The 2013 Geography Association Conference was held at the University of Derby, from 4th to 6th April. Yet again, it was an inspiring event – rich with opportunities for sharing ideas, collecting new resources, and socialising with like-minded professionals.
On Thursday morning, I joined the fieldtrip to the Peak District National Park organised by Stefan Horsman and Philip Wright. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with the coach operator, and this delayed our start by an hour and a half. This caused a major disruption to the intended programme, and meant that a number of locations had to be left out in a revised itinerary. However, in the time available, we were able to examine some of the issues of conflict within the National park, including visits to the Monsal Trail cycle path, a quarry, and an unclassified country road suffering the effects of increased off-roading activity. We finished with a visit to a dairy farm where the owner had successfully diversified into ice cream production.
We returned from the fieldtrip just in time to attend the public lecture, held in the beautiful Grade 2 listed Derby Roundhouse. It was delivered this year by Dame Ellen McArthur, who spoke with passion about the work of her Foundation to encourage a shift from a linear economy to a circular economy, where consumer goods like TVs are designed for dis-assembly, so that raw materials used in manufacture are reprocessed to go back into the system once more to maintain their value, and are not lost to landfill or shipped abroad.
Reflection/Future action: (1) Introduce the terms FMCG (fast moving consumer goods, with less than 1 year of useful life) and MCCG (medium complexity consumer goods with 1 to 10 years of life) to students; (2) Investigate responses of TNCs like Michelin, Renault, CAT, Ricoh and Mazuma Mobiles to circular economy principles, and include a case study in KS4 Economic Development unit; (3) Check website of Ellen McArthur Foundation for further information; (4) Dame Ellen spoke with great conviction, but was her presentation a little too corporate? Her expressed desire to ‘change the way people think’ should perhaps be rephrased and put to students as one alternative to current economic patterns, rather than the definitive answer.
The conference commenced with its first full day on Friday, and the opening session for me involved an examination of the place of oceans in the geography classroom by Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop. Jamie communicated his passion for this topic with a mix of anecdotes from his recent Arctic expeditions and a number of fascinating facts. I was certainly unaware that 42 annual deaths are attributed to accidents with vending machines – a fact that emerged as he redressed the balance of bad press received by sharks in terms of their fatal attacks on humans. Jamie explained the variety and importance of our oceans and also outlined some of the many ways they are mistreated by mankind – including pollution, depletion of fish stocks, and acidification. His description of our use of the oceans as both a fridge (to provide food) and a toilet (to receive our waste) framed our modern attitudes to oceans quite vividly. A most enjoyable start to the conference.
Reflection/Future Action: (1) Consider different ways that a theme of ‘oceans’ could be incorporated into the new geography curriculum. With some creative thought, it could be connected to coastal studies, and perhaps include an element of work on climate change; (2) Adopt some of Jamie’s practical ideas to explain concept of rising sea levels on key stage four fieldwork days; (3) Check oneworldoneocean.org and oceans.digitalexplorer.com/resources web sites for further ideas and resources.
Next up was the Presidential Lecture by Bob Digby. I have a special interest in the wealth of geography attached to the Olympics, so was really looking forward to this part of the conference – and was not disappointed. Bob delivered a truly excellent account of the summer games in London, illustrated with well-chosen images and supported by relevant and interesting data. I particularly liked the way he made comparisons between the 2012 London Games and previous (rather less successful) events. Bob obviously really enjoyed the summer Games, and his enthusiasm came across most clearly, while maintaining the clarity of his message.
Reflection/Future Action: (1) Update current unit on the Olympic Legacy with new data, particularly the different effectiveness assessments outlined; (2) Consider the lessons available for the next games event in Rio, and use this as an extension exercise; (3) Consider how it might be possible to link the Olympic redevelopments to a currently studied local issue in key stage three, like the location of a new supermarket & new housing estates in years 8 and nine respectively; (4) Investigate the work done in Copenhagen regarding urban sustainable development.
Next on the schedule was a lecture titled ‘Population and the future’ by Doctor Ray Hall. This was a really useful update to a topic that carries considerable importance in the OCR ‘B’ GCSE syllabus studied by students at my school. Doctor Hall used a range of excellent data sources to emphasise her message, and I look forward to downloading her presentation from the GA web site in the near future.
Reflection/Further Action: (1) Incorporate statistical evidence and predictions into current population unit of work – particularly for changes in world fertility and mortality; (2) Introduce the term ‘demographic dividend’ to students when referring to the growth in working-age sections of a country’s population structure.
After lunch, it was time to listen to David Lambert’s lecture on ‘Progression in Geography’. As always, David spoke eloquently to clearly communicate his ideas and personal opinions. He outlined a need to strike a balance in a new curriculum between core knowledge of places and names, conceptual content knowledge, and procedural knowledge and practical skills, and identified the proposed new curriculum as a key opportunity for geography teachers to strengthen the position of their subject and retrieve the reigns of what we actually teach in geography.
Reflection/Further Action: See comments below
Following David’s lecture, I joined a number of other teachers to discuss the proposed new Geography curriculum with Alan Kinder. Although our time was too short to really get our teeth into this, it was interesting that the audience found considerable common ground when expressing its opinions. There was agreement over some of the good points in the proposed document – such as: its brevity (although David Lambert would like to see it shrunken even further!), the balance struck between physical and human content, the explicit inclusion of fieldwork, and the progression demonstrated between different key stages. The group also found a common voice over some of the weaknesses and highlighted the need for greater clarity over weather and climate content knowledge – which appears in all key stages, the disappointment over the exclusion of ‘sustainability’ in the text, the confusion over assessment, the lack of integration with forthcoming key stage four changes, and also the uncertainty over demands of depth or breadth in certain areas – particularly the stated countries and regions.
Reflection/Further Action: (1) Submit updated findings to the consultation – by April 16th – and express a particular concern over the likely lack of support for schools in terms of curriculum planning; (2) Continue to draft plan for the new curriculum, and think like a ‘curriculum ninja’ to find creative ways to incorporate issues like sustainablity and climate change, eg by connecting glaciation core knowledge to climate change etc; (3) Share new knowledge gained at forthcoming meeting of Devon Geographers.
Thursday evening was spent at the ‘Beermeet” fringe event held in the Brunswick Arms. This was really well attended this year, and my thanks go to Richard Allaway for his efforts in encouraging so many people to turn up. It is a great opportunity for geographers both young and old to mix in an informal setting, and I was especially pleased to be able to meet a number of new friends as well as finally put a real face to people who have communicated with me over social media platforms during the previous year.
Saturday began with what proved to be my most enjoyable session of the conference – a lecture by Karl Donert on geomedia and real-time geographies. Karl outlined the pattern of increasingly available open source data that was sweeping across Europe, if not the whole world. He demonstrated a number of exciting examples of real time mapping, and showed how individuals can make their own contributions to this new rich source of information through what is becoming known as ‘citizen science’. Karl also touched upon possible future patterns through his explanation of the term ‘internet of things’ – how we already have over a hundred items in our homes that can connect and potentially react with the world wide web.
Reflection/Further Action: (1) Make real time mapping data available to student s within lessons and plan opportunities for students to contribute to an exercise of their own; (2) Check web sites: europeania.eu digital-earth.eu eyeonearth.org eurogeography.eu and arcgis.com for further information and resources and follow Karl on Twitter; (3) Consider some of the ethical issues associated with involuntary collection of data from members of the public.
This session was followed by the Keynote Address by Professor Terry Callaghan, who focused on the rapidly changing Arctic. This area has received widespread attention due to its rapidly changing climate, but Professor Callaghan also spent time discussing other pressures (like resource exploitation and new transport routes) on the people that live there.
Reflection/Further Action: (1) Integrate more detailed aspects of the Arctic within existing curriculum (‘Ninja’ style!) – eg section on tourism in Antarctica, work on climate change, work on future resources; (2) Check out eu-interact.org and amap.no web sites for further information.
My final session of the conference was the Rex Walford Memorial Lecture, delivered by Margaret Roberts who examined the teaching of controversial issues. I was particularly taken by her use of the phrase ‘wicked problems’ to describe some of issues tackled by geographers. These are connected to a network of other issues, and the possible solutions to them are complex and can have a number of different effects. Climate change would serve as an example of a ‘wicked problem’, usually mainly framed as an environmental issue, but which could also be considered as an issue of social injustice ( how it impacts more on LEDCs), or security ( eg of energy supplies), or economics ( as outlined in the Stern Review), or in a number of other ways. Climate change also reveals many complexities when consideration is given to who is involved in potential solutions. Is it individuals, multi-national companies, governments international co-operation, or geo-engineers? Climate change could be considered to be a super- wicked problem – as time could be conceived to be running out, and the fact that there is no central authority responsible for a solution. Margaret included a surprisingly perceptive quote from Keith Joseph of all people, which explained why teachers should try to deal with controversial issues in their classrooms. In this, he was really talking about wicked problems.
Reflection/Further Action: Consider my own personal position with regards to issues examined by students in my classroom. Am I adopting an appropriate position in terms of advocacy for these issues?
Once again, there was a high quality of exhibitors and displays at the conference, and I cannot close without a big vote of thanks to Lucy Oxley for all of her hard work in making the event run so smoothly. I look forward to meeting fellow geographers again in Guildford next year.