Stormy skies ahead;Television;Reviews

12th February 1999 at 00:00
GEOGRAPHY JUNCTION: Extreme Weather. Channel 4. Block broadcast March 3, 4-5.15am. Teacher's guide pound;3.95; activity book pound;6.95; poster wallchart pound;8.95; video pound;14.99 from Channel 4 schools, Tel: 01926 436446.

Imagine a place so wet you have to have special permission to go there and you can only stay two hours. Think of the person who walked for six days across the hottest place on Earth with a foil-covered umbrella. Try eating breakfast on the verandah with a wind gusting at up to 372km an hour - cereal packets, bowl, table and person all blowing over. These are some of the bizarre scenes from this series on extremes of weather.

In the national curriculum's ping-pong match between science and geography, weather has eventually ended up with geography. Quite right too! There can be fewer environmental conditions to impinge as much on the experience of young people as the weather. This and climate also help to explain the similarities and differences between places, contributing much to geography's fascination.

Each programme starts with Howard Stableford in the wettest, coldest, driest, windiest or hottest place in Britain, asking local people what it is like to live there and how they are affected by the extreme weather. This is all good geography.

Before Howard flies off to distant places which hold world records for extreme weather, young people from these British locations list their questions about conditions there. These touch the heart of geographical enquiry. The answers are not always given in the rest of the programme but there are clues. Pupils should be encouraged to find out for themselves.

The programmes use Ordnance Survey maps from time to time, pupils are seen recording weather conditions based on instrument readings, highly exciting climatic and weather conditions are shown in remote parts of the world - all designed to capture youngsters' imaginations. The links with British localities show vividly the contrasts even in our smallish island.

Some niggling details might annoy the geographical perfectionist. For example, Mount Wai'ale'ale in Kauai, Hawaii, is accorded the title of world record-holder for the highest annual rainfall. Nearly 12,000mm a year is certainly a lot of rain, but Cherrapunji in the Himalayas has the highest recorded amount in a year (1860-61) of 26,461mm. Perhaps Kauai has the highest average.

Wind is also said to be caused by changes in temperature with no reference to atmospheric pressure.

These details apart, the programmes are full of good material, right in line with the national curriculum. The linked teacher's guide and weather activity book provide a mass of stuff for discerning teachers, reinforcing the points covered in the TV programmes but extending the potential for additional weather studies. The guide includes background information, and activities range from simple colouring-in to temperature data banks for drawing a world weather chart.

Some tasks are beyond Year 3 pupils and some would be challenging even in Year 6 but there is enough here for everyone's needs.

Colin Harris is an independent inspector and geography consultant.

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