Keep them posted

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh looks at a poster being sent to primary schools to help non specialists with the knowledge and skills needed to teach the subject

This term, a new poster bearing the title "Geography from Square One" is arriving in primary schools. Produced by the Geographical Association, its message to teachers and children is that you really can do geography even though you thought you didn't have the time or space.

As it says: "You do geography every day without realising it! From the source of your morning coffee to the transport you and your pupils use to get home after school, it's all geography."

The poster has been developed for the GA by consultants Marcia Foley and Paula Richardson, with Kent primary teacher Sue Parsons. It is one strand of the combined DfES and GA's response to the Ofsted-highlighted problem of the way primary geography has suffered from the drive for standards in literacy and numeracy. (Others include subject leader support on the GA website, and the current piloting of a geography "Quality Mark" for schools.) Part of the difficulty is that non-specialists aren't always clear about geography's structure, knowledge and skills. Marcia Foley feels that there's a contrast here with history.

"The national curriculum presents history in recognisable lumps - 'Britain since the 1930s', 'The Tudors'," she says. "With geography they're not so sure. Their own geographical education has often been very limited, too. It gets no time at all in teacher training."

The irony is, she says, that a close look at geography reveals just how much it has within it: sustainability, the environment and transport - all global issues that interest children and teachers and often touched on in other parts of their work. "It's their future," says Marcia.

The challenge for the GA was how to get that message across. The poster format was chosen because of its manageability and broader impact.

"The colour and presentation is eye-catching," says Marcia, "And it can be spread out on a staffroom table, or held up as a focus for discussion rather more effectively than a sheet of A4 or a booklet."

The front of the poster carries the basic "you can do it" message, supported by a montage of colour and black-and-white photographs - a wind farm, a crowded railway station, a suburban street.

The other side is effectively an eight-unit teaching resource, presented in the form of A4 photocopiable panels, each outlining a geography topic or approach.

The first, "Where do I start", builds on the poster's basic "you can do it" message. The other seven are: "Can you find me?", about locations; "Features here and there", about physical and human features in the landscape; "Spot the mistake", which introduces the idea of using mistakes and misconceptions as an aid to teaching; "Do we like it?", looking at environmental issues; "My perfect town", which introduces the techniques of studying a town; "Where in the world am I?", tackling global understanding and atlas skills; and "Global detectives", finding locations, such as places in the news, on the world map.

Each section begins by listing the key geographical skills involved, and then has points on "What you need", "What to do", "Variations" and "What's next".

The team wanted to highlight some specific practical and outdoor activities, explains Sue Parsons.

"For example there's using the outdoor classroom, using and drawing maps, using images, introducing the idea of different places," she says. "We wanted to provide ideas that we know work because we've done them ourselves, and that don't need much in the way of setting up or resources."

That accessibility, together with a great deal of flexibility, is a strong feature of the activities. We deliberately didn't go for an activity per year group, for example," says Marcia. "We don't want any teacher to think that a particular unit isn't for them. We're trying to say that they can read it and adapt it."

Similarly, although everything relates directly to the geography national curriculum, and across the curriculum to areas such as literacy, ICT and citizenship, there's no direct link to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's schemes of work.

"To some extent the QCA units have been taken as gospel, which they're not intended to be," says Marcia. "And that can be demotivating. We've chosen to home in on good practice in geography, and some of these activities could be developed as part of the QCA units."

The team developing the resource have constantly borne in mind that, in primary schools, geography subject leaders are not only likely to be non-specialists but may well be looking after more than one subject. Sue Parsons devised a highly effective and very simple technique to help get round this problem: "I tried to think of my own weakest area, music perhaps, and to envisage what I would like that would help me."

l The poster is being sent to every primary school. It's also available on the web, together with all the activities and extra material at:

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