From Godstone to Ghana

26th April 1996 at 01:00
Award-winning publications at the Geographical Association's conference point the way towards enquiry-based resources. The GA's annual conference incorporates the largest display of specialist material for geography teachers under one roof. Every year it seems to get bigger and better: at Southampton two weeks ago there were some 72 exhibitors from mainstream publishers to specialist resource centres, environmental groups and exam boards. I was impressed by the rich diversity and quality of resources on show and the many opportunities for making geography teaching challenging and enquiry-based.

The trend towards sophisticated, high quality, multi-media resources was obvious throughout. These materials carry an important message about the nature of learning geography: they are demanding, interactive and often truly pupil-centred. They raise fundamental questions about values and they challenge the notion that geographical study should be passive and based largely on the completion of comprehension questions, derived from data in a textbook. Textbooks have their place, but there are many innovative ways in which they can be used and supplemented with other resources.

The GA Awards, nominated by teachers, are presented annually to resources which encourage investigative learning. This year the gold award went to BBC Education's Japan 2000 pack of video, CD-Rom, resource pack and pupil worksheets for key stages 3 and 4, produced with BP Educational Services. This is an outstanding example of the new generation of multi-media resources. The quality of production is high with impressive aerial shots and graphics: much of the dramatic footage is shot from the cock-pit of a low flying helicopter.

This series also marks a new and extremely worthwhile approach to learning, largely thanks to Chris Durbin, the BBC's Education Officer, who has pioneered the use of video in the classroom. These resources encourage the use of the video as a basis for investigation rather than as an end in itself. There are other productions of a similar type also now available - USA 2000 and Landforms, as well as a new series on Brazil due out shortly.

The GA's silver awards went to Folen's Rural Locality Pack: An Upland Village, for key stages 1 and 2 and Collins A-level Atmospheric Processes and Human Influence. The study of Sedbergh in North Yorkshire goes beyond the now familiar locality resources by placing a village within a regional context. The pack of posters, maps, photos and activities also provides challenging materials for extending older pupils.

Atmospheric Processes and Human Influence is notable for being the only standard textbook to win an award. Written by a classroom teacher, it manages to deal with a difficult and sometimes tedious subject in a stimulating way. The book is accessible, non-technical and authoritative, as well as compulsively readable. This is the third year out of four that a book from this A-level series has won a GA award.

Five other publications were highly commended. Primary Issues: Northern Ireland and India from One World Centre for Northern Ireland comes in the familiar format of photopack, accompanying teacher's guide and resources, all of which have been extensively trialled in the classroom. It provides a unique insight into the similarities and differences between Irish and Indian communities.

The National Remote Sensing Centre's study pack based on the Surrey village of Godstone is an excellent model for schools developing their own locality packs. Discover Godstone (published under the NRSC's new label, Wildgoose) includes a teacher's guide, photographs and historical data.

The Ordnance Survey's Statlus UK is an interesting compendium of official statistics, in map form, on a wide variety of aspects of life in the UK. Teachers could use maps such as these showing regional levels of crime or wealth, alongside more familiar resources which show variations in levels of development or inequality on a global scale. This atlas should also be available for enquiry-based work in the library or resource centre.

Discover India is ActionAid's new interactive CD-Rom for use in primary schools with their packs on Chembakoli and Bangalore. Pupils can click with the mouse at individuals on the screen, who then make statements and answer questions about issues such as migration to the city. There are also video clips and a wealth of geographical data about India to investigate.

The Birmingham Development Education Centre's Developing Geography: Ghana, produced by teachers as part of a study visit, contains pupil booklets, a teacher's guide and photos. The series is packed with original sources about real people in real places, demonstrating that it is possible to make fairly complex material accessible to 11 to 14-year-olds. The pupil activities are thoughtful and worthwhile and provide numerous opportunities to clarify values.

Development education centres around the UK have been publishing resources of this quality for some years. These centres, as well as the regional Oxfam education resource centres, are now threatened by a lack of financial support. Geography teaching in the UK will be seriously weakened if materials like these are no longer available.

Andy Schofield is deputy head of Varndean School, Brighton, and a member of the GA Council

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