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The Government orders you to be curious! Keeping learning routed to real life outside of the classroom: @NatGeo

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I’ve written about Floating Topicality many times before.  It was a term given to my by Jeff Stanfield to describe lessons and sequences of learning that tackle current and recent events.  However, with the recent focus on workload, is it possible to stay abreast with current events and turn them into classroom resources?  I would argue that, with a bit of planning, it is not only possible, but essential and a way to reduce workload.  The other charge fired at floating topicality is that students rarely dive deeply into a topic.  This is something that can happen if the event isn’t connected to the bigger curriculum picture.  Remember, we don’t have to ask for permission in order to tackle whatever we want. Indeed, linking to real events that are actually happening is essential if we are to stand even a remote chance of allowing children to understand our world. 

Now, this is a geography related post.  It’s the end of the half term and I’m indulging in some serious procrastination and using my passion and fall back position.  As a senior leader in the school, and one looking after the goblet of teaching and learning, so my credibility hinges on getting the basics in the classroom right and being able to deliver and model what I expect (that and always being out of my office at lesson change over and talking to kids at break and lunch).  In any case, the bread and butter of a school is what happens within the classroom.  I may not have the insight of a teacher who has 21/25 lessons a week any longer, but (and this comes from the Air Training Corps and RAF  - never criticise the uniform or actions of another if your own house isn’t in order – and that goes for cleaning the toilet too) the most important thing is the classroom.  Plus I enjoy it.


The Geographical Association is a useful resource for resources linked to recent events, like these about  the 2014 Uk floods,  (although they are often difficult to find…), as is the world of twitter.  Furthermore, hurricane season occurs at the same time of year, and we are more likely to experience the effects of Atlantic depressions during the Autumn term, with recent Anticyclonic weather usually not far distant.

I’d like to share a Floating Topicality unit that has built up over the last three years, and will continue both  to be of interest to students and not far from the headlines.  It also ties in to a huge swath of geography, from development to ecosystems to climate to mountain building.  The unit also links with the recent addition of Glaciation and Asia as a focus to the Key Stage 3 National Curriculum. It was last year during this news event that I asked our PGCE student to develop a mini-unit around the event. 

To add depth, this was revisited last year when this tragic event occurred.  Jo Debens goes into some further detail about how the lesson can be altered and changed in order to add challenge.

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This year, it’s possible to add in some longer term impacts, especially with excellent resources available, including departmental subscriptions to periodicals.  Although this may add cost, the pay off in resources is well worth it.  Indeed, this post was triggered by an excellent article in National Geographic.  This sparked my curiosity so I downloaded the iPad version to explore further.  Within minutes, I have a ready formed lesson that’s differentiated – whether the devices are used to support a carousel or shared through an Apple TV (or other such device). The Newsstand version has extra images, video and interviews.

The result is that this topic, although floating, is revisited.  This gives us a chance to not only delve more deeply into the issues, but to reconsider our response to questions such as ‘why do people climb?’

And if that’s not good enough, the Government orders you to:

‘A high-quality geography education should inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination  about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.’

I wonder what other gems are hidden within plain sight?  It’s interesting that this month’s National Geographic’s headline is linked to zombies.  I wonder how many of us fall unthinkingly into criticism of new policy instead of looking for the permission to teach high quality stuff?  I believe that the subject knowledge of teachers is paramount and we need to know and decide what to teach before we even consider the how (more on that later).  Monthly magazines, whilst not in vogue or the Twitter revolution, pack a punch and are full of resources.  What are your go-to places in order to keep up to date?

For example, do you know and tell your staff about Google Alerts – a free service that creates an email digest that can be used to keep track of recent events (for example, ‘Iceland eruption’).  Scoffing that it’s been around for ever?  Don’t – because you may find that many aren’t aware. They are still trying to deal with the email fire-hose.

If we are to prepare students for the world outside and engage them, then we need to encourage teachers to break out  of staying with well used resources.  That path leads to fossilisation.  Even interpretations of History change, and events are disputed or new evidence in unearthed (and anyway, History (a subject that I love) is a collection of the strongest opinions…).  This isn’t to prepare them for the 60% of jobs that haven’t been created yet or the 21st Century, teachers have always had to prepare students for an unknown world.  We need to do this because we have permission.  And because developing an understanding of the world around us is essential.  Current events allow teachers to learn with students and model application of existing knowledge  to a new situation.  Just make sure you speak to the other teachers in the school before all doing Christmas themed lessons……

Images are screenshots taken from the excellent National Geographic iPad version.  If you’re not happy with their use – please let me know and I’ll remove.


  1. I agree.
    On the GA website my Mt Ontake eruption resources & v.soon Ebola resources too, R.T.r. I call it-Real Time resources.

    1. Thanks Stephen - will take a look at them.
      All the best, David


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