Geography Optimism and progress Teaching and Learning

A Hopeful Geography – the story so far – part 1


Source: Wikimedia:

Last month, I put a call out to those involved in geographical education, asking for ideas for how we can redress the negativity present in much of the educational discourse about global affairs, and instead rebalance students’ view of the world towards a more fact-based and progressive one.  Thank you to all who have responded – I have used some of your ideas below, and I have also been pondering and conducting some more research into the issue.

I also have not repeated any of the suggestions/provocations from my previous post, which can be found here. But I have split the articles into two parts: this is the first installment, which contains some practical ideas for educators.  Part two will contain some deeper feedback and ideas for next steps.  I will also use these articles to inform my presentation on ‘The New Optimism and Geography’ at the Geographical Association conference in Manchester in April.

Practical ideas for educators

The original – Gapminder

It has been said many times before, but teachers should endeavour to keep their subject knowledge up to date – and one way of doing this is to take the Gapminder Ignorance quiz yourself (before setting it to your students).  Elena Lengthorn (@ELengthorn) does this with her Geography PGCE students.  There is also a growing list of resources (including videos) at

ignorance project logo

Source: Gapminder:

Secondly, could you consider teaching ‘factfulness’ as a discrete ‘skill’ – via one or two lessons (using Gapminder resources) or as a scheme of work in its own right – for example the one developed this year by Paul Turner (@geography_paul)?  This would help students to realise that they are subject to misperceptions brought about by ‘fast thinking’ and other biases.

Paula Cooper collated a set of resources about teaching a fact-based world view in 2010 on the GA (@The_GA) website – – and her GCSE resource book  ‘Uneven development – for richer, for poorer’ was published by The GA in 2010.  Both resources contain useful and inspiring ideas about addressing misconceptions, but such is the dynamic nature of this area of Geography that the data and links featured therein require updating (I will be approaching the GA to see if I can get involved in this!).

In a personal communication, Ola Rosling (@OlaRosling) has revealed that the Gapminder Foundation will be training Gapminder Ambassadors, who will be spreading the Factfulness message in the coming years.  I have registered my interest in this initiative – watch this space!

A hero for our times – Captain Geography!

Alan Parkinson (@geoblogs) shared the resources from his session on ‘Positive Geographies’ at the recent Scottish Association of Geography Teachers conference.  He covered a wide range of ways which could be used to inspire and teach students about ‘solutions’ to some of our most complex problems.  These include adopting a character called ‘Captain Geography – a hero for the Anthropocene’.  A few questions to consider here are: What missions should your students send him/her on, and why?  What should his/her superpowers be?  Who would his/her fellow superheroes be?

Agents for change – ‘A Better World Detectives’

Another ‘takeaway’ idea from Alan, for KS2/3 pupils, is to use the resources from TUI, jointly developed with the Geographical Association, called ‘A Better World Detectives’:

Impartial facts – Our World in Data

We should also know where to point older students towards in order for them to gain facts about the world which are as impartial and up to date as possible – for example, which is led by Max Roser (@MaxCRoser).  The natural disasters graph shown later in this post comes from this website.

Optimistic outcomes – The World We Made

The World We Made cover

Could you encourage your students to look at the future via ‘optimistic’ outcomes, so that they might be able to see the fruits of the hard work needed in the years to come?  For example, at the Practical Pedagogies conference this year, Nicholas Garrick (@lightinguplearn) introduced me to Jonathan Porritt’s 2013 book ‘The World We Made’, which is a history of how the world made responsible decisions, told from the perspective of 2050.

Future archaeologies – digging down to the 2010s

Linked to this, and inspired by another session at the Practical Pedagogies conference, by Caron Downes (@caron_downes), I plan to recreate an archaeological ‘dig’.  When teaching resources/sustainability, I will bury items (like plastic bottle caps) from the 2010s in sand and ask students to pretend that they are archaeologists in 2050.  When they dig up each artefact, they can use them to assess how sustainably we lived our lives in the 2010s.

Textbooks – handle with care!

Textbooks should be updated frequently and issued with factual ‘health warnings’.  You could even set ‘fact check challenges’ to see how quickly the data has changed, or could you reward students who find the most significant mistake in a textbook?

Reframing hazards

When Geography teachers consider the way that they frame their approach to hazards, perhaps there should be more focus (excuse the pun) on the immense progress made in terms of managing hazards (especially atmospheric ones) and reducing death tolls?  (See the graph below.)  Is there a need to reframe the study of hazardous events in a more balanced light: it is indeed a step in the right direction to move on from calling them ‘natural disasters’ (Puttick et al, 2018) – but might a further relabelling be beneficial – ‘hazards and resilience’, perhaps?

Global annual death rate from natural disasters [sic], by decade, 1900s-2010s


Watch your words!

A Year 9 pupil recently asked me in my lesson, referring to a sketch in a KS3 textbook, “Why is it that India is referred to being ‘halfway down’ the [development] ladder, whereas China is referred to as being ‘halfway up’ it?”.  When we frame geographical questions, should we endeavour to use language which reflects the overall ‘direction’ of the trend?  For instance, rather than asking ‘why do so many people die from disasters?’ we could instead ask ‘why is the number of deaths from natural disasters falling?’.  We could therefore reserve the more ‘worryingly’ framed questions for those trends which are heading in the ‘wrong’ direction, therefore lending them more import.

Next steps

Please keep those ideas coming, and, building on the manifesto put forward by Hans Rosling et al in Factfulness (2018; summarised here), could you also let me know of some further ‘rules of thumb’ which practitioners could follow for managing and overcoming ignorance and misperceptions?

In my next instalment of the ‘Hopeful Geography’ story, I will also be referencing Bobby Duffy’s overview of the psychology of misperceptions ‘The Perils of Perception: why we’re wrong about nearly everything’ (Duffy, 2018) – it’s well worth a read!

Thank you again.



Duffy, B (2018) The Perils of Perception (Atlantic)

Porritt, J (2013) The World We Made (Phaidon)

Puttick, S, Bosher, L and Chmutina, K (2018) ‘Disasters are not natural’ in Teaching Geography 43:3 (Autumn 2018)

Rosling, H, Rosling, O and Rosling-Ronnlund, A (2018) Factfulness (Sceptre)


By alcockblog

Optimist, Geography teacher, teaching and learning champion, interested in progress, social and environmental sustainability and outdoor learning. Father, orienteer, fell runner. @DavidAlcock1

2 replies on “A Hopeful Geography – the story so far – part 1”

Dear Tina. Thank you for your support and query. I have just worked out how to add an email subscription plugin – it should be on the bottom right hand of the screen if you are on a PC.
I am thinking of upgrading to a paid plan so I can get … as an email address, but I am holding off for now. In the meantime, I will add my Twitter handle (@DavidAlcock1) and email address (alcock_david at at the end of every post. Thank you again – David


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s