The war of the worlds

John Widdowson travels from pole to pole to find the perfect globe for your classroom

What is soft and round and read all over? A globe suitable for use with five-year-olds, of course! The Soft Touch Early Years Earth lies at one end of the spectrum of the wide variety of globes now on the market. Globes are no longer simply round. They can also be illuminated, inflatable, do-it-yourself or even interactive. One other thing that all globes have in common, which many pupils find reassuring in these days of virtual reality, is that you can actually get your hands on them.

Every primary school classroom and every geography classroom in secondary schools needs at least one globe to which pupils can refer. But you can do more with a globe than simply use it for reference. You can feel it, spin it, tilt it, draw on it and, with the Soft Touch Early Years Earth, you can even squeeze it. Pupils can use a globe to locate countries, measure journeys, calculate time differences, understand changes in day length and seasons, even to work out the route and position of a satellite orbiting the Earth. With a good globe, there's no need to limit your horizons.

So, where do you begin when you want to assess which globe would best meet your requirements in the classroom? Obviously price is a factor, but when compared with other hi-tech equipment in the modern classroom, globes are relatively cheap. The most expensive one in this survey costs less than pound;100.

Other factors you will need to consider when choosing a globe are its design, the amount of geographical information given, and any special features relating to its application in the classroom.

1. Design

It is difficult to recommend any particular design - it depends how you will use it. If it is one that can expect years of use as a reference source, then go for a good-quality vinyl globe with a metal base. If you want to hang it from the ceiling then a lightweight inflatable plastic globe will suit your purpose.

2. Appearance

Most globes in this survey look good and are easy to read. But the devil is in the detail. Some have 4,000 or more items of information, often in very small print that would be inappropriate for younger pupils. Others have no information and are intended for pupils to write and draw on. It all depends on what you want to do with it and the age group you teach.

3. Features

Globes these days come with a variety of unique selling points which can also add to the cost.

However, there is no point paying extra for special features that you won't need. Some, like a metal base, would provide a lot of mileage in a secondary school geography classroom. But it would not be worth paying the extra unless your pupils were going to use this feature.

One feature that I found was lacking from most of the globes in the survey was support material for teachers. There was little guidance for teachers on how they could be used in the classroom or suggested activities as to how pupils could make the most of their globes. That is left to you and your ingenuity.

John Widdowson is a geography textbook writer and teacher

Title

Soft Touch Early Years Earth. TEL = Age group: Pre-school - key stage 1. Price: pound;15.99 + VAT. From: TTS Group. Tel: 01623 447800. www.tts-group.co.uk.

Design

A soft fabric globe stuffed like a cushion to make it (at least approximately) spherical. At 25cm in diameter, it is an ideal size for children to hold, yet impossible for little hands to break. However, I wondered how dirty it might get if the hands were sticky and how well it washes.

Appearance

Brightly coloured, making it appealing to young, would-be globe-trotters. Countries are shown in vivid red, green, yellow and purple. But there is probably too much detail on the map for the age group it is aimed at. Surely it was not necessary to show all 50 USstates.

Features

The globe's outstanding feature is its huggability. Let's hope that it will help children to fall in love with geography. If all else fails it would make the perfect pillow for tired toddlers taking a nap after lunch.

Verdict

The Soft Touch Early Years Earth is a valuable resource for the pre-school and KS1 classroom. At pound;15.99 it is reasonably priced and, as far as I know, is the only one of its kind on the market.

Title

Inflatable Globe. TEL = Age group: KS1 upwards. Price: pound;8.99 + VAT. From: Geopacks. TEL = Tel: 08705 133 168.

Design

Inflatable plastic blow-up globe. It is a sizeable 51cm across when inflated but is also easy to store when deflated. There is a plastic loop so that the globe can be hung from the ceiling.

Appearance

A child-friendly globe with bright colours, but the use of blue for some countries makes the planet even bluer than it should be. The globe shows political boundaries, cities, latitude and longitude lines, but, because of its size, does not look overcrowded.

Features

An inflatable globe is easy to handle. It can be passed around the class without fear of breakage (although there is always the danger of a stray drawing pin). Alternatively, it is light enough to hang without bringing the ceiling down. The main drawback is the energy needed to blow it up.

Verdict

At pound;8.99 you can't go wrong. Inflatable globes can be used in the classroom in a more flexible way than a standard globe. In lessons where pupils need to handle the globe you could even afford to use one per group.

Title

Activity Globe. TEL = Age group: KS2 upwards. Price: pound;34.99 + VAT. From: Philip Harris Education. TEL = Tel: 0845 120 4520. www.philipharris.co.uk.

Design

A 30cm diameter globe standing on a plastic base with a metal half meridian. The globe is designed for pupils to write on with water-based marker pen and to wipe clean after use.

Appearance

The globe simply shows the continents in green against the background of blue oceans. There are no labels at all. Country borders and lines of latitude and longitude are printed clearly. The detail is left for pupils to add.

Features

The simplicity of this globe means that it can be put to a number of uses. For example, it could be used by pupils to test their knowledge of places. It could also be used as a teaching aid to highlight features that would otherwise be lost on a more cluttered globe.

Verdict

Creative teachers will find many ways in which to use the activity globe, but an opportunity is lost by not providing support material to give teachers more ideas.

Title

Explorer Globe. TEL = Age group: KS2 upwards. Price: pound;99.99. From: LeapFrog Toys. Tel: 0800 169 5435. TEL = .www.leapfrog.com.

Design

This is a battery-operated interactive talking globe that includes geographical encyclopaedia and quiz game. The 25cm diameter globe sits on its own base unit, with built-in control panel and "magic pen". Users turn the dial on the panel to what they want to find out, touch the globe with the pen, then listen to the voice.

Appearance

The globe has a political map with small but clear print. Equally important with this product is the voice, which although clear, makes it difficult to interpret some place names.

Features

There are two ways in which pupils could interact with this globe - to do research or to test their knowledge. They can find out facts about a country - its capital, population, area, currency and lots more. They can also compare population and area for any two countries or find the distance and flying time between them. More competitive pupils could pit their knowledge against the clock, or against each other. The game is pitched at three levels - tourist, frequent flyer and globe-trotter - suitable for a range of ability. If at first pupils cannot find a place, they get progressively more detailed clues to locate it.

Verdict

Although primarily an educational toy, this globe could also be an asset in the classroom. Pupils would use it for research or as a revision aid for place knowledge. However, at pound;99.99, you need to be sure that it will be used once the novelty has worn off. And, don't forget, the cost of batteries can mount up.

Title

Illuminated Globe. TEL = Age group: KS3 upwards. Price: pound;28.99 + VAT. From: Geopacks. TEL = Tel: 08705 133 168.

Design

A 25cm diameter illuminated globe made of translucent plastic that comes with light bulb, lead and plug. As with most standard globes it is mounted on a plastic base with a half meridian that allows the globe to spin on its axis. This one, though, does not feel very robust.

Appearance

The globe has an unusual double image design that shows both physical and political features, enhanced by the illumination. With 3,800 place names it also has an impressive amount of detail. However, it is not quite up to date - Zaire has not yet been replaced by Congo, for example.

Features

The double image illuminated design certainly makes the names easier to read and helps the countries to stand out on the physical background.

Verdict

At pound;28.99 this globe is very reasonably priced. The combination of physical and political information gives good value for money, but makes it more difficult for younger pupils to use.

Modern Physical Paper Globe

TEL = Age group: KS3 upwards. Price: pound;4.15+VAT. From: Wildgoose. Tel: 01530 835685. www.wgoose.co.uk

Design

This is a DIY globe that comes flat-packed on a sheet of card. The product is a decorative, if not very sturdy globe. It measures 20cm in diameter and it can be hung or mounted on a plastic base (not included).

Appearance

The globe includes both physical and political information, but, at this small scale, the print is not very legible.

Features

With this globe you get both process and product. Pupils at KS2 should be able to make the globe as part of a design and technology class. However, the information on the globe is more appropriate to KS3 or above. There is even potential to explore the issues of trying to represent the globe as a map on a flat surface.

Verdict

In the hands of a capable teacher this could become a useful resource, either for design and technology at KS2 or for geography at a higher level. The globe is not expensive, but is it cheap enough to afford one per pupil?

Title

Horizon Ring Globe.

TEL = Age group: KS1-3. Price: pound;69.50 + VAT. From: Wildgoose. TEL = Tel: 01530 835685. www.wgoose.co.uk.

Design

The Rolls-Royce model of this survey. The 30cm globe is made of heavy-duty plastic and rests on a metal "horizon ring" on which it freely rotates. There is no fixed axis and, therefore, no restriction on the direction in which it can be moved. Combines physical and political information on the globe. The large clear print and the restricted number of place names make the information easy to read and use.

Features

The "horizon ring", with its scale encircling the globe, enables pupils to measure distance between two places anywhere in the world. At a more advanced level, they could also use it to calculate time differences, work out the shortest routes, flying time and the position and path of orbiting satellites. The globe comes with an informative booklet that explains the techniques and suggests how the globe could be used at KS1-3.

Verdict

Although expensive, this globe would be an asset for teaching geography in any classroom, from primary school upwards. However, it really comes into its own in the secondary classroom where it could be used for some serious geography.

Title

The Madison Political Globe. TEL = Age group: KS3 upwards. Price: pound;34.95 (10 per cent discount for schools). From: Latitude. TEL = Tel: 01707 663090. www.latitudemapsandglobes.co.uk

Design

A well-made 30cm globe of standard design mounted on a metal, half-meridian and base.

Appearance

The detailed political map, with more than 4,000 items of information, will meet the needs of pupils studying geography at a higher level. The map also has raised relief, though I doubt that this will help visually impaired pupils since it is very subtle.

Features

Apart from its raised relief the globe has no special features and is described simply as a "classic school globe". There is an informative booklet produced by the globe's US manufacturer, Cram, to provide background information about the globe, and a gazetteer.

Verdict

If you want a sturdy, no-frills reference globe for your classroom, that is reasonably priced, then this is probably the one to go for.

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