New ways to play the field
Seen one field, you've seen 'em all" was Charlie Brown's disillusioned reply to Lucy when asked about his field trip, but most geography teachers would beg to differ. In the years since the national curriculum was introduced, fieldwork has been given some statutory protection, but there are time and financial restrictions on residential geographical fieldwork in many schools.
The encouragement of individual projects (especially for GCSE and A-level) and the use of the immediate locality are two ways to maintain worthwhile fieldwork and these complementary books explore such possibilities fruitfully.
Jennifer Frew's book boldly claims to be "the most comprehensive fieldwork textbook available". Aimed at 14 to 16-year-olds who will be tackling their GCSE projects in geography, it could also, with profit, be used as a guidebook by many teachers who have the task of organising these.
The first half offers general guidance on developing skills and techniques and collecting data; the second gives further development and a variety of examples in the spheres of weather, towns, rivers, transport, coasts and leisur.
I hope that the absence of villages, agriculture and countryside as major topic examples is not prophetic. Each section has been helpfully divided into examples of a trial run, a short project, a main investigation and an extra investigation. The writing is admirably direct and practical, and the book provides a sound introduction to many fundamental parts of fieldwork.
The authors of Beyond the Bikesheds, on the other hand, take much orthodox and basic work for granted and, following a survey of fieldwork purposes and strategies, concentrate on the more imaginative and innovative aspects.
Their philosophy is that "working locally may allow us to extend the outcomes of our investigations into participating for change for a better world in the context of our local communities and environments".
Project examples include measuring CO2 emissions from traffic per kilometre, finding an optimum site for a wind-turbine, "food-mile" surveys in local shops and "multicultural biogeography". Curiously, the obviously visible landscape (both natural and built) is not a major focus of these studies and represents another major area which could benefit from this thought-provoking treatment.
Rex Walford currently directs a research project about fieldwork at the Cambridge University School of Education and is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge