On Friday morning, I had the privilege to talk about primary geography as part of the #GAeConf20. Entitled 'Getting to grips with the hard parts of primary geography,' the aim was not to be seen as the expert, telling others what to do. Indeed, in my role as a Chair of Governors for a primary school; my experience working in an all through setting and from cross-phase working all of my career, I have learned far more from my primary colleagues than they could ever get form me.
With this in mind, I canvased the opinions of the attendees ahead of the session using a simple Google form. From this, I found that their main areas of challenge were:
- fitting in geography around the pressures of the primary curriculum;
- using the local area and developing fieldwork;
- map skills;
- ensuring progression.
I know that a range of slides means very little without the accompanying commentary, and this will be available soon on the GA website. The links to further reading and ideas can be found in the speaker notes. I would draw attention here, to the following.
Identifying what is special about your pupils, school and context.
Yes, we have a National Curriculum, but geography should be contextualised to the local setting. I would argue that we don't need to cover the, very limited, content but instead find out what is special and important to your setting. For example, do you live in an urban or rural area? Is there a coast line or river nearby? What defines your local area?
Lobby for CPD and use this to decide on the golden threads that will run through your 7 year geography adventure
For example, space, place, scale, environment and interconnection could be used throughout. These can then be used to create a set of questions, based on enquiry (which is not the same as discovery learning). For example:
The journey within a primary school is to move from basic understanding, questions and knowledge to being able to apply existing knowledge. To move from the imaginary to the real. To use existing experience and knowledge: the 'geographical backback' that every person has that contains their perspective, (mis)conceptions and ideas, and apply that to unknown places. Indeed, the welcome move to sense of place that has occurred in school geography recently, is well suited to the primary setting. Consider the following example from Maude 2020 (full citation in the presentation).
Start with the end in mind
To me, it is bonkers to sit down and work out what a 'greater depth' geographer is. This is because there is no such thing for geography. What we can work out is what we want young people to be able to know and do. In the example of Biomes, what would we want an eleven year old to know? From this end point, what knowledge do they need to have in order to have a full understanding? This may include the following:
Plan to 'bump into geography'
It is a common refrain from secondary geography teachers: Year 7 haven't done geography. I can confidently debunk this. What we know about learning explains why it may seem that this is the case: any knowledge not routinely reinforced and recalled is forgotten. Teaching of geography, and other foundation subjects (and my full respect to primary colleagues: having to cover a huge range of subjects - something that I couldn't dream of doing!) is squeezed in around the core of reading, writing and maths. This is often directed by the senior team of a school. Of course, using rich geographical contexts is a fantastic vehicle for developing writing and maths.
In addition, often teachers will be unaware of what happens in each year group. This is where a leader of geography has two responsibilities. The first is to ensure that all teachers are aware of what occurs in each year group: what knowledge is taught and what skills are developed. This allows colleagues to raise expectations and connect to previous learning effectively. The second is that young people need to encounter geography often. Leah Wright calls this 'bumping into geography' and she has implemented it brilliantly at her school. The presentation contains her ideas around this, but it includes using the images, books and skills and routines that are a central part of every school day.
Use real geographical contexts; provide a geographical lens to fieldwork and focus on developing geographical vocab.
At the top of my wish list of Year 7 geographers is that they have a command of geographical vocabulary. This would include the continents, latitude and altitude etc. Next, in order to develop fieldwork, there must be a real context. If geographical information isn't observed or measured or recorded then the young people may have had a lovely day out, but they haven't engaged in geography. This is easily done if young people are given a context in which to explore, and I love this example from Primary Geography:
I'd rather young people could interpret maps than be able to do 6-figure grid references.
I love this progression for map skills from geography legend Paula Owens. It is applicable to secondary contexts equally as primary ones. For me, it is far more important that young people can critically analyse maps, rather than give grid references. A great activity is to curate a wide range of map artifact, all of your local area. As maps are a representation of place, with the authors selected what is of importance, there are clear differences between them. At the same time, if you ask any cohort of people to draw their most important landmarks of a local area, the differences show that places mean different things to different people. This is a rich starting point for geographical enquiry.
When the full recording is available, I plan to post the link. In the meantime, I hope that this gives some insight into the session. It was quite a challenge to change one aimed at interaction and conversation into a webinar!