Twice a year the OCR Geography team hosts ‘Consultative Forums’ where we bring teachers, members of Higher Education, Subject Associations, employers and other interested parties together to discuss something which we all love, Geography. The focus of the October 2016 Geography Forum was ‘Geographical Stories’. The day explored the value of Geographical Stories and how we can bring Geographical Stories to life in the classroom. The day was based around two stories in particular, ‘The Water Diaries’ and ‘A Plastic Ocean’.
The first presentation of the day was delivered by Fearghal O’Nuallain, an Explorer and Teacher. Fearghal discussed why geographical stories and contextualising study in something tangible is important. Fearghal began by speaking about his experiences of travelling and how he translated these into the classroom when he decided to become a teacher. He spoke about how much more engaged students became when they saw his videos and realised that the wider world was closer than they thought. Fearghal never stopped exploring though and would often find time to better utilise his time outside of the classroom ‘From Five To Nine’ with a group of fellow adventurers.
As doing cool stuff on screen engaged the students in his classroom, Fearghal wanted to bring the same awe and wonder to students across the country. Fearghal enlightened the forum as to his next steps, the production of The Water Diaries. His latest adventure will explore our most precious resource, water. The Water Diaries will explore the geography of water, from highlighting water stress in Bolivia by following the water cycle from the peaks of Huayna Potosí down to Lake Titicaca through a source to sea descent of the Indus River by foot. Fearghal believes the stories he will tell through The Water Diaries can impact on the education of geography students and from the snippets we saw at the Forum, so do we.
The second presentation of the day was from Simon Ross, Head of Geography at Queen’s College in Somerset. Simon used examples from his teaching career to discuss how geographical stories can be used in geography and the impact they have. From sitting a class down for their first taste of Peter Rabbit, to student retention of the story of Old Harry and his wife, and then Icelandic sagas and how Hveragerdi is changing, the presentation gave a great range of stories that are being used and have value in the classroom.
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The first discussion of the day focused on the value of Geographical Stories. Discussion was varied on every table but there was a common consensus that ‘geographical stories’ have tremendous value in providing a ‘hook’ for knowledge and understanding.
It was felt that geography is a story, with relations at the core of the subject. Stories provide a narrative and sequence which can humanise something and help to simplify a concept although there is a danger of oversimplification. Geographical stories can be a trigger and a way for students to remember during their exams. Whilst it was felt that there were many uses of stories (e.g. literacy, oral communication, helping to push/stretch high achievers), mostly they were only utilised up to Key Stage 3 as afterwards exams and other pressures seemed to result in stories being pushed out.
Geographical stories were seen as to create a memorable narrative that helped contextualise abstract topics. They gave a ‘hook’ to a topic and this was seen as especially effective for lower ability learners. Geographical stories help to give a ‘face’ to geography and make content more relevant. Although it was also thought that the story does not have to be real to challenge theory or process, for example discussing what the underlying geology of Middle Earth might be to construct that landscape or ways of life in Westeros.
It was pondered whether we listen enough to students’ own stories and that we should make the most of students experiences as well as telling the stories of alumni to make the most of school connections.
For both the new GCSE (9–1) there is an increase in the number of marks associated with application of knowledge and understanding and geographical skills compared to the current GCSEs. It was remarked that the examples given of how teachers use geographical stories in their lessons would very much help students prepare for these assessment objectives and that contextualised geographical stories should be used more widely instead of being thought of as taking time out of learning the content.
The third presentation of the day was from Becky Kitchen from the Geographical Association (GA). Becky discussed her doctoral research looking at student conception of geographical knowledge and option choice – a study of ethnic minority students stories. Listening to the stories of eight Sixth Form students, Becky explored how students of different ethnicities with different experiences of geography conceive of geographical knowledge, the stories that relate to these conceptions and how the students then account for their option choices. It was a very interesting exploration into how students perceive geography (for example what they consider geography to be about), how informal experiences as well as formal education opportunities shape students’ conceptions and how geography might, or might not, be useful for future careers.
Our final presentation of the day was delivered by Joanna Ruxton, a producer of the upcoming documentary film ‘A Plastic Ocean’. Jo gave the forum a fascinating insight into the new documentary film A Plastic Ocean which led into a wider discussion on the issue of plastic in the ocean. Jo spoke of her years of hard work to make this story heard, provided wonderful anecdotes of her travels and spoke passionately as to what changes the world can make.
Jo spoke of the importance of the ocean and commented on how mind-sets need to shift to ensure that people understand that this is a problem that everyone can help contribute to solutions for, starting with humans relationship with plastic. Jo noted that quite a lot of students she has encountered have a disconnect with the ocean. However, as Jo stated, every second breath we take is thanks to the ocean as over 50% of our oxygen comes from the ocean, therefore if the ocean gets sick then so do we. In a world where we have gone from 8 million tonnes of plastic produced in 1961 to where the same amount is now dumped in the ocean each year, there needs to be a recognition that there is no away when we dispose of our plastic.
There were a number of interesting discussions on tables for our final discussion of the day focusing on how we can bring Geographical Stories to life in the classroom. Talk on tables mainly focused on the stories we learnt more about during the forum – The Water Diaries and Plastic Oceans. It was thought that resources created would have to be adaptable and have clear links to specifications due to time pressures in terms of teaching the content. If issues are not clearly related to content areas then they are much less likely to be used in school.
Resources need to create a ‘need to know’ whether that is by using artefacts, such as powerful images or snippets of filming, or through actions and discussion, such as how you could incorporate beach cleans into fieldwork or days focused on the topic (e.g. ‘Plastic Days’ in school). Opportunities to bring the story to the classroom should be explored, for example skype calls to make direct connections to the stories and close the gap between the story and the students reality.
At the end of the day, Steve Brace (Head of Education and Outdoor Learning at the RGS-IBG) gave the forum details of a Geography Teacher Training Scholarship programme for new entrants to ITT who will start their training in autumn of 2017. The RGS, with support from the DfE, is launching a programme where Scholars will receive a tax free £27,500 scholarship, Fellowship of the Society during their ITT year and a wider range of support and assistance. Full details are available here and prospective applicants can get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.