A Hopeful Geography – the story so far – part 1

Placemark-globe.svg

Source: Wikimedia: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1d/Placemark-globe.svg/768px-Placemark-globe.svg.png

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 www.gapminder.org.

ignorance project logo

Source: Gapminder: http://www.gapminder.org

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 – https://www.geography.org.uk/Gapminder-and-Worldmapper – 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’: https://www.tui.co.uk/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, www.ourworldindata.org 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

Source: https://ourworldindata.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Global-annual-death-rate-from-natural-disasters-01.png 

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.

David

Bibliography:

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)

 

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/

 

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.

Why does face-to-face learning work?

In preparation for the end of year assembly last year, tutor groups were asked what their highlights of the year were.  Most of these were trips, and other out-of-classroom activities.  For example, half of the Year 9 forms in the school voted the cross-curricular ‘Be BOLD’ (BGS Outdoor Learning Day) as their highlight of the year.  Was this down to the time spent with their friends in the breaks between sessions?  But the lunch break was half the length of the usual one at school, so this can’t be the case!  Could it be as simple as ‘a change is as good as a rest’?  But this is too simplistic.  There must be something else going on, and I think that it relates to the wider issue of why face-to-face learning appears to be more effective than virtual learning in many contexts.

 

A recent article in the online magazine Aeon by Nicholas Tampio, looked into the benefits of face-to-face learning from both a philosophical and neuroscientific viewpoint.  He began by citing the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, writing in 1945, who believed that human thinking emerges out of lived experience; humans are thinking animals whose thinking is always infused with our animality.  Tampio related this to education thus: “It is by walking through a meadow, hiking beside a river, and boating down a lake that we are able to appreciate the science of geography. It is by talking with other people and learning their stories that we can appreciate literature.”  From the distance of adulthood, I believe that it is hard to appreciate just how much of who we are today comes from such practical activities, both from our formal schooling and from our extra-curricular activities.

It is not just philosophical musings that provide the rationale for a healthy dose of outdoor learning: Tampio quotes social neuroscientist Marcus Holmes, who argues that physical co-presence is essential to generate trust and empathy among human beings.  According to Holmes, diplomats insist on meeting in person with their colleagues, and good negotiators have a ‘feel for the game’ that works only when they share drinks, go on walks, shake hands, or have private conversations with their peers.  The neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni has studied the ‘mirroring system’ that enables human beings to understand each other’s intentions.  Within the brain, there are mirror neurons that fire when we perform an action or when we see another person doing the action.  This supports the folk psychology that holds that when we see another person, we think for a moment before deciding how to react (a point which is as relevant to our behaviour online as it is to experiential learning).  According to ‘simulation theory’, we actually feel what the other person feels as mirror neurons fire in just the same manner as if the experience was happening to us.

 

Tampio opines that this means that students looking at a screen will not – and cannot – trust, or care about, their teachers or students to the same degree as if they were face-to-face.  Communicating in person also enables people to pick up micro-changes in facial expressions and detect other people’s sincerity.  In the context of our time-pressured lives, writing, calling or video-chatting often works fine for many forms of communication, but Tampio points out that people must meet in the flesh to achieve the highest degree of trust or social bonding.

Sociologists also point out what is, on a moment’s reflection for most of us, self-evident: people want to be in the physical presence of other people to generate emotional energy: “a feeling of confidence, elation, strength, enthusiasm, and initiative in taking action” according to sociologist Randall Collins.  Communicating via email or by smartphones makes it harder to read another’s body language or perceive what is happening in the background as the other person talks into the computer’s camera.

 

What do these findings mean for educators?  Classroom experiences matter.  Field trips matter.  Outdoor activities and expeditions matter.  Humans are social beings; technology can facilitate many aspects of teaching and learning, but at the core of education are people, and we must ensure that they meet, exchange ideas, and develop empathy.  Only then will they thrive.

 Source: Nicholas Tampio (2018): Look up from your screen https://aeon.co/essays/children-learn-best-when-engaged-in-the-living-world-not-on-screens

Originally posted on Bradford Grammar School’s T&L blog: BGSlearning@wordpress.com 07.09.18

 

Outdoor Learning – ideas generated by BGS staff

Outdoor Learning – ideas generated by BGS staff at INSET, November 2017

Do you want to give pupils a new perspective on a topic?  Do you want to stimulate their curiosity?  Are you looking for ways to give life to tired lessons?  Then why not ‘go outdoors’?  A recent focus of one of our twilight and lunchtime T&L sessions was ‘outdoor learning’, and here are a few ideas for how you could use the outdoors simply and effectively.

Hypothesis hunters! – As an example of discovery (or ‘bottom-up’) learning, you could ask pupils to formulate hypotheses or questions related to your subject from what they see on the school site, then work through the enquiry process back in the class.

Use the space! – With no or very simple props, you could breathe new life into certain topics – why not use ropes to show connections, toilet rolls to show timelines, and vantage points like the Learning Link to look down at pupils acting out molecular processes?  Get pupils to measure angles and areas, or to examine building techniques and designs.

Natural stimulation! – Use the environment to develop your pupils’ curiosity and why not use it for mindfulness as part of a form time activity on relaxation techniques?

Please find below a fuller list of the ideas generated by two dozen of your colleagues as to how the outdoors could be used to boost teaching and learning at BGS – scroll down, look through, try an idea or two, and let us know how it goes!

David, December 2017

Hypothesis hunter:

Sciences (Biology/chemistry/physics)

  • Pupils come up with a range of questions that they could investigate on site
  • Identify which questions could actually be investigated/look for any problems.
  • In small groups come up with a hypothesis and possible method for investigating – prediction/variables/equipment etc.

 

  • Good for introducing lower years to investigations/variables. Possible use for introducing CORMMSS (Bio).

Maths:

  • Use of Learning Link/outside space to measure angles and height of buildings.
  • Get pupils to work out how to measure the area of different spaces e.g. the playground.
  • Investigating/measuring ratios

Languages:

  • Pupils write 20 questions about a particular area on site, give these to another student who has to translate the questions and identify the area being described.
  • Possible homework – describe the route around school.
  • Come up with questions that you would need to ask to achieve something outside e.g. how to access the main entrance via the key fob.

Digital Learning/computer Science:

  • Walk the perimeter of the school/playing field and convert this into an algorithm – cross curricular with Geography.

History:

  • What used to be in this area?
  • Come up with questions that you could ask about a particular area to find out what it wold have looked like in the past.

PD/Form Time:

  • Walk around the site, what questions would you need to ask to identify any problems with access for disabled students.

DT:

  • Use to investigate/teach depth perception.
  • Texture challenge – how many different textures can you find around the grounds in a set time. Take sketches of each texture and then draw them in the class room.

Art:

  • Different viewpoints of the same object e.g. how could you draw a tree from different angles viewpoints.
  • How could you draw certain areas/objects from the perspective of different artists/styles.

Psychology:

  • Depth Perception
  • Pupils come up with different observational studies that could possible carry out around the site and what ethical concerns there would be, how could they plan the study etc.

 

Ways teachers could use basic props outdoors (or in large indoor spaces):

 

Toilet Rolls

  • Geography – earth structure (journey _from_ the centre of the earth)
  • History / English – timeline (events / plots)
  • Maths – Logarithmic scale / squares / cubes
  • Biology – evolutionary timeline

 

Ropes

  • Geography – contours
  • Maths – area, radius/pi
  • Language – skip and count
  • English – themes in poetry (?)
  • IT – nodes and links in a network

 

No props

  • Geography – long shore drift
  • Biology – Mitosis/meiosis
  • Language – tenses (?)
  • Maths/DT – architecture / angles

 

Many of these activities could be watched and/or filmed from above, and then used in the next lesson for recap and/or revision.  The learning link and the front of school wall are good vantage points for this.

 

Nature as a stimulus:

Artistic

  • Blind ‘discovery’ – put a hand in a box and identify objects using touch. Then have to effectively describe or re-create that object.
  • Questioning stance – what might live under there? How might your character use this space?
  • Curiosity in form time – mindfulness. Take a minute to listen, observe what you can see, feel etc.

 

  • Mixing the senses (synesthesia) – what might the sound of a bird look like? What colour might that smell be?
  • Shouting Shakespeare – encourage quiet classes to get involved with drama!
  • Bio-mimicry – take inspiration from nature and apply practically in a design task.
  • Outside the school – bring in stimuli from home for homework, work creatively from them.
  • Vocabulary expansion
  • MFL – use outdoor lesson as stress relief in the summer, as a conversation lesson. Use as an exercise in tenses for younger years: what are we going to do, what are we doing now, what have we done.

 

Scientific

  • Degrees of separation – as a starter, pick three objects (or take pictures of three objects) from nature, then have to link those objects to what we studied last lesson.
  • To illustrate the importance of different perspectives – do a data collection during a break time using other students. Discuss ethics of observing when your participants are not aware?
  • Create a timeline – if from where I am to that door is the Tudor period, where would you stand to mark Henry VIII’s death?
  • Treasure hunt – find the objects following clues and take a picture to prove you have been there. Could work for Maths, ICT, English, Science, History etc.
  • Alphabet walk – discovery led, lead a discussion afterwards.
  • Maths – trigonometry in nature
  • Maths walk – room numbers, Roman Numerals, shapes, area etc.
  • ICT – passing data packets around using large spaces.

 

Making use of the school Grounds

Ideas for lessons

Languages:

  • Directions
  • Learning key words for objects: as a trail/quiz for any key words or for learning the key words for objects outside

Maths

  • Calculating heights of the buildings: trig
  • Maths trail: QR codes: Each subject could have a permanent quiz or a quiz that could be used in form time

Art:

  • Photography
  • Pagoda windows as a frame for the picture
  • Perspective drawing: see perspective in action: draw it live
  • Pagoda as a permanent outdoor exhibition site for art work: green man masks as an example

 

Computer Science:

  • Robots: turning distances
  • Visual coding: coloured cones

 

RS, English, Classics (literature)

  • Meditating
  • Putting into context Literature/ poems
  • Inspiration: design an argument by looking at the natural world

 

Science:

  • Surveys
  • Investigating something outside
  • Ecology

 

Objects of interest: long sticks, ground sheets, random box of objects

  • Grids and coordinates (large ground sheets with tape squares): languages: using directions, team building, PD, Minefield/ battle ships
  • Balancing sticks: communication and team building. In groups: hold up a long stick each person using 2 fingers: put it on the floor without any more contact with the stick
  • Code breaking
  • How well do you understand your subject: AFL: tree of knowledge type thing
  • Revision/ competitions/ comfort in speaking: pick an object and talk about it: how long for?

Originally posted on Bradford Grammar School’s T&L blog: BGSlearning@wordpress.com