The whole world in your hands;Geography

19th March 1999 at 00:00
David R Wright makes a plea of global significance

Planet Earth is home to six billion people. Although small and beautiful, we splatter it with acid rain, devastate its rainforests and endanger its wildlife. Yet the globe, so crucial to the well-being of our children, is neglected in our crowded school curriculum. So here is a plea for "a minute for our planet." It is a request for schools to find just a 60th of the time found for the literacy hour.

Our lonely life-giving globe can be found among the pages of the national curriculum - but it needs to be pieced together.

The primary school is the best place to make sense of the globe, for a very simple reason: it is geography (the world), maths (a sphere) and science (the Earth as a planet) in one topic. In secondary schools, the globe gets "chopped up" between subjects, but in most primary classes, the geography teacher is also the maths and science teacher. The world-aware primary teacher can keep the globe together and bring it to life - a vital theme for the millennium.

The national curriculum has several references to globes or spheres. They appear, of course, in geography. In science, children learn that the Sun, Earth and Moon are spheres, and that the Earth revolves and orbits the sun. Maths gets a look in ("MakeI 3D shapes... recognise and use spheres") while the art curriculum experiments with shape and form - so spheres are art, too. History has Tudor exploration - that definitely involves globes (see this month's panel of the TES Millennium Frieze at the centre of this magazine).

The key ideas about globes are simple and well within the grasp of primary-age children. Here - and on page 36 - are some ideas for teachers on what to do with the concept of the sphere-shaped world. It's as well to space them out - perhaps one a day.

The 3Rs rightly have top priority, but they have raised the status of flat pieces of paper above three-dimensional objects. Teachers need to think 3D as well as flat (for instance, globes are the best maps of our Earth - no flat map is as good).


The question "What did you discover today about our globe?" can be a good catalyst for class discussion, but our adult lack of "globe-consciousness" puts us at a disadvantage and saps our confidence. Here are few ideas for a head start: 1 Discover that there is a lot of sea and little land (over two-thirds of the globe is water).

2 Discover that the Pacific Ocean alone is bigger than all the world's land.

3 Discover that there is very little land in the southern hemisphere (tilt the globe to make Antarctica the centre of your vision).

4 Discover that the Antarctic is almost the opposite of the Arctic (it's land surrounded by sea, instead of sea surrounded by land).

5 Discover that if we put the UK in the middle of our vision of the globe, we can see almost all the world's land - except for Antarctica and parts of South America.

6 Discover that the Suez Canal is really useful when you see it on a globe - it's the only part of the world where three continents come close to each other.

7 Discover that the Panama Canal is really useful, too!

8 Discover that the journey from Canada to Russia isn't too far if you go via the North Pole and don't use a flat world map.

9 Discover that the UK really is small.

10 Discover how huge Asia is - Central Asia never seems to feature in lessons.

ONE MORE thought

The notion that we live on a small, wonderful planet is so crucial, and so often forgotten. So is the thought that Ofsted inspectors, as well as pupils, will be pleased if you discover some "awe and wonder" in your own planet.

Find out more

* The Geography Association 160 Solly Street Sheffield S1 4BF * Worldaware 31-35 Kirby Street London EC1N 8TE Website:

* Worldwide Fund for Nature Panda House Weyside Park Godalming Surrey GU7 1XR


1 A sphere is very simple and straightforward to understand. Any child who has thrown and caught (or even thrown and dropped) a ball has understood the basic concept of the shape of our world. A globe is the best world map, and children need to realise this.

2 Roll some clay. You soon get a sphere. This activity - well-known even to nursery children - embodies a concept that few children and few adults have grasped: equal pressure creates a sphere. What's more, every planet is sphere-shaped. This is because of gravity. It pulls the Earth together and, with the rapid spinning of the Earth, makes a sphere the only viable planet shape.Any other shape would fall to bits which, in time, would become other spheres.

3 There are many spheres in nature - it is one of the basic shapes. Each sphere can teach us a bit about the shape of our world. So the sphere is a vital concept for understanding nature and our world.

4 Light and shadow on a shiny ball is like night and day on our globe in space. This is art as well as geography.

5 Our sphere must always be half in the light and half in the darkness, however much you spin the globe or tilt it. There is no other way to arrange it, because we only have one sun to give us light. There is also the question of when different parts of the world are light and are dark, and for how long, but don't worry about all the detail at once.

6 There's no right way up for a ball or a sphere. We usually choose to put north at the top of our globe and our maps, but there is no label on the globe that says we must. The United Nations' flag puts north in the middle of the map on its flag - it is not wrong to do that.

7 There are no gaps in a sphere - a football with a hole in it is thrown away. Our Earth has no gaps either, but sometimes lava pops out.

8 Each part of a sphere is vital, and also depends on the whole sphere to survive, so we need to care for all parts of our own beautiful planet.

9 Our planet is only 67km bigger around the equator than round the poles; the difference is less than 1% and you can't see such a tiny variation. 67km in 40,000km is insignificant.

10 All those humps we call mountains are tiny when compared with the size of the Earth. Even Mount Everest is less than 9km high: that is less than one-four-thousandth of the circumference of the globe. So a tennis ball is the right metaphor - at that scale the Earth is smooth. Most adult geographers don't realise these last two points, so your class can be more expert than experts!

11 The typical mileage of a two-year-old car is equal to one trip around the globe (25,000 miles, or 40,000km).

David R Wright is co-author of Philip's Children's Atlas, a school inspector, and a former teacher-trainer

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