A few weeks ago posters began appearing around my school. They read: “Are you ready for the Ashcloud Apocalypse 2015?” and “Do you know how to survive the Ashcloud Apocalypse?”. Students started to become curious about what was going to happen. The appearance of a large model volcano in one of the school’s main communal areas got others wondering what the Geography Department was up to now. Then a large countdown clock appeared on the display screens around the school warning that there were only a few days and hours to go until the apocalypse. Finally the day had arrived and as students entered assembly on Monday 16th of November they were greeted by a special effects movie showing volcanic eruptions occurring all around the school and the staffroom being bombarded by lava bombs! After 6 months of planning behind the scenes I was finally ready to launch my GIS Day event to the school.
A team of our Sixth Form geography students presented the event the school at assembly. They explained that Mr Heath had developed a disaster risk mapping activity based around the scenario of a mega volcano erupting. It was an event that most of our students would get involved with, but excitingly students from all around the world were going to participate as well to create a vast dataset of information. They explained how Geography can help get us prepared for the potential impacts of natural hazards by using GIS risk mapping to identify areas which would be most affected and then let us put things into place to better manage that risk.
We went on to tell the students what events we had planned in the school for students to mark this global event. At lunch time the catering staff served up a truly explosive lunch, including such delights as hot lava soup, pyroclastic potatoes and Yellowstone mud pie with Lahar sauce. The Sixth Form Geography Society played volcano Top Trumps with students each lunch time, while others played a computer game where you had to navigate your airplane out of the expanding ashcloud. One of the highlights for many students was getting a chance to toast marshmallows in our Augmented Reality volcano. Due to ridiculous health and safety restrictions we were not allowed to explode a real volcano in the school, something about being a fire risk! So I used a bit of technological trickery on an iPad app to make my model volcano appear to be erupting and lots of students got to have their picture taken next to the fountains of lava. If you want to do the same check out the “AR effects” app and website.
In-between all this frivolity was some serious geography work going on. In lessons students got to calculate their risk levels and learn about the process of using GIS to produce hazard maps. The event was designed to overlap with world GIS Day and give schools an opportunity to get involved and raise the profile of Geography though promoting this activity. During the week around GIS Day over 9,000 students from around the world participated in the event! This is an amazing achievement and a testament to the ability of geography teachers all around the world to work collaboratively for the benefits of our students. We now have a hugely detailed map showing how hazard risk could vary around the world. If you want to find out more about the event or see the results then visit http://gisevent.wix.com/gisday2015. It was great to see feedback and photos on twitter with the #ashcloud2015 of students getting involved with this activity. We have data from every continent which is nice, although the vast majority of it is located in the UK. It is amazing to watch the map data grow hour by hour during the week as schools were adding data. There are a number of UK cities and particularly London where the data is highly detailed.
After the event Olivia in year 12 said “It was interesting because there were so many different maps and aspects to consider that I would not have thought about before that would affect our risk of an eruption from a distant volcano. I liked that the maps were so detailed and that you could look at information about your home area. It made using maps fun. I was surprised that the risks to areas near me were quite high even though we are a long way from any volcano.” Mia in year 9 commented “It was fun looking because we had to work out our risks using the maps before the volcano timer exploded on the screen, and I was the first to shout out that I had survived the Ashcloud apocalypse and got a sticker and colour changing GIS Day pencil which went from green to yellow when you rubbed it”.
While collecting and entering the data is an important exercise, the critical part of the activity is what comes next in students’ learning. Students will be able to examine the Ashcloud data using the results analysis web app I produced. Students are often presented with either very small data sets, relatively simple fieldwork data patterns to analyse, or they will see post-processed cleaned up data. So I like the fact that at first students looking at the ashcloud risk data are presented with thousands of point source data which is typically quite complex in terms of any patterns. This makes them think about how they can process the data to make it manageable and also what spatial tools are needed to examine the data patterns. This is a really good learning activity for the students. This is then followed by giving students time to use the map tools to discover and report back on variations which they have found within the data and to explain why they occur. Looking at the overall risk scores produced you will find higher risk scores in some cities in central and northern England than in the South.
There are additionally two pieces of data which were collected as part of this study which are particularly interesting to examine. I asked students to rate the level of asthma which they experienced and also to rate the community spirit in their home street. These are two original pieces of primary data which can be examined in their own right to see if there are any patterns and reasons for their variations in these factors. In some places there seems to be more asthma located within urban areas compared to rural locations. Although this pattern was not consistent everywhere. Also there seemed to be a slight improvement in community spirit in more rural and remote locations compared to densely populated urban areas. Certainly further research in this area would be interesting.
This article was written by Raphael Heath, Head of Geography at the Royal High School Bath. Raphael was presented with the Royal Geographical Society Ordnance Survey Award for Excellence in Secondary Education in 2015. He also won the Esri UK Best Community Project Award for the 2014 GIS Day World Record Event. He is a GDST Lead Subject Champion promoting collaboration in Geography across a network of 26 schools around the UK. He is one of Esri UK's Centre of Excellence in GIS Education. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He has presented at conferences, published articles and run courses in various aspects of Geography teaching.