Active enquiry in a fruitful subject

3rd May 2013 at 01:00
Apples are ripe for geographical investigation. Paula Owens gets to the core of the matter

Geography and food make a divine combination and the possibilities are endless. Even a seemingly straightforward item such as the humble apple has complex geography stories to tell. Where did it come from? How did it get here? Why was it grown there (place, climate, soil)? Who harvested it? Who makes money from it? Who eats it? What impact does growing it have on the environment? Ask students to brainstorm some useful questions and you have the beginnings of a geographical enquiry.

Apples feature in our food and culture at all times of the year and changing land use is an important geographical concept. You can compare old and new maps and other sources of documented evidence to unravel this detective story.

Visit your local supermarket or bring in a selection of packaged and unpackaged fruit. Compare the varieties of apple, countries of origin and prices - noting the time of year. Is there much difference, for example, between the cost of apples grown in New Zealand and the UK? You could work out the food miles - the distance travelled by food from source to plate - and find out what the label "locally produced" actually means. And which uses less energy: importing fresh food or refrigerating our own locally produced food to use out of season? Developing countries such as Kenya use far less carbon-intensive farming methods than the UK does, illustrating how a simple reliance on food miles alone can be misleading.

Setting up real investigations in the classroom with active enquiry learning at its heart requires creative and critical thinking. Geography involves recognising and identifying important factors, such as interdependence, that help us better understand the complex world in which we live. It's a fruitful subject.

Dr Paula Owens is an author, educational consultant and trainer. She is also primary curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association.

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