Simple, effective ideas: #geographygems (applicable to other subjects)

Posted on Posted in research, thoughts

Since redundancy, it’s been a challenging time. Interesting events have happened and new experiences savoured (if that’s the right word…).  One of the delights was finding out how easy it is to apply for jobs outside of teaching, with a simple one-click LinkedIN bosh the details are wriggled and squeezed in to the right places. During one such interview experience, I came across the distant-micromanagement of strangeness that seems to pervade organisations of a certain size. During the interview, I found that the training programme wasn’t to be differentiated and that lesson plans had to be in a certain way. Most of all, I didn’t like the accusation that the ideas in #100Ideas of Geography Teachers were gimmicks.

Firstly, sometime teachers need a simple and effective idea that works. Especially when shattered after three 6 period days in deepest November when the only time we see the sun is the wake up lamp.

Secondary, the ideas are grounded in research and ideas. Take for example Geography Gems. I’m certain that, when boiled down, many school subjects have a set of key principles. The fundamental knowledge that the subject rests upon. Know them and students are able to craft answers to a wide range of questions. Of course, these building blocks are useful for examinations, but I’ve always used the concepts that from the DNA of the subject. For life.

I’d love to say that the idea came to be after painstaking research. But I;’d be lying. I’ve used Geography Gems for a long time very since listening to Stephen Fry’s autobiography. In it he explained how the examinations at Cambridge were easy to pass as he learnt to apply a narrow set of arguments and quotes and then adapt them to fit the question. In other words, he held a core set of fundamental knowledge and applied his understanding to fit the question. Too much knowledge makes it difficult to choose the right stuff. This may or may not link to memory and cognitive load. I’m probably suffering from conformation bias as I like the idea and it seems to work in the classroom.

These ideas help erode a well worn groove in which students can navigate the distracting facts and ideas that cloud thought. This is particularly useful in a subject like geography which is content heavy. It’s not (just) about remembering facts but about remembering the fundamental principles and concepts. Here are some of the ideas:

For example:

  • a trade deficit means that a country will have trouble developing infrastructure that will assist it if a natural disaster is encountered.
  • Land is cheaper when it is less desirable such as flood plains, steep land.
  • Sustainable development means providing economic and social opportunities whilst protecting natural resources and communities for future generations.
  • Old people, the young and the poor often come out worse.

There are others and, although may seem simplistic, they aren’t always to novice learners. In addition, coming up with the fundamentals is a great campfire CPD opportunity: getting the team of teachers together to discuss what can be applied to different contexts. I’ve always introduced the ‘difficult’ concepts early on. For example, Year 7 get to grips with sustainable development right away as they tour the world and geographical contexts in the first half term. Coming up against the fundamental knowledge early on and then over and over again (whilst developing further their sense of scale and knowledge of places) in different contexts, not only within the first 7 week unit, but throughout their time at school.

This gives far more opportunity for self testing and class testing of the basic knowledge and makes it more likely that the core concepts will stick and they have to be retrieved again and again, cementing into long term memory. This means that case-study information is added to this fundamental knowledge. I’ve also come to realise that students just will not transfer skills and knowledge unless they are explicit taught how to. By using geography gems, students get to encounter retrieve and apply their knowledge in different contexts whilst the teacher can model and craft case study answers.

What are the gems of your subjects that can be applied to many different contexts?

There are loads of other ideas for geography teachers in the book and the ideas above were discussed during my TLT17 chat.

Thank you to this Mr Barton’s Maths Podcast – a brilliant resource.

Photo by Polychrome Creative on Unsplash

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