Secondary ICT - Glacier gazing

19th September 2008 at 01:00
The sky is the limit when you are studying geography - literally. Ollie Bray brings the universe to his Scottish class

The class enters the room and as normal I meet them at the door, asking questions as they come in. I never ask about geography, but pride myself on knowing something about every child in my class. "How was the football match?", "So, have you completed Guitar Hero yet?"

As the children enter, projected on to the interactive whiteboard is the globe being shown through Google Earth. It's spinning slowly and is a powerful reminder of what geography is about. Some pupils walk past and make the globe spin in different directions before heading to their seats, which I encourage.

By the time I get to my computer, jotters are out and I pick BBC News out of my computer favourites. We watch the three-minute news summary at the beginning of each lesson. It's a great starter, pupils love it and it helps improve their knowledge of current affairs and citizenship. As the news plays, they write down the headlines and at the end of the three minutes they mark which one is to do with geography and we discuss their choices.

Now we talk about the learning objectives. For today's lesson, the first objective reads "2 lern bout glaciers". I often use generators to produce lesson objectives for the class - it makes it more exciting.

Today the generator I have used translates normal English into text speak. The children like it and there are hundreds of generators at sites such as

The class is then split into groups around the room for a series of short 15-minute activities. It's a class of 29, so we are working in four groups of about seven pupils. The groups rotate every 15 minutes, prompted by a giant countdown timer that is available at

The groups complete the following activities as they rotate every 15 minutes:

- Group one uses a textbook to complete a diagram of what a glacier looks like. The finished diagram has to be on the wall in 15 minutes or you miss out on a praise stamp.

- Group two uses four laptops (we don't have a class set) to explore what a glacier looks like. They answer questions to go with the activity on their own Wikipedia pages. We have set this up using - but there are lots more possibilities.

- Group three watches two short videos on glaciers. These are downloaded from YouTube and are played on the fifth class laptop. They answer 10 questions in their jotter as they go.

- Group four works with me on the interactive whiteboard. We are using a Google Earth tour that has been downloaded from Google Earth Hacks ( to explore some of the world's most famous glaciers and mountain ranges.

At the end of the activities there is only 10 minutes to go. We spend five of these consolidating what we have learnt. Using the giant fruit machine name selector (this is another great application), random pupils tell their peers what they have learnt about glaciers.

We pack up - three minutes to go. Time for our normal finishing activity. The last person to answer a question picks a European city name out of a bucket. We type Turku into Google Earth and fly there from the school. Always fly from your school, it gives the pupils an idea of distance, direction and space.

Once in Turku, Finland, we spend the rest of the lesson looking around the city using the layer of Google Earth and have a quick look at the Wikipedia entry.

The bell goes and pupils are off to their next class.

Ollie Bray is deputy head at Musselburgh Grammar in East Lothian. He will speak at the Scottish Learning Festival in the SECC, Glasgow, on September 24. Language learners and the power of new technologies, 12.30 and 1.30pm; Internet safety and responsible use: for pupils, parents and staff, 3.45pm.


There are hundreds of internet pages on glaciers. The best way to find flash animations online is to use an Advanced Google Search ( and in the drop down menu select file type shockwave flash (.swf)

Ollie Bray's learning log:

Google Earth:

Quick news bulletins:

Text message translator:


Have a look at the National Geographic Channel for some great short videos:


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