Hardy, cooking and the weather;Geography;Features amp; Arts

19th November 1999 at 00:00
They can all make geography lessons more interesting. Danny Lee looks at some award-winning approaches.

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons are helping one geography teacher to run a happy ship. Andy English of Chesterton Community College, a Cambridge comprehensive, tries to bring art and literature into his teaching of the subject. "A well chosen or descriptive piece of literature can give a powerful sense of place," says Mr English, who received a pound;200 award from the HSBC bank last year to fund his work.

"Two of the great things about landscapes and geography are the senses of awe and spirituality. Art and literature can bring it to life more than bland videos, photographs and standard textbooks." Ransome, Graham Swift and local painter Edward Seago are just a few of the artists and authors that Mr English brings to bear on his subject.

He also asked Years 7 to 9 to recommend books they considered good. The result was a pleasant surprise. "I was impressed with their breadth of knowledge about literature. The children were quoting everything from Dickens to Fleming," he says. "It validated my whole approach."

A Year 10 group is also being enthralled by Mr English's approach as they use Thomas Hardy's writing to shed light on the emotions and lives of the people involved in migration from the countryside to cities.

"If the children get a buzz out of a way of teaching, then so do I, and that makes the whole job more enjoyable," says Mr English. "Geography should be fun and make sense of a complex and perplexing world. There are many creative people with wonderful ideas but no time. The award gave me extra time, by enabling me to get a supply teacher, and sped along the development of the project."

As well as classic literature, state-of-the-art technology is also playing its part in the awards, which are organised by the Royal Geographical Society. Kathy Seddon of Grenville College, Exeter, has developed a website, Coursework Online, designed to help dyslexic children find a way through learning about geography. "The site initially explains the topic in simple terms and then demonstrates it," says Ms Seddon.

"This is more lively than reading a book, and it isn't linear, so pupils can jump back and forth in a way that interests them. It is wonderful to see children who are having trouble reading enjoy a whole subject being opened out to them."

The awards are split into four categories - secondary education, improving knowledge, recognising excellence in geographical learning and small research. The money is not only given to projects, but also to set up research. This may encourage funding from other sources.

David Weatherly of Ansford community school in Somerset, received pound;320 to expand links between his school and one in Zambia. Based on the work he was able to carry out with the money, the National Lottery Charities Board is giving his scheme pound;200,000 over five years. Ansford has had a partnership with Mufulira secondary school in the country's copper belt since 1991, but the award helped make it part of the life of the school, and there are now frequent staff and pupil exchanges. "I try to bring first-hand material with artefacts, from musical instruments to cooking utensils, into the lessons to bring the subject to life. Having the partnership challenges the stereotypical view children usually have of Africa."

Mr Weatherly asks key stage 3 children to draw pictures of what they think the Zambian town looks like. "They often draw a mud hut," he says. "Then I show them actual pictures of the area, which is urbanised with dual carriageways and smoking chimneys. Almost all the children at Ansford come from white British backgrounds, so this type of work is particularly worthwhile."

For details of the RGSHSBC awards, tel: 0171 591 3007

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