Teacher delegates come up with ideas to stem popularity slide of subject at GCSE. Felicity Waters reports
Too many young people are left untouched by their experience of studying geography and teachers face a key challenge in recapturing interest in the subject, according to assessment guru Professor Richard Daugherty.
Geography teachers from primary and secondary schools gathered in Builth Wells at the weekend to discuss ways of stemming the numbers dropping the subject before GCSE.
Speaking to delegates at the Association of Geography Teachers conference in Wales, Professor Daugherty, author of the report that resulted in the scrapping of tests for 11 and 14-year-olds in Wales, said that the subject needed to be taught more simply and with clearer messages.
"We need to give youngsters a sense that they are achieving something that's related to their everyday lives," he said. "For example, respect and care for our environment has to be based on an understanding of it and, as geography teachers, we can offer that understanding."
Professor Daugherty, a former geography teacher himself, said that capturing the interest of pre-14s was crucial if they are to study it at GCSE and A-level.
"If they can get something out of what they've studied at that stage then the important groundwork is done," he said.
But some primary teachers voiced concern about how geography will be incorporated into the new early-years curriculum. "Geography is not going to be a subject on its own in the foundation phase but part of a module, and it worries me that we could lose it altogether," said one delegate.
ACCAC, the Welsh qualifications, curriculum and assessment agency, is currently carrying out a review of the geography curriculum in a bid to make the subject more skills-based.
Glennis Copnall, ACCAC's geography subject officer, said: "In many cases, the last time children do geography is before they take their options.
Teachers are struggling to keep hold of their children to study it after that."
A survey carried out as part of the review found that children thought geography was hard, contained too much information and was "one of their least favourite subjects". Instead children preferred hands-on practical learning and working with other children.
Incorporating a "Wales" theme and "Geography in the News" module at key stage 2 are just some of the ideas under discussion. "If we want geography to be alive we need to be able to respond to current events, like the tsunami," she said.
Pam Boardman, a geography teacher at Ysgol Friars in Bangor, recently won an award for her "thinking-skills" strategies which have re-ignited children's interest in the subject. She uses teaching aids, project work and group activities to explain difficult issues. The school currently has three classes studying geography at GCSE and two more at A-level.
"It's a question of thinking a bit more innovatively and allowing the class to be totally involved. The idea is that the teacher almost need not be there once you've got an exercise going," she said.
Geography teachers involved in the Wales forum have now agreed to meet regularly to discuss changes in the curriculum and to share teaching ideas in a bid to boost interest in the subject.
"All you hear is that geography is a dull subject that no one wants to take anymore. But it is so easy to make it interesting," said Mrs Boardman.