Sharkness? Combining a silent debate with the Harkness method in Geography

Pre Harkness Silent Debate

The pre-Harkness silent debate

I find it hard to stop interfering with the flow of learning in my classroom.  I know that, in most cases, in the spirit of independent learning, once teachers have set the tone for an activity, they should take a step back, observe, reflect, and let students get on with it!  Once students have got into a task, then teachers should only intervene judiciously if they think that students need a pedagogical pointer or a behavioural nudge.

One particular weakness of mine in this respect is that when it comes to students discussing issues, I tend to interrupt too often.  I am positive, yes, but I also take back the reins too early, and cut short what could be a useful line of argument.

To redress this, I resolved to trial the Harkness method.  This method, which was brought to my attention at an INSET session led by Hermione Baines, Head of History at my school, Bradford Grammar School – is a way of letting students conduct discussions around a large table with the teacher set back from affairs and acting as an observer and occasional facilitator.  More is written in several places online – for example, there is a well-written and succinct article on the theory and practice of Harkness here.  It is a method which is increasingly used outside of History classrooms and the context of higher education.

I have the privilege this year of teaching nine keen Year 12 Geographers, and we were coming to the end of a unit on globalisation, so it seemed like an ideal chance to try it out.

I structured my first foray into Harkness as follows:

1. Flag up the idea – A week before the lesson I said we would be trying a discussion method called Harkness – and some members of the class told me that they had already tried it and were up for the challenge.

2. Set the pre-reading – The students were given an article called ‘Deglobalisation’ (by Simon Oakes) to read, and had completed a homework based on efforts to redress the environmentally deleterious effects of globalisation (such as Transition Towns, Fair Trade, and the circular economy).

3. Categorisation activity – At the start of the lesson, I gave the class a card sort of the impacts of globalisation, which the students were asked to colour code as ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages’, and then they were asked to put them in social, economic, environmental, technological and political categories.  This was performed individually, and, as hoped, I had students engaging with the difficulties encountered in any such card sort activity, for example they were asking me “Can some impacts can be good for some and not for others?”, “Where should this go – it fits into more than one category?”, and “I don’t agree with this one – what should I do?”.

Categ

The first activity: categorising the impacts of globalisation

4. Silent debate – I then stepped up the group size to three and put in front of the students a ‘silent debate’ statement in the middle of an A3 sheet of paper – there were three different statements per table, i.e. one per student. Each student was then asked to respond to the statement by writing “I agree, because…” or “I disagree, because…” next to the original statement or to another student’s statement.  Then they were asked to pass the sheet around the table clockwise, for the next student to add their comment, and this went on a total of six times – so that by the end, everyone had had two chances to comment on each of the three statements.  An example of the statements was ‘The benefits of globalisation outweigh the costs’.

5. Harkness discussion – The final step-up was to undertake a whole-class discussion – the Harkness method itself.  I set a few ground rules such as ‘only one person should speak at a time’, ‘be respectful’, and ‘listen to the chair’ (I appointed a student as a ‘chair’ after I had modelled what a chair should do).

Harkness discussion Dec18

The Harkness debate

6. Exam-style question – The students will attempt a books-open follow-up past paper question in their next lesson, enabling me to gauge their progress and perhaps how useful the Harkness method has been in opening their minds to the different ways in which they can ‘assess’ an issue.

Reflections

The card sort may have been useful if it had taken place in a previous lesson, but it took time away from the silent debate and Harkness parts of the lesson, and students fed back at the end that they thought it was the least valuable part of the lesson.

The silent debate aspect certainly added value to the students’ learning – it gave them time to reflect and ‘warmed their brains up’ prior to the Harkness stage.  The students were all positive about this stage too.

The Harkness discussion went well, and I was heartened by the way that the learning was almost tangible, as listeners as well as speakers were digesting the discussion.  I was also gladdened when students mentioned case studies that I hadn’t heard of, and when one of them, unbidden, related Boserup’s population/resource theory to the topic.  However, I did have to step in when:

  • The discussion went off on a tangent for too long (for example, electric cars became the sole topic for almost five minutes!)
  • More than one person was talking at once (I threatened to introduce a hands-up policy if this continued)
  • It seemed like one student became the focus of excessive criticism, and although he is a resilient controversialist who could give as good as he got, I didn’t want this to be the norm for future discussions!

As this class contains several loquacious characters, I may well try to run two Harkness discussions simultaneously next time, to give the quieter members a chance to have their say.

(As an aside, I will endeavour not to take photos next time, as this rather distracted from the flow of the discussion – but in the spirit of resource sharing and to support this article, then I felt that they were a necessary evil.)

I am also planning to bring this method in at the end of sub-units, so that the focus is kept a little tighter: there is so much content at the end of a large topic such as globalisation that the conversation can go anywhere!

Overall, I can heavily recommend this method, especially when it is preceded by a silent debate – why not give it a try?

Reference:

Caldwell, K (n.d.): What is the Harkness Method? https://www.katherinecadwell.com/harkness-method/

Also see the many videos of excepts of Harkness discussions here: https://www.katherinecadwell.com/video/

 

Optimism assembly

137,000 people escape poverty Breaking News

This assembly was delivered to BGS, 23 November 2018.  Contact me for the full slideshow.

Is the world getting better?

Thinking generally about the world, all things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?  You choose:

A: Getting better
B: Neither getting better nor getting worse
C: Getting worse

So, what do you reckon?  Please vote now.

This is surely one of the most important questions that humanity can ask of itself.

Dhaka slum picture Alcock 2001

Photo of slum in Dhaka, 2000 (Author)

My faith in human progress was shaken when, almost twenty years ago, I went on a round the world trip which ended up lasting 17 months.

I had learned about development in school and how some people said that rich countries made poor countries poor.  This trip was part of what led me into teaching – I felt like I needed to show people what the world was really like.

What I saw – for example, street dwellers in Kolkata and slum dwellers in Dhaka – seemed to back up my preconceptions.

Anti WEF Protest Melbourne Alcock 2000

Protests against the WEF in Melbourne, 2000 (Author)

It also led me to take part in protests against what I felt was an unjust situation – of forces, perhaps capitalism, perhaps globalisation – which were dragging the world down – this one happened whilst I was in Melbourne.

But what I didn’t fully realise was that, yes, extreme poverty was real, and yes, humans do have a capacity to harm each other, but what I was seeing was only what was happening at one point in time, and that over time, progress is being made – people are escaping poverty, they are living longer, more and more people are getting an education, there are growing numbers of democracies, there are fewer wars…  In fact, in virtually every social and economic aspect, and in many environmental aspects too, progress is being made.

Poverty % with my travels

Graph source: Max Roser et al (2018): http://www.ourworldindata.org

The theme of this week is optimism, and I would like you to question both your attitude towards the future and why you hold your opinions.

So, back to the question I kicked off with.  I have been doing a little bit of research about your opinions.  Thank you to my Year 8, 11 and 12 Geography sets, and ten members of staff I collared at random.  So what did these groups believe about the future of the planet?

Year Group getting better

It appears that the staff are more optimistic than the pupils, but that the majority view is that the world is going to carry on as it is, or get worse.

Country getting better

Source: Author’s research; Ipsos-MORI

In fact, the BGS average is higher than the results for the UK and similar countries – but it’s still not a resounding victory for optimism.  Let’s see what beliefs about the world might lie behind the lack of optimism.

In the last 20 years the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, worldwide, has…?

A. Almost doubled
B. Remained more or less the same
C. Almost halved

Think about it.

The answer is C: Almost halved

I asked the groups for their verdict.  Here it is:

Poverty survey

You will notice that I have put a column for a chimp on the right hand side, to represent the 33% chance of the answer being chosen at random (inspired by Hans Rosling, author of Factfulness – show book).  So every group here underestimated the true degree of economic progress in the world – their results are worse than random!  But why? We’ll come to that later.  Next question please.

Slide: In all low income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
A. 20%
B. 40%
C. 60%

Think about it – what would you have voted?

The answer is C: 60%

How did the respondents do?

Low income girls in primary school survey

Oh dear – we have underestimated progress yet again.  Next question.

Slide: There are two billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100 according to the United Nations?
A. 4 billion
B. 3 billion
C. 2 billion

Think about it – what would you have voted?

The answer is C: 2 billion

How did my group do?

2 billion children in world survey

Well done to the two Year 11s who got this correct.  To everyone else in my survey – never mind, better luck next time.  I will pause to explain this one, because your results were so far out.

The world’s population is now almost 8 billion and it will probably top out at 10-11 billion.  Most of this growth is due to today’s children having children, and to people living longer.  But it’s not due to more births: women around the world have fewer babies than ever before – the global average is only just over two.  In 1960 it was 5.  Family planning and good healthcare mean that the so-called ‘population bomb’ has fizzled out.

Let’s have one more question.

Slide: How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
A. 20%
B. 50%
C. 80%

What do you reckon?

The answer is C: 80%

Our survey said…

Elec access survey

Well done Year 12s!

Here is a summary of just some of the positive trends in the world over the last few decades – it has become more peaceful, more democratic, healthier, better nourished, better educated, more connected, gender equal, and more tolerant.

For example, current UN trends show that the “ending of extreme poverty for all people everywhere” is due to occur by 2026.  The end of extreme poverty for all people everywhere – in only eight years – before some of you even turn twenty – is this a dream?

So at least one part of John Lennon’s lyrics – for ‘Imagine’ in 1980 – “Imagine there’s no need for greed or hunger” – is due to be met within perhaps all of our lifetimes – wow.

Lennon also sang “Imagine all the people living life in peace” – might this happen, barring relatively minor skirmishes, by the middle of the century?  With wealth comes property and with property comes a degree of calm…  Something to ponder.

There are significant challenges facing the world – many of them environmental.  Here are some of these challenges: climate change, extremism, cybercrime, pollution, inequality and recessions.  I am not saying that you should sit back and do nothing.  I am saying that we should carry on striving – and that we should not give up hope.

In summary, many of us underestimate the amount of progress that has been made in the world.  This is explored in great depth in books like ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling et al (in the school library).

But don’t blame yourself for getting things wrong!  Blame these instead: the media, outdated information, mistrust of good news, and human psychology.

Let’s start with the media: be aware that bad news sells, and most bad news comes suddenlyGood news tends to come slowly.

If news outlets truly reported the changing state of the world, they could have run the headline ‘NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY’ every day for the last twenty-five years.

137,000 people escape poverty Breaking News

I acknowledge http://www.breakyourownnews.com for the template (Photo: Author)

Outdated information – this one is quite simple – keep up to date!  Watch documentaries, and follow trusted news outlets.

Mistrust of good news: Steven Pinker says “Those who spread fear about a dreadful prophesy may be seen as serious and responsible, while those who are measured are seen as complacent and naïve”.  Try to prove him wrong!

Your mind warps your perceptions too.  Psychologists talk about anchoring – where we tend stick to the first opinion that we form about a subject, and defend it, often against the weight of evidence.

They also talk about the negativity instinct – negative stories have the edge over positive ones, because of the risks we faced in humanity’s formative years, such as bear attacks.

There is availability bias – a misjudgement where we believe that reality is all we can easily call to mind.

And finally, confirmation bias – where we seek validation rather than challenges to our views.

Adjusting your world view

Here are some rules of thumb so you don’t get caught out again!  Look for more on the Geography corridor.  Why is this important?  Negativity allows seeds of discontent and despair to take root.  Many people today have difficulty imagining, valuing, or even believing in the promise of incremental change, which leads to a greater appetite for revolutionary change.

Is it time to reconsider your answer to the question we started off with?

Slide: Is the world getting better?
Thinking generally about the world, all things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?  You choose:

A: Getting better
B: Neither getting better nor getting worse
C: Getting worse

Thank you.

A hopeful Geography?

The argument is familiar to geographers, but it is not familiar to most members of the general public and it bears retelling:

In almost all social and economic aspects, and in many environmental ones too, the world is getting better.  From Julian Simon in the 1980s, to Bjorn Lomborg in the 1990s, and Hans Rosling, Max Roser, and Steven Pinker in the 2000s, there has been a reaction against the largely negative tone of the media, and a desire for a more fact-based, level-headed and optimistic – or at least, in the words of Rosling (2018), a ‘possibilistic’ – view of the world.

MDG : Hans rosling wealth health graph

Hans Rosling with his moving bubble chart: there is a development continuum of countries, and there is a clear path towards a healthier and wealthier future for humankind

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/quiz/2013/nov/07/development-data-population-quiz-hans-rosling

Geography is not immune to criticism in this regard.  Although the discipline often prides itself on its balanced, empirical, and critical approach to the most important issues in the world, the tone of some of its output fails to reflect the global progress that has been made in areas as varied as life expectancy, peace, tolerance, sanitation and quality of life: the full list would justify a blog post in its own right, but see Pinker (2018), Rosling (2018), and Roser.  It might even be said that the themes that we study – disasters, overpopulation, climate change, conflict, pollution and deindustrialisation, to name but a few – give us a handicap to begin with: could Geography be in danger of taking the mantle of ‘the dismal science’ from Economics?

The discipline has a role to play in redressing the negativity present in much of the media and politics, and its practitioners should also be aware of the psychological quirks which tend to predispose humans to look at many phenomena in a negative way (Duffy, 2018).

Negativity can be dangerous – it could make students overly fearful and more willing to think that things are out of their control, and therefore less likely to take action on some of the most important issues in society.  It is also deleterious to the discipline: it may put students off taking the subject, and it can be dull to teach.

It need not be like this.  I would like Geographers, whether in any branch of education, or those who consider themselves to be Geographers in other spheres, to consider the role that the discipline can play in this task.  (Many readers will no doubt disagree with my premise, in which case I also welcome your input and evidence!)  I will draw your comments together and in the first instance I will blog about them; later I will use them to help me prepare my session for the 2019 Geographical Association Conference; and I then plan to plunge my energies into a more formal research project.

The main themes I would like you to consider are the themes we study, the way that we approach the themes that we study, and the learning activities that we undertake.

A few of my first – perhaps provocative – thoughts are below:

  • Do we sometimes fail to communicate the dynamic nature of some of our subjects? Should we reframe enquiry questions to reflect the ‘direction of travel’ of the world – for example, should we ask ‘Why are some countries rich?’, rather than ‘Why are some countries poor?’
  • Do we focus on the ‘worst case’ studies and places, and when those areas improve, do we drop them for the next ‘worst case’, rather than looking at how most places quietly and gradually improve over time?
  • Is enough attention paid to historical successes?  Within Health Geography, for instance, why is the rapid drop in mortality and morbidity due to the collapse of polio and smallpox often absent?
  • In terms of some of the ‘tricky’ themes such as climate change and globalisation, do we accurately convey the relative scale of positives compared to negatives?
  • Is enough attention paid within Geography to the power of the media and politics, and on how psychology affects our perceptions of reality?
  • Is there a need for a radical programme of teacher re-training to enable practitioners to get an accurate world-view?
  • Are we too scared as a discipline to contemplate the promulgation of a more ‘hopeful Geography’, for fear of being labelled reactionary, or even mouthpieces of the alt-right?

Finally, if you have any examples of activities or resources you have come across that either foster an unjustifiably negative world view, or, in contrast, those which gear students up to take a more fact-based view of the world, then please also let me know (one such example of the latter is Paul Turner’s six-lesson scheme of work on ‘Factfulness’).

You will appreciate that these are just some short and basic thoughts on the matter, and they lack polish.

Thank you for your time.

David

Some further reading:

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

Pinker, S (2018) Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Humanism and Progress (Allen Lane)

Roser, Max (n.d.): Our World in Data: www.ourworldindata.org

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

 

Let’s take this outside – ideas for outdoor learning in the humanities and beyond

Lets take this outside

Below are some of the ways that you could take learning outdoors in the humanities and beyond.  They are based on personal experience and come from a session I presented at the Practical Pedagogies conference in Cologne (http://practicalpedagogies.net/) on 1st November 2018.  Many thanks to the people and organisations who were the original source of many of these ideas – I have included weblinks and credits where I could.  Please feel free to spread the word and to contact me for any more information/clarification.

Mental maps

As with any activity, it’s good to start with what students already know, so why not give them a blank piece of paper, and ask them to draw a ‘mental map’ of the place they are about to visit – or give them a map with outlines (for street maps of anywhere in the world: www.oomap.co.uk) and they write down what they feel about each place?  This could be good for a discrete place like the school grounds or a local park.  They could then ask members of the public, or members of a focus group, to do this too.  Try to give it a theme, e.g. ‘where do you feel safe’? ‘Where do you feel positive/negative?’

MindMapSF

Mental map of San Francisco, drawn by a resident of a northern suburb

Source: http://groups.ischool.berkeley.edu/mentalmaps/

Circle formation

This is often the best way to communicate in the outdoors, due to wind/traffic noise/blocked views.

Use of props

Chalk can be used to draw pie charts, bar charts, or to demonstrate tallies based on compass wedges.

Toilet rolls (or ropes) could be used as contour lines, or timelines, or to help with a ‘journey to the centre of the earth’: https://www.earthlearningidea.com/PDF/196_Journey_centre_E.pdf.

Rubber ducks could encourage students to take photos of as many places as possible – challenge students to ‘see how many places you can put the duck’!

Use the environment to help you

Use the natural and built environment to help you.

E.g. use slopes as amphitheatres; trees as rain cover; environment and passers-by as story prompts (what is that person doing?)

Find elements of built environment to use too – e.g. steps could be used for ‘steps to empathy’ – see South Sudan activity from Oxfam UK: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/resources/south-sudan , slopes for contours (NB look for a viewpoint), and so on.

A hook

Important to find a hook for an outdoor learning experience – e.g. news story, Sixth Former having difficulty parking, etc

e.g. Geography of Crime – Where on the school campus do students feel secure?  Where do they leave their belongings?

e.g. Urban Task Force – e.g. Lister Park – this could be done as a School Task Force – pupils could draw on safer cycling/walking/parking layouts in chalk?  Design a place for children/humans rather than cars – link to Jan Gehl’s ‘The Human Scale’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri4CeM0xUr0 and http://gehlarchitects.com – class members picture themselves as urban researchers and developers along Gehl’s lines.  Then share with SLT/estates team/councillor/local paper/Neighbourhood Watch group/Facebook group/etc

 Using the circle for sampling

One way is to use the circle idea from before, and ask students to look at a point in the distance and walk towards it, gathering data as they approach it.

Using your senses

Soundscape Wheel

Soundscape Wheel – source: www.goodcitylife.org 

Hearing: Turn around, and close your eyes for 30secs, focus on what you can hear, then note it.

Smellscape Wheel

Smellscape Wheel – source: www.researchswinger.org

Smell: Ditto for smell.

Sight: it’s very easy to get distracted, so consider using cards, adapted from the Field Studies Council – www.field-studies-council.org – to get your students to stick to what they see – e.g. follow a bird, follow a line, sit on a bench and see what happens, look at your feet.

Emotional mapping – see extract from Teaching Geography (Autumn 2018) – www.geography.org.uk

 Other ways of sampling

  • Systematic: photo every 2mins/1 lamppost
  • Line transect: buy day rider and get off at every bus/train/tram/underground stop
  • Random:
  • Dice
  • Online random number generator: turn your study area into a 10×10 grid (or use random numbers to allocate squares then do 10×10 within this)
  • Follow a contour as close as possible / visit all spot heights
  • Inspired by Mission:Explore:
  • Dérive: pick a person and follow them
  • Toss coin several times before leaving, to help you plan your ‘random’ route: heads=turn right, tails=turn left
  • Let your dog take you for a walk

 Data collection methods

Beyond the questionnaire (credit is again due to Mission:Explore – www.missionexplore.net – for some of these ideas)

 Cappuccino index – in order to assess the affluence of different customers, students (post-16) plot the cost of a medium cappuccino at all the cafes they pass en route.  Then, back in the classroom, they plot these figures as proportional symbols and/or isolines. [Source: Simon Hinchliffe]

Word clouding – students ask passers-by to come up with five words to describe the area – or they might present the passers-by with a table of 20-30 terms which they would use.  Back in the classroom, the students input the data into www.wordle.net to produce a ‘word cloud’

 Set up a stall to collect positive messages about area

Set up a legal graffiti wall, photograph it every hour/day

 ‘Plug in and turn off’ – i.e. pretend to listen to music but actually listen to conversations and note down recurring themes

 Empathy – students wear a blindfold or vision impaired glasses to start to empathise with the point of view of someone with a disability.  Or they could get on their knees to get a child’s-level view, and take photos from both perspectives.

Spend a day as a refugee – limited budget for lunch/ hand out guide in another language to empathise with a refugee

Historical maps to work out what has changed and why: https://digimapforschools.edina.ac.uk/

Poetry – read out poetry that is set in your place of study

Video viewpoints – go to the place a video was taken from and show historic footage filmed from that viewpoint (e.g. first film – Leeds Bridge – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJLr0cTzRYk )

Blue plaque quest – note name, sex, age, years – and reason for fame

 Statue study – Investigate the statues in a place. How are men and women differently represented? Share a photo of the most typical statue you can find.

Rename and rebrand 1 – name the section of the walk that you have just undertaken – what would sum up its essential nature?  What might attract different groups of people to undertake the walk?  How might you publicise it?  (e.g. Dijon and Leeds have Owl Trails – http://www.leedsowltrail.com/ – and the Chevin Geology Trail – http://chevinforest.co.uk/uploads/Geology/chevin_trail_2.pdf )

Rename and rebrand 2 – Ask your students to keep their eyes open during one particular neighbourhood.  Don’t tell the students what the name of the neighbourhood/redevelopment district is that they have just explored.  Instead, ask them to name it.  Give them examples of (re)branding that have helped parts of cities get a new image – e.g. a run-down part of Salford became Media City; the part of Leicester that has the new Curve Theatre in it is called the Cultural Quarter.

The other side of the tracks? – Walk a route and, on a small map of the area, draw the boundary between rich/poor, old/young, safe/unsafe, etc.  Or with red pen, draw boundaries that pedestrians might be wary of crossing.  Or with a highlighter, highlight the most cycle-friendly/pedestrian-friendly roads in an area, and/or the most dangerous.  For more ideas, see http://groups.ischool.berkeley.edu/mentalmaps/index.html

Urban Repair Squad – Where would you paint a new pedestrian crossing?  Or bike path?  Mark it on your map and/or use chalk to mark it on the ground.  Some groups take matters into their own hands – Google ‘guerrilla gardening’ and http://grist.org/urbanism/2011-06-23-five-provocative-ways-to-think-about-cities-and-neighborhoods/

Graffiti spotting – jot down where graffiti is found and what it says.  Consider why it is located there.

Care for the locality – How long do people wait before picking up litter on a path/bench/pick up an exercise book/a toy duck?!  Repeat the experiment in different areas of the school/park.

Things to map

  • CCTV cameras
  • Gardens – look, area, biodiversity, smell, number of cars…
    Dereliction/ to let/ for sale/ abandoned areas
  • Human communication (painted rocks, graffiti, council signs); colour code into do/don’t/neutral

Signs

What signs/words would you remove to make the area more pleasant?

What signs would you add?

Back to the classroom

So you have come up with a question, gathered data, presented it, analysed it, concluded and evaluated it (not time to go through the whole sequence of enquiry but Geographers are used to it)… but what next?

Many students engage better if they are given a choice of how to present their project.  We are moving towards this at BGS, with aim of at least one ‘multi-outcome’ task per year group. Sometimes this could be a simple choice between a talk, a poster, or a presentation.  Or, as in our Year 9 South Sudan project, it could be, for example, to teach a lesson to a class, create a social media campaign complete with a website, or write a letter to your MP.  This allows for individual and group work.

 Taking it further – cross-curricular outdoor learning

In June 2018, all 120 Year 9 pupils at Bradford Grammar School www.bradfordgrammar.com enjoyed a day of outdoor learning.  The purpose was to demonstrate to pupils (and staff) how learning can take place outside the classroom, and to increase resilience to its challenges (e.g. to prepare them for navigational demands of DofE).  Please contact me if you would like to run such a day at your school.

Teaching ‘Changing places’ at A level

Changing Places article Teaching Geography

In the most recent edition of the Geographical Association’s journal ‘Teaching Geography’ I write about the variety of ways that my students engaged with the ‘Changing places’ element of the new A level Geography specification outside of more conventional classroom activities.

These include events involving local councillors, Age UK befriending groups and qualitative fieldwork techniques.  Copyright restrictions mean that I can’t go into more detail, but I urge Geography teachers to join the GA and subscribe to the journal to keep their subject knowledge and pedagogy up to date:

http://www.geography.org.uk

How do I cope with a forest of hands? ‘3B before me’ and peer teaching

Hands up Telegraph image

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk

We’ve all experienced the forest of hands which come from setting a challenging task.  The forest is especially dense in lessons for younger students, but I have known more than half of a Sixth Form class to have their hands in the air at times.  What can be done to respond to your students’ desire for help without giving them the answer or stifling their curiosity?

3B before me

I try my best to promote independent learning by encouraging ‘3B before me’: before students put their hands in the air, they should first use their brain, then their book (perhaps a textbook), then their buddy (on either side), before coming to the teacher as the last port of call.  (In some models this final stage is called ‘the boss’, but this may not sit comfortably with your perceptions of your role as a teacher!)  I back this up with ‘3B before me’ posters on the wall and verbal reminders before I set tricky work.

I really do recommend this strategy, which was first brought to my attention just a few years ago, at one of Bradford Grammar School’s Teaching and Learning twilight INSET sessions.  However, sometimes the hands just spring back up and it is so tempting to just give your students the answer… or give them a hint… or show them what to do on the whiteboard… or go to one of the ones with their hands down who you know you can rely upon to put the class out of its misery!

But to do any of these things would not only set back the course of independent learning, but it would also tire you out and tempt you to set less challenging work next time.  So, what can you do to augment the ‘3B before me’ strategy?

Judiciously applied, peer teaching can help.

Peer teaching Cross-sections

Source: Author

Peer teaching

Peer teaching, at its simplest, is using students to advise and/or instruct their fellow class mates.  I find that it is its most effective, at least in Geography, in the context of ‘skills’-based competencies, such as using GIS or other IT software, and in techniques involving paper maps (such as grid references and measuring distances).  I applied it this week when teaching relief on maps, using four cross-section tasks of increasing levels of difficulty:

  1. I demonstrated the start of the easiest cross-section on the whiteboard, involving pupils by asking them to tell me where I should draw the crosses on the line
  2. Pupils worked through their cross-sections. I reminded the pupils of the expectation to carry out ‘3B before me’
  3. I toured the class to trouble-shoot the remaining queries
  4. Once the first pupil had finished, I told him – and the rest of the class – that he was a cross-section expert, and therefore could be called upon to advise others
  5. As more pupils finished, they too became ‘experts’, until the whole class had finished the task

This prompted others to redouble their efforts to finish efficiently and accurately so that they too could be called an ‘expert’.  Also, those who were struggling tended to find that getting advice from a peer was more helpful than getting advice from a teacher!

Cross-section drawing peer teaching close up

Source: Author

To summarise some of the benefits of peer teaching,

  • Students receive more time for individualised learning
  • Direct interaction between students promotes active learning
  • Peer teachers reinforce their own learning by instructing others (we are all aware of the adage that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it)
  • Many students feel more comfortable and open when interacting with a peer rather than with the teacher
  • It can be used when you would like every pupil in the class to finish a task
  • Some students work more efficiently when they know that they might be chosen to become a peer teacher
  • The learning environment is energised – peer learning can be fun!

Nevertheless, I would not overuse this method, because:

  • the novelty of becoming an ‘expert’ may wear off on the most able pupils
  • the most able pupils should usually be nudged into ways which might extend their learning rather than simply reinforcing it
  • some pupils are shy, and therefore reluctant to be ‘experts’
  • it may undermine the principle of independent learning, if pupils get used to the fact that they can call on a fellow pupil to help them
  • it might present challenges in terms of classroom management

Discussing approaches such as peer teaching with mixed-subject groups of teachers at my school’s INSET session yesterday also underlined the fact that peer teaching could be tough to apply in certain contexts.  Some language teachers, for instance, pointed out that it can take a while for any pupil to be able to have the expertise in a language to allow him or her to peer teach others.

Finally, peer teaching is of course only one aspect of peer learning, which also includes group work, peer assessment, and so on – but in the right context it is powerful, fun, and makes the classroom (or indeed an outdoor learning environment) a more dynamic place.  And if you stretch the notion of ‘peer’ to include mixing students of different age groups, then a whole new world of opportunity opens up – for instance, some of my Year 9 students have given an assembly to a Year 7 form on the crisis in South Sudan, and younger pupils may even be able to teach older ones a thing or two about their particular experiences (for instance about their country of origin or their family’s business).

Closing thoughts

Good luck in trying out new ways of involving pupils in helping others in the classroom – and if you haven’t implemented ‘3B before me’ yet, then what are you waiting for?

I acknowledge https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/peer-teaching/ for summarising four of the benefits of peer teaching given here.

The little island with a large volcano – Part 2: Impacts and can the future be self-sufficient?

“[T]he epoch-making eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1995… has affected almost every facet of life in this 39.5 square mile island.  Agriculture, industry, land-form, land space and its use, demography, politics, culture and the totality of society have all undergone changes of revolutionary proportions” (Fergus, 2007: 9)

 

In the previous article, we considered the physical processes involved in recent volcanic activity on Montserrat, with particular reference to the fifth phase of activity (October 2009 – October 2010 and ongoing), together with an assessment of monitoring techniques.  In this article, we will explore the social, economic and environmental impacts of this activity, and we will briefly assess the likelihood for Montserrat to become self-sufficient in the future.

Montserrat map locations (Wikimedia)

Figure 1: Map of Montserrat

Source: http://www.paradise-islands.org

Social impacts and plans for the future

Between 1995 and 1999, Montserrat experienced a huge exodus following the destruction of the capital, Plymouth (see Figure 2), and the forced evacuation of many villages and farmland in the southern part of the island (see Figure 3).  In this short time span, the island’s population decreased to about a third of its pre-eruption levels, from 10,000 to 3,000, rising to just over 5,000 by 2006.  This ‘diaspora’ has settled in many countries, mainly Antigua, the UK and the USA.  These migrants joined a large group of people who had already left the island throughout the twentieth century, for example in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  The exodus in the late 1990s resulted in a loss of economic potential, because a large number of the emigrants were from economically active age groups.  Another impact of the eruption has been the arrival of over 1,500 people from other Caribbean islands who have been attracted by employment opportunities, chiefly in construction.

2 fig 2 Plymouth

Figure 2: View of Plymouth from the north

Source: Author

2 fig 3 Hazard Zones

Figure 3: Montserrat hazard zone map (1 July 2010)

Source: Montserrat Volcano Observatory: http://www.mvo.ms

For those Montserratians who have remained, there have been health effects, although these have been well controlled.  The main effects have been the exacerbation of respiratory diseases, silicosis (a kind of lung disease caused by christobalite, an element found in the ash), and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Psychologically, many Montserratians felt under threat in the months following the initial eruptions, and these tensions were heightened by the crowded life in evacuation centres.

 

Key terms

Diaspora: The population of a country who has migrated abroad and who keep strong ties with their country of origin

GDP: Gross Domestic Product, i.e. the total value of goods and services produced by a country, usually stated over the period of a year

Quango: quasi nongovernmental organisation; an organisation that is financed by the government yet acts independently of it

Anthropogenic: resulting from the influence of human beings

Feral: a plant or animal that has escaped from domestication

 

Looking to the future, one of the five strands of the island’s Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2020 (see the relevant section at the end of the article) is to achieve a sustainable population: the government hopes to “develop and implement population, labour and immigration policies which will enhance the growth of the population; create initiatives to retain the current population; and create incentives which will facilitate the increase of the population” (Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Government of Montserrat, N.D.: 7).

 

Educationally, enrolment in all schools, from nursery to secondary, dropped from 2672 to 620 between 1995 and 1998.  The two secondary schools were consolidated into one, but the school has had problems in retaining staff; most teachers come from other Caribbean islands, and 8 out of the 35 staff departed the school at the end of the 2009/10 academic year.  A community college opened next door to the secondary school in 2005.  New methods of teaching and learning have been introduced to the school and the college, to put the students on a better footing for the future.

 

Economic impacts and plans for the future

Economically, the volcano dealt the island a blow from which it is still struggling to recover.  The land adjacent to the volcano was some of the most fertile on the island; such land is now agriculturally useless and inaccessible (see Figure 4), and 300 full-time farmers have been dispossessed by the eruptions.  Montserrat, which used to be self-sufficient in many crops, is now dependent on imports for the vast majority of its foodstuffs.  This is clear to see from a brief visit to any of the island’s food stores, and symptomatic of this import dependency is the fact that it can be difficult to buy limes on an island which was once famous for its lime crop (relaxing is still known as ‘liming’ on the island).  There are seeds of hope, however: following a government campaign, many residents have turned towards growing some of their own crops, such as sweet potatoes and papaya, and the frequent ash falls have increased the fertility of the soil.

2 fig 4 hazard sign

Figure 4: Exclusion Zone sign (2010)

Source: Author

Manufacturing industry was strong on the island until the first eruption: it hosted assembly-type businesses and food processing plants, dominated by Montserrat Rice Mills.  Until the evacuation of Plymouth, the island also hosted an off-shore medical school, the American University of the Caribbean, which employed dozens of staff, and whose 400 students had been significant spenders in the local economy.  Future plans to re-invigorate the island’s economy include the expansion of the ash processing industry (see Figure 5) and the construction of a new capital city in Little Bay (see final section and Figure 1).  The music producer George Martin has already funded the recently completed Cultural Centre at a cost of nearly US$3 million to kick-start this development.

2 fig 5 Montserrat Blocks

Figure 5: A potential economic benefit of the activity?

Source: Author

Tourism was another big loser thanks to the eruption: the airport and seaport were in the exclusion zone, huge areas were declared out of bounds, and tourists were deterred by negative travel advice from their governments.  In 2004 a £5 million grant from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) was secured: some of it was used for ‘capacity building’ (supporting hotel and villa construction), and part of it was spent on hiring a team of consultants from Scotland: ‘Team Tourism’.  Their strategic plan for the island seeks to widen the number of target markets.  The traditional ‘Caribbean’ target markets have been characterised by the phrase ‘newly weds and nearly deads’, the latter referring not only to the substantial cruise ship market but also to the thousands of ‘snowbirds’ – wealthy retirees from northern America who own villas and use them for several months during the winter.  The consultancy renamed these tourists as ‘destination enjoyment’ travelers, and came up with eight more target markets (see inset), along with a new logo and a slogan which elliptically refers to the volcano as a possible attraction: ‘A Caribbean Treasure – Spectacular by Nature’.

 

2 fig 7 tourist logo

Figure 6: Montserrat Tourist Board logo

Source: http://www.visitmontserrat.com

Tourism target markets:

– ‘Destination enjoyment’ holidaymakers (especially villa owners and renters)

– Markets inspired by the volcano (volcano tours and the education market)

– The dive market

– The bird watching market

– The cruise market

– The yachting market

– The market for day visits, short breaks and events

– Sports tourism (football and cricket)

– The Montserrat diaspora

Source: Team Tourism (2007)

2 fig 8 air travel

Figure 7: The new airport has a shorter runway than the previous one and can only take small aeroplanes

Source: Author

At the peak of the volcanic activity in 1997, the annual number of tourists was approximately 4,000.  By 2004, a ferry linking Montserrat with Antigua, with two sailings a day had been established, and this ferry facilitated an influx of day visitors.  The estimated number of tourists at this time was 15,000.  When the subsidy stopped in 2005, the ferry service ceased, and by 2006, the numbers had shrunk to 9,500: the Director of the Tourist Board, Mrs Ernestine Cassell, states that “the capacity of the ferry and the small size of our airport severely restrict the number of visitors which come to the island… and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future”.  Another drawback for potential ‘volcano tourists’ is that tours around the site of Plymouth (‘the new Pompeii’) have not taken place for several years thanks to continued volcanic activity.

 

Energy is one of the most significant economic challenges which face the island.  Today, the island relies upon one relatively inefficient high-speed diesel engine.  The island’s 2008-2020 Sustainable Development Programme has, however, identified renewable energy as a priority for the island.  Some renewable options are, as Director of Montserrat’s Department of Energy, Peter White puts it, “definitely on the back-burner”; these include tidal, whose capital costs are high and whose prospects are low thanks to the low tidal range of the Caribbean Sea, and wave, which also suffers from a high capital cost.  Wind energy, which was trialled in the early 1990s, and which contributed 400kWh at its peak, looks likely to mothballed for a longer period, partly because of a lack of suitable sites (the Centre Hills is due for designation as a National Park), and partly because the direction of the usually reliable ‘trade winds’ has seemingly shifted, meaning that orientating the turbines may be problematic.

 

For a location in the Caribbean, solar energy might be seen as a possible solution.  However, wide-scale deployment of photovoltaic solar panels has a high capital cost, and there is insufficient space for a large-scale installation.  Recent changes in the direction of prevailing winds on the island also mean that the northern part of the island has seen increasing ash falls, which can obscure the sunlight reaching the panels.

 

Geothermal energy is the main focus of the department’s renewable energy strategy.  A suitable aquifer, recharged by the sea and fresh water, has been found in Foxes Bay, in Zone C of the Exclusion Zone, between Richmond and Gages (see map).  The planned capacity of this small plant is in the range of 2-5MW, therefore supplying all of the electricity for Montserrat at its current population size, and possibly allowing for Montserrat to be a net exporter of electricity.  Funding is being sought from a variety of sources, but Peter White is struggling to obtain funding for the project.  Current plans for the installation of a medium-speed diesel engine mean that Montserrat will still be open to the mercies of the open market in oil prices.

 

Environmental impacts and plans for the future

On a regional scale, as mentioned in part 1 of this article, ash from the 11 February dome collapse reached several neighbouring islands, resulting in extensive disruption to air travel in the Eastern Caribbean region, and it also caused millions of pounds worth of damage to banana and other cash crops on Guadeloupe alone.

 

On Montserrat, the most obvious environmental effect has been the destruction of approximately a third of the island’s tropical rainforest and much of its wildlife.  In addition, ash falls have thwarted vegetation growth in the short-term.  However, the ash has enriched the soil with iron, magnesium and potassium from the weathering of various minerals, such as olivine, pyroxene, amphibole, and feldspar which are found in volcanic ash.

 

However, perhaps the most notable environmental impact which humans have some degree of involvement in is the effect of feral animals on the island’s ecosystem.  The island’s forests support critically endangered endemic species including the Montserrat Oriole (a bird), Montserrat Galliwasp (a lizard) and Mountain Chicken (actually a frog!).  Feral pigs (see Figure 8) and goats (together with smaller numbers of cattle and donkeys) originating from abandoned livestock in the Exclusion Zone are thought to be dramatically increasing in number in the Centre Hills.  Such animals are damaging native plants and animals, including endemic species, and spreading of exotic species.  They may also be leading to increased soil erosion, agricultural damage, pollution of water and attacks on walkers.

2 fig 9 feral pig (Mont Govt)

Figure 8: Feral pig on Montserrat

Source: Montserrat government: http://www.gov.ms

Richard Bunting, a wildlife ecologist working in collaboration with the Department of the Environment, on a Darwin Initiative project, has been using a number of fieldwork techniques to investigate the impact of such animals on the biodiversity of the Centre Hills region.  These techniques include monitoring a network of infra-red cameras (using food traps to attract animals), driving through the island to count loose livestock, and surveying farmers.  Possible solutions to the problem include controlled hunting, encouraging farmers to tie up feral animals, and laying traps.

 

Volcanic activity and climate change – did you know?

On a global scale, whenever the volcano erupts, vast volumes of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere.   Whilst it is virtually impossible to accurately measure the volumes of carbon dioxide which comes from the Soufrière Hills volcano, it is useful to put such emissions in context: even if you take the highest estimate of global volcanic carbon dioxide emissions (270 million metric tons per year), human-emitted carbon dioxide levels are more than 130 times higher than volcanic emissions (Gerlach, 2010).

 

What is the likelihood that Montserrat might become self-sufficient?

In 2008/09, Montserrat relied upon an annual aid budget of £16.4 million from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID, 2010), a figure equivalent to over £3000 per resident.  It also receives a smaller amount of aid from other international organizations, for example the EU.  The UK coalition government has committed to reprieve overseas aid from its programme of cuts, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Montserrat is unlikely to become self-sufficient in the near future.

The island’s ‘Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2020’, aims for a degree of self-sufficiency: this is summarized in Inset 4, below.  By 2010, some aspects of the plan had already been delivered: these include the completion of Phase 1 of the construction of the new capital at Little Bay in the north of the island (see map) and the current push to invigorate tourism on the island.  There has also been a campaign to try to encourage the 30,000-strong Montserratian diaspora to invest in the island and to consider returning to it.

 

Strategic Goals of the Montserrat Sustainable Development Plan, 2008-2020

– Economic Management: An environment that fosters prudent economic management, sustained growth, a diversified economy and the generation of employment opportunities

– Human Development: Enhanced human development and improved quality of life for all people on Montserrat

– Environmental Management and Disaster Mitigation: Montserrat’s natural resources conserved within a system of environmentally sustainable development and appropriate strategies for disaster mitigation

– Governance: An efficient, responsive and accountable system of governance and public service

– Population: A sustainable population

Source: Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Government of Montserrat (N.D.)

 

So, will Montserrat ‘rise from the ashes’?  Whilst researching for these articles, it has become evident that although the initial shock of volcanic activity on Montserrat has passed, the volcano shows no signs of ceasing its activity, and the impact of this activity is profound and will be long-lasting.  The journey to self-sufficiency will be slow and difficult, and only time will tell whether the residents of this ‘little island’ will have the strength and perseverance to tame the powerfully destructive effects of their ‘big volcano’.

 

Key points

  • The social, economic and environmental impacts of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano have been significant and long-lasting
  • A new capital city, ash processing, tourism and geothermal energy may provide the basis for future development on Montserrat
  • Montserrat has begun a long journey towards self-sufficiency

 

Points for discussion

  1. How does Montserrat’s position as a British Overseas Dependency disrupt received notions of ‘developed’ and ‘less developed’ countries?
  2. How would you set Montserrat on a ‘journey towards self-sufficiency’?

 

Further reading

Montserrat Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2020: http://www.gov.ms/?p=1498

Department for Overseas Development – Montserrat Overview: http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Where-we-work/Overseas-Territories/Montserrat/

 

Acknowledgements

This article was written following a field-trip to Montserrat with Dr Caroline Neuberg, Physics teacher at Fulneck School, Leeds, and three sixth form students at the school.  The trip was made possible thanks to grants from the Seismic Schools Initiative based at the School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds, UK (a seismometer was installed at the Secondary School) and the Royal Society.  I am indebted to Professor Jurgen Neuberg from the University of Leeds for his help on the field trip and his comments on the text.  Finally, I would like to thank all the interviewees mentioned above.

 

The author

David Alcock is Head of Geography at Fulneck School, Leeds and is an AQA examiner.

 

 

Below are the sources referred to in the text.  I am aware that you will probably remove all references from the body of the text, but you may find these useful for verification purposes:

MVO – Cole, P. et al (2010) ‘Report to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Montserrat Volcanic Activity – Report on Activity between 15 August 2009 and 28 February 2010’ (‘SAC 14’) at http://www.montserratvolcanoobservatory.info

 

BBC (1999) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/312910.stm

 

DfID (2010) http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Where-we-work/Overseas-Territories/Montserrat/

 

Fergus, Howard A. (2007) ‘Montserrat: Defining Moments’

 

Gerlach, T. (2010) ‘Voices: Volcanic versus anthropogenic carbon dioxide: The missing science’ at http://www.earthmagazine.com/earth/article/371-7da-7-1e (posted 30 July 2010)

 

Loughlin, S., Baptie, B. and McCourt, W. (2009) Monitoring Montserrat’s volcano – past, present and future

http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/features/story.aspx?id=396 dated 10 July 2009

 

 

Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Government of Montserrat (N.D.) ‘Montserrat Sustainable Development Plan 2008-2020: Montserrat Medium-Term Strategy and Action Plan 2008-2012’

 

Montserrat Government (2010) ‘Darwin Feral Livestock Project’, www.gov.ms/?p=1812, dated 7 January 2010

 

Team Tourism (2007) ‘Tourism Development in Montserrat 2008-10 Strategy Review and Implementation Framework November 2007’

 

Wikimedia (accessed 2010) Map of Montserrat: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/82/Topographic-map-of-Montserrat-en.svg/500px-Topographic-map-of-Montserrat-en.svg.png

and Map of Caribbean

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CaribbeanIslands.png