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Embedding some vital va va voom

Using mobile phones to learn about maps is just one way ICT can be used to inspire learning. Chris Johnston reports

Russell Prue might be called an evangelist, but he doesn't sing the praises of a higher being. The power he preaches about is the ability of information and communications technology to motivate students and give teachers extra weapons in their battle to make classes more stimulating and compelling.

He employs a full arsenal at the Royal Geographical Society in London, during a DfES roadshow for geography teachers on embedding technology at key stage 3.

"There's never been a better time to incorporate ICT into geography teaching," says Prue, whose official title is "DfES ICT in schools evangelist."

He begins by inviting delegates to text him a question on their mobile phones, using software that displayed the inquiry on his computer.

He says it is still a struggle to engage some students, so new ways of reaching out to this group have to be found. One method is to use the technology that almost all students carry in their pockets every day - mobile phones.

"Don't tell them to put them away - get them out and start using them to inspire," booms Prue.

Some of these devices are now so sophisticated that using them for lesson-relevant activities is a real possibility. What better way to get teenagers interested in map reading, he says, than getting them to use their mobiles to download a map of their local area from a website such as the A-Z Map Company? Many phones include a web browser and Prue connects his mobile to the theatre's video projector to demonstrate how simple an exercise it can be.

The highlight of Prue's presentation is a spot of audience participation that's a cross between a computer game session and an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? To test teachers' own geographical knowledge, he uses the Kinesthetic Interactive Teaching (KIT) system. It comprises five plastic tool boxes containing enough PlayStation handsets for up to 30 participants. The speed of response, as well as getting the answer correct, determines the player rankings that are displayed after every two questions. Somewhat embarrassingly, many of the teachers at Prue's first session of the day do not know the correct term for a line of stones on a beach.

The benefits of using a Tablet PC in the classroom are also extolled.

Thanks to a special adapter, what appears on the Tablet screen is simultaneously displayed on the big screen.

"It changes and transforms the classroom organisation and releases teachers from the front of the room, letting them move around," explains Prue.

Of the resources he highlights, one of the most exciting is Heinemann's Geography 360 LESS THAN - a new KS3 course that gives pupils an inspiring exploration of geography issues and skills and comprehensively integrates ICT (to be reviewed).

The DfES's recently published ICTAC (ICT across the curriculum) for KS3 geography also gets a mention. It is part of a pack of 12 publications to help KS3 teachers incorporate ICT in their teaching in a range of subjects.

Teachers are also reminded that hundreds of digital resources can be purchased using their school's e-learning credits under the Curriculum Online initiative.

Steve Erskine, Ordnance Survey director of programmes and products, tells teachers how Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is fast becoming a consumer technology that is being incorporated into Microsoft software pre-loaded on new computers.

He says that an OS survey of GIS in schools earlier this year found many geography teachers are interested in using the technology in the classroom.

However, about half of the 243 respondents felt it took too much time to learn and is too complex, while finding appropriate digital data to use was another concern for many. Erskine says the OS is working with the geography organisations in a bid to make more digital map data available to schools.

He also admits that helping teachers to understand GIS is a "challenge".

One answer to this is GIS Zone, which was launched last month. It is part of the OS MapZone website and guides users through the various aspects of GIS in a visually attractive and interactive way.

Erskine also highlights another OS website that geography teachers may find useful. The Election Maps website allows users to examine electoral constituencies against various scales of mapping background, and a range of administrative and electoral boundaries can be overlaid on to the maps.

In one of the roadshow's many workshops, Noel Jenkins, an advanced skills teacher at Wellington School in Somerset, offers an insight into the various ways he uses ICT in his classroom. He begins by highlighting the creative uses of PowerPoint, including a kinaesthetic task that gets student to migrate around the classroom in response to environmental and economic change, using BBC news footage, 3D OS maps and the Environment Agency website.

The next part of Jenkins' presentation explores the possibilities of Inspiration 7 mind-mapping software. This includes a classroom activity where students make concept maps collaboratively using the software and a remote-controlled keyboard. He has created a range of resources for teaching with an interactive whiteboard that can be accessed on his Juicy Geography website.

Leszek Iwaskow, Ofsted's specialist adviser for geography, closes the event by referring to the warning of a decline in geography, issued that day by David Bell, the chief inspector of schools.

He says: "Inspection evidence suggests that in many secondary schools the curriculum in Years 7-9 (KS3) is not sufficiently relevant or stimulating to capture pupils' interest and persuade them to continue learning at examination level. We need to engage pupils more purposefully in geography and make them realise the relevance and value of the subject."

Iwaskow says ICT can enhance teaching and learning by enabling teachers to differentiate materials and help them keep up to date, as well as assess pupils and monitor progress. GIS could teach mapping skills and develop spatial awareness and the technology could be used to allow pupils to collect data and monitor the environment, and communicate with counterparts in contrasting localities. These were just some of the ways that geography could get the added "va va voom" it needs.


Ordnance Survey

OS MapZone

OS Election Maps

A-Z Map Company

KIT system

Curriculum Online www.curriculumonline.

ICT in geography


Noel Jenkins's tips:

David Bell's comments on geography teaching:

Workshops at the Geographical Association conference at the University of Derby from March 30 to April 1 include an introduction to the Ordnance Survey web resources, Maps and ICT. Go to:

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