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

Linking With Argentina – A British Council Project

This month’s blog consists of a reflection on a trip to Argentina, made back in November. It was organised through the British Council’s ‘Connecting Classrooms’ programme, which supports teachers who want to try to build sustainable partnerships with schools in different parts of the world. The programme provides an opportunity for partner schools to explore a variety of social, environmental and cultural themes, and is a growing community which now includes over 5,200 schools and 936,000 young people across the world. Connecting Classroomsequips students with a deeper understanding of other countries and cultures, their rights and responsibilities as global citizens, and the skills needed to work in a global economy and build a fairer, more sustainable world.Teachers also benefit from gaining understanding of other countries’ education systems, being better equipped to teach about global issues, and improving their own teaching skills.

The thermometer read 32 degrees as we journeyed from the airport into Buenos Aires, the flowers of the jacaranda trees shining with electric lilac against the grey city streets. This was my third visit to the city known as the ‘Paris of the South’, and it was good to absorb some familiar sights as our taxi picked its way slowly through the dense traffic towards our hotel in the east of the city.

Arg3My room was on the fifth floor, and I drew the curtains to a fantastic view over the famous Recoleta Cemetery. It is said that the real estate within the walls boasts the highest land prices in the city, and somewhere deep in the middle of the cityscape of elaborate tombs and memorials is the final resting place of national heroine, Eva Peron.

Arg1The weather held for the next day, when there was a chance to visit some of the regular tourist attractions, such as the Casa Rosada (Pink House), Plaza De Mayo, and the giant obelisco in Plaza de La Republica, overlooking 16 lanes of busy traffic – allegedly the widest street in the world. I was really pleased to return to the San Telmo area – steeped in the history of the tango – and visit the antiques market that creates itself every Sunday morning, selling coins, old vinyl, crafts and silver cutlery. I also enjoyed a pilgrimage to La Boca, the slightly edgy old port area where the corrugated houses painted in a multitude of bright colours surround La Bombonera stadium (the ‘Chocolate Box’) – the home to one of the city’s leading soccer sides, Boca Juniors. Relaxing Arg2on the tourist street of Caminito with a cold beer at a street table in the sun, while watching the tango dancers strut their stuff, certainly helped to get rid of any remaining jet lag.

Most of the afternoon was spent in the Puerto Madero area – an area of old riverside industry that had been regenerated in a similar fashion to London’s docklands. Much development has taken place her since my first visit around ten years ago, and this part of the city is now a substantial asset to both portenos (citizens of Buenos Aires) and tourists alike. Apart from the old brick warehouses now housing smart shops and exclusive restaurants, one major feature in this area is the reclaimed wetland nature reserve (Reserva Ecological Costanera Sur), which is home to over 200 bird species – and just a few minutes from the centre of the city.

However, with our weekend sight-seeing over, it was soon time to apply ourselves to the purpose of the visit, which was as part of a British Council ‘Connecting Classrooms’ project. I was not looking forward to the 5 hour coach journey to Mar Del Plata, where our school twins were to be found. As it turned out, the journey with the amusingly named ‘Tony’s Tours’, was a pleasure. With a modest speed limit carefully observed by the driver, combined with full reclining seats on the upper deck, it was possible to relax in some comfort and watch the world go by. After we had slowly made our way to the edge of the city limits, we passed huge shanty settlements clinging to the roadside, before reaching the open plains of the Argentinian countryside. The vast expanse of the flat landscape was punctuated by grain silos and giant poly tunnels, with beef cattle grazing in huge numbers, and horses nearly as common, often wading through the often flooded pastures. Although our trip took a full five hours, it covered only a tiny section on our map of Argentina – demonstrating the true scale of this enormous country.

Mar Del Plata is a large city of 800,000 inhabitants with an interesting history. It is a huge beach resort that has grown around a core of an old fishing port and a military base.  Still the main coastal playground for the citizens of Buenos Aires and the rest of the country, it was once said that if the rich Argentinians were not holidaying in France, they would be found in Mar Del Plata. After exploring the seemingly endless chain of sandy bay beaches, we measured on the map a virtually unbroken stretch of sand covering no less than 50 kilometres.This made the beaches of our own famous ‘golden coast’ of North Devon seem quite insignificant.

Arg7 We had the opportunity to visit a range of educational institutions, starting in a state secondary school before moving on to a private school, and eventually to the city’s university. The educational system in Argentina is divided into four distinct levels, with the preprimary level (kindergarten)  not compulsory and enrolling children from 3- to 5-years-old. This is followed by primary (elementary) level schooling, which is compulsory and consists of 7 grades. Pupils at this level must remain until all 7 grades are completed or, in case of repetition of grades, until age 14. The secondary level is attended by youths from 12- to 17-years-old, or 16 if they are employed and attend night school. Higher education includes private and national universities and institutions that provide teacher training and advanced training in technical careers.

The school year in Argentina runs from March to December and lasts about 200 days. Schools are closed for national holidays, such as Good Friday and Easter, and two weeks in July for vacation. The students we met were all looking forward to their long holiday break between school years, lasting for up to 10 weeks.

One interesting aspect of the Argentinian system is that public universities are tuition-free and open to anyone. However, the hidden costs of education, like transportation and materials, often makes it hard for students from low-income families to enrol.

Arg6The students we met were all delightful. They were articulate in their second language, and gave us a really warm welcome in each school, asking great questions as we exchanged ideas and thoughts on our different countries and education systems. It was something of a surprise to find a shortage of basic classroom resources in all of the institutions we visited. Even at the inspiringly named ‘Einstein Academy’, an over-subscribed state school supported by small fees paid by parents, only a tiny library was available for students, and the small classrooms were virtually empty of textbooks sets, whiteboards and computers. The green chalkboards brought back fond memories from my early days of teaching. At the University, where we spoke at length with a group of trainee teachers, the scruffy decor and aged furniture also provided a surprise. The classroom we used had a hole in the roof which leaked badly in the winter months. Perhaps the luxury of ‘free’ provision at this stage of education meant that there was limited resources left to provide the peripherals we might have expected to find?

Arg4I was interested to find direct reference to the Malvinas conflict in some of the schools. In one, a sign above each classroom door features a photograph and obituary of a young soldier who lost his life in the conflict. Questions from the students sought out our views on this sensitive issue, and we responded honestly, but with a deliberate diplomacy.

The contact with students is always a highlight of a trip like this, but possibly the most productive part is making face to face contact with the teachers. Although we had already exchanged e-mails, projects like this are given a real boost when you meet fellow professionals properly. Students had already exchanged written work and films describing ‘Amazing Places’ in their own countries, and also swapped student views on ‘What Defines Your Country?’ as well as answers to the rather more open-ended title ‘What is Happiness?’ Teachers were able to discuss future developments, and how best to reinforce the links that had been started. One issue I did not anticipate was the difficulty for Argentinian students to gain easy access to technology. I based the work in my classroom around the use of I Pads, and have had to rethink this idea to better fit our mutual circumstances. During our trip, we made plans with the teachers to forge direct links with Skype calls, and also make use of social media and a web site to allow students to manage and control the sharing of their work.. It is hoped that we can reinforce and sustain our links using these ideas before May, when we look forward to hosting our Argentinian partners here in North Devon. Perhaps one day, we will be able to establish a programme that allows for student exchanges as well.

This is the second British Council project I have been involved with, previously hosting a group of visiting teachers from Saudi Arabia, before travelling to Riyadh to see schools there. The visiting Saudis made quite an impact in North Devon, their national dress being a really unusual sight for local people. Their interactions with students proved a really interesting and valuable experience for all concerned, and we were incredibly well looked after on our reciprocal visit. The value of exchanges such as this as a focus to breakdown stereotypes and develop global citizenship cannot be overestimated. We are currently involved in establishing another British Council project with a partner school in Nepal, as well as contributing to Neil Emery’s Amazon project which uses I Pad technology to establish links with village schools in the Ecuadorian rain forest. This, along with our regular visits to Ugandan schools as part of our cooperative work with the Amigos charity, puts us well on the way to my goal of establishing school connections in each of the continents.

Finally, I must express my sincere thanks to Nick Langmead from Braunton Academy and John Davies from Pilton School for their leadership, guidance and hard work in helping to establish the British Council connections for a group of north Devon schools. I hope they have enjoyed the benefits of their labours as much as I and my students have!

If there are any other teachers out there who have ideas to share about establishing international school links, I would love to hear from you!


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December (Final) 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 final WARP – for the month of December – consists of the following:


My final web site offering of is a playful one, although I have found a use for it in school. The site is jam-packed with a range of interactive quiz questions, the answers to which leading on to a light- hearted conclusion. If you sift through the masses, there are some tests that can be completed with minimum embarrassment by students – as well as some for parents and teaching staff. The link above takes you to the quiz which asks ‘What country bets fits your personality?’, and asks a series of questions about lifestyle, diet, hobbies etc. I have asked fellow teachers to complete the test to provide a range of answers for students to map and research. It provides a great ‘pair the answer with the teacher’ lesson! Students then took control, and wanted to gather results for their parents and carers, and friends of the family. It proved a useful resource to keep in the locker for emergency lesson cover or bad weather days.
ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 31 11.42
My test results matched me to New Zealand – a country I was not disappointed with. The final conclusion states: “You are an adventurous individual who enjoys being outdoors and spending time being active. You are a risk taker and have no problem striking up a conversation with a total stranger. When you travel you love to get to know the locals, and their customs, and are always up for a challenge. You thrive in a culture where others share your deep appreciation for land, and believe life is best lived outdoors.” I can live with that without embarrassment. Try it for yourself, and see which country you are matched with. What country in the world would you most NOT want to be associated with?


The final app I have chosen to highlight is ‘SloPro’ – which started as a ‘ phone app, but is now fully functional on a tablet. This piece of magic software allows you to use the film function on your device, and then slow the action (or speed it up) as is required. I have used it for fun in the speed up mode, but the slow motion tool has really helped students and myself create more meaningful explanation films of things like river flow and wave action. The end results are easily uploaded onto You Tube – really useful if your department has its own You Tube channel.
Slo Pro is free (‘my favourite price’ as @GeoBlogs taught me) to download, but for a £2.49 upgrade, you can free up extra functionality like the ability to export your movies to the camera roll, the absence of watermarks, and ability to e-mail videos. Modern ‘phones like the I Phone 6 now include much of the functionality of programmes like this.


worst journey My final book offering returns me again to my love of polar environments, and is ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. This is a version of Scott’s last expedition to the Antarctic, from its departure from England in 1910 to its arrival in New Zealand in 1913. Cherry-Garrard was himself a member of the expedition, which was plagued by bad luck, poor weather conditions and disappointment. This is an ‘inside story’ to one of the most famous and tragic journeys in the annals of exploration.
“If sufficient momentum was gained the ship rode upon the thicker floes, rising up upon it and pressing it down beneath her, until suddenly, perhaps when its nearest edge was almost amidships, the weight became too great and the ice split beneath us. At other times a tiny crack, no larger than a vein, would run shivering from our bows, which widened and widened until the whole ship passed through without difficulty. Always when below one heard the grumbling of the ice as it passed along the side. But it was slow work, and hard on the engines. There were days when we never moved at all.” (page 74)


This month, I offer some of my favourite photographs from a trip I made to the Falkland Islands – a birdwatcher’s paradise!

More photos from my travels can be seen at:

Although I do not intend to continue with my monthly WARP in 2015, I will continue to highlight interesting web sites and tablet apps I come across in monthly blogs. I am always happy to receive ideas and suggestions from other geographers – so if you come across anything special, give me a shout!

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November WARP

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


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


Real Chalk HD

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


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


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

More photos from my travels can be seen at:

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October WARP

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


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


Comics Head

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


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

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

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


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

More photos from my travels can be seen at:

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