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All together in a field of their own

GEOGRAPHY JUNCTION: Down to Earth. Channel 4. Wednesdays 9.30-9.45am. From May 14. Age range: 8-11

Graham Hart looks at a geography series set in Northern Ireland

Since every new geography series seems to use a case study approach I feel sure that, sooner or later, I'll get to see somebody I know on the screen. Or are they all actors really? No, with typical Irish warmth and openness the children, farmers, factory workers and good old mums and dads throw wide the doors to their lives. They simply could not be actors.

The interrelationship between the land and people of Northern Ireland is the backdrop for this five-programme study of important themes: urbanrural contrasts, weather recording, the environmental debate, producing a renewable future and agricultural production and processing.

We follow the work of different primary schools, where fieldwork is high on the agenda. This could act as a blueprint for a similar study in the viewer's own school.

There's a homespun feel to the programmes which adds to their charm. They are as close to home videos as you are likely to see from professional broadcasters. This is not intended as a criticism for they are perfectly appropriate. Video diaries of schools' projects can make interesting network viewing and add an extra dimension to the work of a school.

The skills of recording are vital to geography, nowhere more so than in the case of the weather. In the second programme (May 21) the children are invited to suggest ways of recording the weather in their region. One suggested solution is to take photographs. This is followed up energetically by the teacher and class, alongside the regular analytical methods.

Throughout all five programmes great value is placed upon verbal and visual recording. Maps, models, memories and, in the case of "A Very Juicy Story" (June 18), apples, are the means of presenting findings. The programmes bring the real world into the primary classroom except in the case of "Nature on Your Doorstep" (June 11), where the classroom moves into the real world.

Close relationships between schools and community are in evidence. Perhaps the television cameras engineered the ties, but I suspect they are genuine. As we all know, there's nothing an industrialist, farmer or factory worker likes more than explaining his or her work to eager young school children. And the programmes exploit this fact. Although mainland schools may well wish for subtitles when the apple grower begins his explanation of the perils facing his orchard.

The programmes are charming, informative, empathetic - but are they any use? Of course. Beneath these virtues the programmes offer the perfect starting point for a study of geographical themes and, unless we forget, a study of the Province itself.

Each topic is clearly located on the physical and cultural map. Belfast (minus troubles) figures prominently in the first programme and links with the rest of Britain are high-lighted where appropriate.

The programmes offer strong encouragement to take children out of school and into the field. Apart from the more obvious field venues, children are encouraged to look at everything around them from the window boxes hanging in the streets to the view from the bedroom window. Geography is everywhere.

The accompanying teacher's notes are clear and easy to use. Non-specialists will be helped by concise identification of learning outcomes and a key vocabulary section gives a simple list of words to learn. These lists are especially valuable as they also serve as a checklist to topics, skills and so on.

The programmes will undoubtedly find their most popular use in Northern Ireland, but they'd be great anywhere.

The teacher's guide costs Pounds 3.95 from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100 Warwick CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 433333

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