Geography lends itself perfectly to an enquiry style of learning. The subject naturally encompasses a diverse range of global issues. Enquiries can be set up quickly so they can be based on current events. Just days after the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Staffordshire Learning Network had a fantastic enquiry ready for use in the classroom. As part of a four lesson investigation, Year 9 Geographers at the Wakeman School in Shrewsbury responded eagerly to the 'Timeline' activity extracted from the enquiry. Students worked in pairs to sort out 32 statements about the tsunami, which were printed on cards. These were then placed on a timeline divided into before, during, one week later and six months later. They had to justify their decisions and consider how they would advise the Thai Prime Minister and others to help those affected. This enabled students to make decisions and develop empathy. The room was emotionally charged with scenes from the news still fresh on everyone's minds. I thoroughly recommend this activity and plan to use more from this enquiry in the future.
This Year 7 activity focused upon a questioning approach; often the first stage of enquiry-based learning. Initially students collected cuttings from material such as old National Geographic magazines, or from web sources such as Google's 'images search'. Students chose an image that they liked, perhaps a crowded street in Rio, a paddy field in the Philippines, or Ayers Rock. They placed the image in the middle of a page and added questioning prompts around the picture, such as 'Where? What? How? Why? When?'. Students then became detectives. Their task was to write a set of questions about their picture using these prompts, and then to answer four of them. The teacher's role was to encourage them to think about further information they might need to answer the remaining questions, and where they could get this from.
This approach, and similarly the Compass Rose framework [see pdf attached] works really well early on in Y7. It gets students making global connections between people, environments and places, and begins to foster the idea of independent working.
Stuart Purves, Moorside High, Nr Stoke-on-Trent, has written a great web-based global warming enquiry. It is simple to use and can be easily adapted to fit a unit of work on climate change. Students have to explore possible causes and effects, and investigate potential solutions via a range of reputable web-sites. They then present their findings. To really do justice to this difficult and contentious issue there is a great deal to think about and to question for ourselves. The difficulty lies in the interpretation of complex evidence for and against the 'concept' of global warming. It is a really sensitive topic. How do we teach about something that some believe has not been scientifically proven? How do we deal with the fears students have about future climatic scenarios? The film 'The day after tomorrow' has worried many students into thinking that they may face a similar event. How do we maintain a sense of optimism when we know that the world's poorest countries are set to suffer the most from changes in sea levels? How can we teach about sustainable solutions to an issue that is not globally accepted?
One approach that I have adopted is to get the students to consider two potential future scenarios for Britain's climate. The 'Mediterranean' scenario where warming continues unabated, and the 'Big Chill' which is a mini ice age resulting from interruption of the Gulf stream by Arctic meltwater. They investigate the evidence for each option and consider the potential impact of both scenarios. Students are encouraged to think about how it will affect factors such as lifestyle, jobs, leisure activities, food production and disease. They then have to imagine that they are 50 years into the future and are writing a letter to someone in the present day, telling them about the changes. They compare their lifestyles and suggest things that could be done to slow, minimise or mitigate the effects. It is a thought provoking activity for students and invokes many questions and concerns. It is important to consider how the teacher deals with these outcomes. Like many, I am still looking for answers to these questions. We need to keep asking questions ourselves and try to keep up do date with research.
My involvement with a Tide~ project has allowed the sharing of ideas and strategies between other teachers and professionals from the Midlands. We are collaborating in the publication of an enquiry-based teaching resource that helps guide educators through some of the issues facing us as we endeavour to teach about climate change.
Click to download in your preferred format.