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Not getting the longshore drift

Geoff Nelder is strung out by his group of crab racers and waders as they inch along the beach

Year 10 are on a geography field trip to do coastal geomorphology on the beach at Llandudno. Some of the students are well motivated and keen to test their hypotheses with accurately measured and recorded data. As for the others: it started a few days earlier... "Do we have to wear school uniform?" "No, read your instructions, wear appropriate outdoor clothing." "Do we wear school uniform?" "I told you yesterday, wear outdoor clothing assuming rain and wind." "Do we wear school uniform?" I gave up, "Yes."

We are a little wary as we arrive since another local school arrived a few days previously to find bulldozers on the beach. However, it is amazing how the sea soon reimposes its pattern. Man's interaction with the beach environment is incorporated into the hypotheses.

The groups are soon busy with clinometers, tapes, and rulers. At least most are. "Why are you sitting there?" "Got no clinometer and no tape." "But your group leader was to collect it on the bus before it drove away!" "What group leader?" Pause. "Ah well, part of the experience is sharing data. You can still do the wave analysis and quadrat pebble measurements. You have brought a ruler?" All shrug shoulders except one who brings out a broken piece of plastic. "Excellent, make sure you use millimetres."

Thinks: Must keep an eye on that group or they will be over the promenade and into the pubs.

I find the group that has a learning assistant. "Hello, how are you doing?" "OK." "What units are you using to measure the pebble axes?" "Well we remembered that you said not to use centimetres because they're not accurate enough. So we're using inches."

I crunch over the shingle to a group at the shoreline, glancing enviously at the other teacher's groups who are all working hard. "Here, Wayne." I throw him a piece of orange peel. He turns and throws it straight away into the sea. "What are you doing Wayne?"

"I dunno."

"The peel is for estimating longshore drift. Have you noted the time to the nearest second that you threw the peel and noted exactly where it landed?" "Er..." "Get it when it gets close enough and do it again." Next time I see him his jeans are soaked to the knees. I don't ask.

Now where is the group without tape and all the necessaries? I cannot see them. Have they sneaked into town? I look around a new pile of rocks and find them with their heads close together. They are racing crabs. I shout while groaning inwardly and thank the stars that they are too immature to think of anything worse, so far.

On the last section I notice one of the group with the learning assistant is struggling with his rucksack. "How are you getting on Kevin?" "OK." "What do you have in your rucksack?" "Oh, we remembered that you said to choose the pebbles at random and not to choose the same ones again but we couldn't remember what you said we were to do with the ones we measured. So I kept them!" "Yes? Well done. But, what are you going to do with them all?" "We could measure them again when we lose our readings!" I am about to point out that they are all mixed up now, but the assistant beat me to it. "But you only saved the ones you liked!" "Just a moment, how did you choose them in the first place?" "Randomly." "How exactly?" "I randomly chose the ones I liked."

Before I know it, we are cruising along the A55 dual carriageway and I am beginning to feel drowsy when the driver signals to us.

Drivers behind have been flashing him and on looking in his mirror he has noticed a piece of string with a bottle tied to it dangling from the upper floor of the bus.

One of the group with no equipment found the quadrat string at last. "I didn't do it! I was just holding the string for a friend."

A field trip is worth 20 lessons.

Geoff Nelder is a geography teacher at a Cheshire school

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