Knowing your place
Colin Harris applauds a revised key stage 2 geography pack which encourages children to find out about the familiar and the faraway. With the five-year curriculum moratorium still stretching ahead, the revised versions of these exciting materials give teachers the opportunity to consider carefully what geography at key stage 2 is all about. With clear and sensible guidance to the post-Dearing requirements in the teacher's books, geography co-ordinators are provided with most of the material they need to organise the subject in a cross-curricular or single-subject structure. Accompanying posters and some enterprising copymasters complete the kit.
But at the heart of this series lie the pupil's books. Colourful and exciting photographs dominate the source material, underlining the wonderfully spectacular and often awesome nature of the world around us.
The whole series is riddled with real places which are at the heart of real geography. While the world in which most children spend their early years is often more mundane than the places depicted in many of these materials, the essential geography of familiar towns and villages is not forgotten.
Children are guided to ask questions about the pictures which will help in the study of their own locality. The reason for this is that these books combine the skills, themes and places central to the new curriculum. In this way they provide the kinds of secondary material which should be eagerly sought by all primary teachers. Much evidence from the levels of knowledge of pupils in Year 7 suggests access to such rich geographical experience is at best patchy.
Settlements feature strongly in both pupil's books, with case studies drawn from, among others, Boston, Amazonia, Almere, Treverbyn in Cornwall, Crewe and Manila. Themes relate to manufacturing industry, mining, weather and the routing of by-passes. Obviously the books can be used on their own, but the copymasters and posters contain such good ideas for investigations and activities that teachers may find they extend their planning.
The pupil's books in particular clearly represent potentially invaluable material which no primary school should be without. But a degree of caution is called for. The authors claim compliance with the new Order. Certainly there has been much pruning, but the shears have been applied less severely than might be necessary.
Teachers scanning these books might be led to believe that children have to be "taught" everything contained within them. While the 1995 revision prescribes a minimum entitlement and there is scope for more, Oliver Boyd Geography does include some misplaced content such as the differences between weather and climate from key stage 3 geography, and the possible effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment from key stage 3 science.
Similarly there is the odd misleading statement and dangerous practice where frost is defined as frozen water and children are seen treading on a frozen stream, albeit a shallow one. Some of the statistical information is occasionally difficult to interpret.
These criticisms apart, this series offers teachers a wide range from which they can draw, and it is a delight to see so many maps. For originality, interest and breadth of vision it must be highly recommended.