Ice to see you

1st February 2008 at 00:00

Make fieldwork unforgettable by working with other departments and heading to Iceland. Elizabeth Horwood talks from experience.

Our Iceland trip is a joint venture between the geography and biology departments. It's a stunningly varied country. Geographers marvel at the spits and stacks, the basalt beaches and the volcanic activity. Biologists study how plants adapt to glacial conditions and how plant life changes the further back you move from the sand dunes.

But Iceland isn't just a perfect place for A-level fieldwork, it's also an unforgettable destination in its own right. In fact, we always take along some "tourists" - students who don't do biology or geography, but just come for the sights. There's a waterfall that's more spectacular than Niagara, and the geysers are active all the time, so there's no hanging around waiting for them to put on a show.

For all the students, the visit has plenty of general educational value. In 2007, for example, we returned to a glacier we'd visited in 2005. It had melted back at least 200 metres. We discuss global warming in school, but this made it seem very immediate.

We also visited a geo-thermal power station. Electricity in Iceland is very cheap because it's produced geo-thermally. They even grow bananas as a crop, by heating glasshouses all year round. Again, you can learn these things from a book but it can't compare to sitting in a geo-thermally heated lagoon on a chilly day.

Running a joint trip across two departments keeps it affordable. More students means lower prices. And we always have at least a year's build- up, which allows people to pay in several instalments. Sometimes parents foot the bill, but many students work and save so they can pay at least some of the cost themselves.

Five months on, everyone still talks about the visit. When they tackle parts of the curriculum that they worked on in Iceland, it's all still fresh in their minds.

One of the great things about Iceland is that it's probably not the kind of destination they're likely to go to as adults. But certain experiences will stay with them forever, such as off-roading in a coach to reach a particularly striking sand dune or a rough day at sea watching minke whales.

Elizabeth Horwood teaches biology at Dixie Grammar School in Leicestershire. Interview by Steven Hastings. Dixie went with Discover the World. Visit

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