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Discover sense of place or be cast away

A back-to-maps approach has helped one independent boys' school almost treble pupil interest in GCSE geography.

Magdalen College School in Oxford teaches about one continent a term in key stage 3, starting with South America in Year 7 and moving through Europe, OceaniaAustralasia, Asia, Africa and North America by the end of Year 8. In Year 9, pupils learn about hazards ranging from hurricanes to crime, finishing with a look at Antarctica.

Each term begins with a blank map. The pupils' first task is to label and learn the countries, terrains, mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, cities and travel routes. They go on to investigate themes relevant to the continent, such as the mining industry in Africa.

This approach led 75 pupils to embark on geography GCSE in Year 10 last September, compared with around 30 before the programme began two years ago.

Nicholas Hewlett, head of geography at the school, said: "It's far more interesting for us to teach geography using this approach.

"Learning where countries and their capitals are is important and we ought to relish it."

Geography teachers at the school make sure their lessons are topical and their knowledge is up to date.

Mr Hewlett said: "Our Year 8s are studying Africa, so we adapted our study of the impact of colonialism to spend two weeks looking at the current situation in Kenya. Unless we update our teaching in this way, we will be seeing the death of geography."

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