 (Brownsea island): When is doing nothing actually doing something?

KQ1: How are these 4 people connected to Bownsea Island?

KQ2: What is an island?

KQ3: Why doesn’t Brownsea Island float around?

KQ4: How and why did someone change the shape of Brownsea Island?

KQ5: So what happened to the reclaimed land then?

KQ6: Why is the brackish water of St Mary’s Bay so important?

KQ7: Why did the geology of Brownsea Island bankrupt Colonel Waugh?

KQ8: In what way is the geology of Brownsea Island a problem today?

KQ9: What is the land owner doing about the erosion along the south coast?

KQ10: What has the National trust decided to do about the quay?

KQ11: So what should the national trust do about the Brownsea lagoon then?

Enquiry 5 (Studland Bay): How do people benefit from Studland Bay?

KQ1: How do we benefit from anything?

KQ2: How do people benefit from the annual Glastonbury Festival?

KQ3: Who benefits economically from Studland Bay?

KQ4: Who else benefits from Studland Bay?

KQ5: Who benefits from your local environment?

Enquiry 6 (Studland Bay): How is Studland Bay likely to change in the future?

KQ1: What does the future hold for Knoll Beach?

KQ2: What should be done about Knoll Beach?

001The books and DVDs of the secondary package contain a wide range of high quality resources including photographs, data, maps – as well as ready to use exercises for the classroom.

The Primary programme is set out in a similar way, including investigations looking at landforms, coastal processes, flooding, coastal management and the wildlife of the Exe estuary.

The A Level pack provides both continuity and progression from the earlier resources, and has been written in the form of a series of research tasks involving fieldwork to investigate a hypothesis that can be used for individual studies or group research.

Together, these packages provide high quality support material for work either in the field or in the classroom, and offer a new take on some traditional areas of coastal geography. Well worth checking out!

Posted in General Geo, Physical World, Teachers | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Promoting Reading Across The School

As a contribution to a whole-school policy to promote reading, I have made a number of posters to advertise the books I have been reading recently. Many of them are have a geographical flavour, but the titles also reveal my interest in different sports.
I have displayed the posters in and around my room, and also on noticeboards throughout the school. They have generated considerable interest amongst students, and it has been pleasing when they have come forward to ask questions about the books, and test me on some of the content. The posters have also provided a stimulus to talk to students about their own reading – and some of them have even started making their own posters to display.
I am now regularly asked how I am getting on with my current book, and when the next poster will appear – which has encouraged me to find a bit more time in a busy schedule to lose myself in a good book.
The posters that have appeared to date are shown below:
ScreenHunter_03 Feb. 20 21.43
ScreenHunter_05 Feb. 20 21.44
ScreenHunter_04 Feb. 20 21.44
ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 20 21.43
ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 20 21.42

Posted in Curriculum, School, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment