A house on the prairie for the little green men

3rd October 2014 at 01:00
Hone geography skills by finding a landing site for a flying saucer

In the middle of an ordinary geography lesson, just like any other, I click to the next slide and the picture flickers. Suddenly my presentation is replaced by a video transmission from an alien ship. The alien - who looks oddly like a human painted green with a couple of egg cartons on his head - calls himself Bartlebus P Stibbins and explains that he has come to Earth for a holiday. He asks my nine- and 10-year-old students to describe the geography of their local town because he is trying to find out whether it is a suitable place to land.

Fortunately for Bartlebus, I have just the activity sheets they need to complete such a task. They fill in the sheets, informing the alien of where our town is, the local landscape, local industries and the weather. I explain that I have a special device I can use to beam up their work to the spaceship but it's too big to bring into school. I promise to do it at home instead.

The next lesson brings another transmission - and it's bad news. Our town is not suitable for the spaceship, which has very specific requirements about the sorts of places where it can land. However, Bartlebus has found six locations - one on each continent excluding Antarctica - that he thinks might be suitable.

I split my class into six groups and ask each one to research a location using tablet computers and books from the library. They need to find it in an atlas and then fill in the same sheets as before. Towards the end of the lesson, each group presents their findings about their given location.

The third lesson begins but we have heard nothing from Bartlebus. In the meantime, I give out sheets with facts about the six locations and our town and ask the class to look at what is the same about them and what is different. Luckily, Bartlebus contacts us just as they are finishing. He gives us the specific geographical details that his spaceship needs in order to make a safe landing. From this, the students are able to deduce that his best bet is to land at a site in the US: a city in New Mexico called.Roswell.

The students really engaged with this task, which provided an unusual slant to the task of researching, comparing and contrasting the geography of different towns and cities. Although some of the more advanced students were clearly able to see through the conceit, this perversely added to their enjoyment of it. Regardless of whether they knew it was fictional or not, everyone loved the narrative angle of the lessons. To this day, I still get the odd student asking if I've heard from Bartlebus. I tell them no, but the truth is out there - and so, presumably is Bartlebus P Stibbins.

The writer is a teacher in the South East of England

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8 Off script

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9 Mission to Mars

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