Geography - Life in detail

Working with geographical information systems will bring your lessons up to speed, and add a sense of excitement. David Gardner reports

Place, space and scale are three of the seven concepts in the new secondary geography programme. They are key to any geographical investigation. These concepts were brilliantly illustrated in the recent BBC programme Britain from Above, using 21st-century technology to investigate places, zooming through scales from local to nationwide almost instantly. The programme used geographical information systems (GIS), which are an increasing part of our everyday life. Use of GIS is integrated into new key stage 3, GCSEs and A-levels for geography.

Fundamentally, GIS is about spatial relationships. It is used to help pupils question and understand data, illustrate difficult abstract concepts in a dynamic visual way and use 3-D representations, provide opportunities for modelling and decision making.

For many teachers, using this technology can seem daunting, but increasing numbers of schools are developing innovative ways to use it in the geography curriculum.

Kathryn Stephenson of Stokesley School in North Yorkshire uses GIS as part of Year 9 fieldwork, investigating flood control in York. Kathryn has chosen to begin integrating use of a web-based GIS as part of this fieldwork.

Gerard O'Sullivan, an Advanced Skills Teacher of geography from Homewood School in Tenterden, Kent, has adopted a similar approach integrating the use of a PDA to collect data for fieldwork as part of GCSE studies. "We used a GPS, a global positioning satellite navigator, looking at traffic management to locate all our data collection points in Canterbury accurately," he says. "Back at school, pupils can use computers to interrogate the data quickly and accurately to identify geographical patterns."

Angie Gray, head of geography at Wymondham College in Norfolk, has been investigating how best to integrate the use of GIS into her department's teaching activities. "I felt strongly that the focus had to be on using the technology to support effective teaching and developing the pupils' critical thinking and investigative skills. I did not just want to focus on learning another piece of complex computer software," she says.

Angie now believes that the consistent use of GIS is an essential part of geography teaching and critical in keeping the subject up-to-date and relevant.

"It encourages pupils to spend more time thinking in an investigative way about the importance of location and change in the world around them."

David Gardner is programme manager, curriculum division, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

Stay one step ahead

National Curriculum website - geography page 4subjectsgeographyindex.aspx.

BBC Britain from Above

The Geographical Association

Its Spatially Speaking project provides online guidance on using GIS -

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you