Geography - How I wonder what you are

4th January 2013 at 00:00
A bit of star-gazing could help your bright sparks to twinkle

Bright stars abound at this time of year - in displays, picture books and the vivid fireworks of New Year's Eve celebrations. Ask your pupils when they last saw a bright star in the sky, however, and the answer may not be so sparkling. For most pupils in urban environments, light pollution means their chances of gazing at a real-life twinkling star are slim, for our man-made environment often turns night into day.

The upside is that there is plenty to investigate from a geographical point of view. Ask pupils to evaluate where they live in terms of light pollution. Are the lights essential? How do they make the place safer? Which users prefer dark places? Think about people and animals. How does light pollution affect biodiversity? What about energy use and waste? How are locations different from day to night? What senses do you use if you're in pitch darkness? They could try exploring a small place within the school field with a blindfold on - and a peer guide for safety.

Ask children to think about where in the UK - or world - they would stand a better chance of seeing bright stars at night and why. Maps and aerial images will help them. Did you know there are recognised "Dark Sky" areas and even events? There may be an area quite near your school where it is possible to escape the glare and see some stars. Use the Dark Sky project map to find a place. There are even telescopes that you can link to on the internet to wow your pupils with celestial bodies.

Nasa has some wonderful images of the Earth, seen from space at night, showing visible light from cities. The first question to ask is "What's wrong with the picture?" Hopefully one of your pupils will realise that it's never night time at the same time all over the world, sparking a discussion about why. These stitched-together images show some remarkable geography: the major cities of the world; how the population seems to be concentrated near coastlines; and how the interiors of the continents Africa and Australia are mysteriously dark. Does that mean no one lives there? No, said one bright spark when asked this question in my class - it just means they're saving energy. For some people, the chance to access some of the energy we waste is but a dream. Who gets what, where, when and why? Ask those questions and you will really start to shed some light on geography.

Dr Paula Owens is curriculum development and primary quality mark leader for the Geographical Association, an author and an educational consultant and trainer

What else?

A story book from Experian helps pupils to identify how they can save energy at home. bit.lyCostTheEarth

Get pupils to audit their own energy use in a lesson from rootsnshoots. bit.lytesEnergyAudit

Check out Dark Sky Discovery ( and My Dark Sky, a project collecting data on light pollution (

Find out about light pollution where you live with these maps from the Campaign to Protect Rural England. bit.lyLightMaps

View the world from space with NASA's Visible Earth lights image. bit.lyNasaImages.

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