Reigniting our Inner Geographical Detective by @DavidERogers

Geography Teachers as Place Explorers

‘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.’

The statement above sends goosebumps racing up my arms. Geography is all about the interaction between people and places. The new national curriculum for England provides us with the opportunity to explore places of global significance in any way we choose and this is an exciting opportunity. Teachers can learn with young people.

The return to Capes and Bays geography didn’t materialise and the fears around a resurgence of regional geography have proven unfounded. Without the straight jacket of prescribed content, the depth and scale studied is up to departments and there is a genuine chance to explore places in a holistic way, freed from the silos created by a topic-based approach. Geographers are entirely equipped for an ever-changing curriculum, not least because it is a dynamic subject. Geography should be in a constant state of flux, even without the unprecedented rate of Government driven change. Geography is outside and all around us, and our responsibility to help children understand the world around them is clear. Here are why geographers are perfectly poised to develop the intellectual curiosity and promote the love of learning mentioned in Teaching Standard 4. Here are five interconnected reasons why geography should embrace the change.

Our curriculum is full of JONK (That’s the Joy Of Not Knowing). This is exciting for a geographer and we should be excited, not scared, about the chance of finding out about new places. I wonder how much time we spend planning how to make children stuck? More importantly, have we given them the tools to get unstuck? Does our feedback allow them to move forward, or just tell them what they got wrong? Do we use feedback from young people to judge whether our lessons challenge them or are just covering the same old fluff over and over again?

I spoke recently to a primary colleague who was covering the main features of a river system and basic geomorphology. The lesson mirrored a Year 10 lesson that is a stalwart across the land. These kids are doing it in Year 6. Geography is happening right here, right now.

The use of current events as case studies is well developed in geography. Floating Topicality is a phrase I first came across whilst working with Jeff Stansfield, the Hampshire Geography Advisor. It is used to encompass the use of current events within the geography classroom. Whilst we are free to select any event and topic, here are some recent events that also tie in to the regions specified:

  • Immigration from Syria. Many of those laying siege to Calais and attempting to cross the English Channel into the UK have fled Syria.
  • There are always newsworthy events that cover Mount Everest each April / May. Last year this was the tragic avalanche in the Kumbu Icefall and in 2013 it was a high altitude fight. Here are opportunities to explore the characteristics of an Asian country, and links to the Monsoon, Glaciation, Tourism and environmental impact are all to be found.
  • We have a responsibility to ensure our young people don’t think that Africa has Ebola. In recent months my classes have used maps and other resources to understand the scale and diversity in the continent. Also a chance to explore hot deserts. Floating topicality is not a gimmick, it’s essential for high quality geography education, because: a. What is the point of school if it doesn’t help you understand the world around you? b. Teachers are in the ideal position to challenge media bias and editorial decisions. c. Topical issues are an opportunity to reinforce and help revisit prior learning.

Geographical enquiry allows us to explore anywhere Geographers have the perfect tool for exploring places: enquiry. This is well established in many departments across the UK. Done right, geography teachers can model the learning process with young people. Being forced to explore new places is an opportunity.

Good geographers are nosy and ask questions. Great geographers pursue the answer to those questions with unknown destinations. Geography provides the link between people and places It’s time to re-examine how we approach the teaching of our subject. It’s time to move away from the silos and use a more holistic approach. The current curriculum changes are an opportunity to do just that.

Geography has opportunities to develop Maths and English in order to support our colleague. High quality Geography should be the aim of every secondary geography department right from the first lesson.

Successful geographers have to be masters of all kinds of maps and be able to crunch data to understand and identify the underlying trends and patterns. Then – vitally – learners need to be able to communicate this is concise, persuasive and analytical prose. Geographers write and do, maths.


David Rogers is a multi-award winning teacher, author and wannabe ultra-marathon runner. As an Assistant Headteacher in Brighton, he helps lead Teaching and Learning across the school. David doesn’t like desks but has sat behind one for long enough to write textbooks and educational resources, becoming a Microsoft Innovative Fellow and Google Certified Teacher and Mentor along the way. David is most proud of being a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and winning its coveted ‘Excellence in Geography Teaching Award’ in 2013. This year, his challenge is to learn to ride a unicycle. Find him @davidErogers and read his ramblings at davidrogers.org.uk

This is an extract from the March 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can freely read the online version by clicking here.


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