Strategies for embedding geographical enquiry into the GCSE curriculum

Geographical enquiry is a fundamental element of geography and is now firmly established in the geography curriculum, at least on paper, across Key Stages 2-5. There is little or no doubt that students who are involved in geographical enquiry will develop essential skills for learning. However, perhaps more importantly to us, geographical enquiry helps students in constructing geographical knowledge. There is general agreement that this implies an active approach to learning geography which encourages pupils to ask questions about real issues, to search for answers using a wide range of skills and information and to think critically about issues rather than accept the conclusions, research and opinion of others passively. (Davidson, 2006; Naish et al., 2002).

The new GCSE specifications all have an element of geographical enquiry. Take the AQA specification as an example, which assesses the enquiry process in the following ways:

  • Questions based on the use of fieldwork materials from an unfamiliar context.
  • Questions based on students’ individual enquiry work. For these questions, students will have to identify the titles of their individual enquiries.

In practice, however, opportunities for geographical enquiry are often missed as we plough through the copious content of the new GCSE specifications.

Like many geography teachers across the country, I have been guilty of focussing on the individual enquiry’s students need to complete while paying limited lip service to addressing fieldwork from an unfamiliar context. Having asked geography teachers on Twitter how they prepared students for unfamiliar fieldwork enquiry questions, the results did not surprise me.

Twitter results

It is probably fair to say, even based on this limited sample, geography departments across the country tend to focus on the two compulsory fieldwork investigations but spend little or no time on other aspects of geographical enquiry. Having re-read the AQA GCSE geography examiner’s report for paper three, it is clear that enquiry skills, particularly in the unseen context, is an area for development.  Misunderstandings such as the difference between data collection technique and data presentation technique are also highlighted.

In all honesty, and after considerable reflection, I think we are doing both our students and our discipline a disservice if we are not including geographical enquiry throughout the curriculum. However, we face significant challenges in addressing this. Many are finding the increase in the content covered in the new GCSE curriculum a problem to get through. Additionally, an increasing number of schools are reverting to a two-year key stage 4.

Despite these challenges and without ripping up the curriculum and starting again, simple tweaks can be made to the curriculum, our practice and delivery that will allow us to better address geographical enquiry. We should do this not just for the sake of meeting the needs the expectations of the specification but more importantly, to make our students better geographers.

Let’s get tweaking…

In the AQA specification students will be questioned on fieldwork from an unfamiliar context including, but not limited to:

  • identifying geographical questions/hypothesis
  • identifying risk and strategies for managing this
  • identifying appropriate investigation techniques
  • identifying appropriate presentation techniques
  • completing unfinished data presentation
  • describing/explaining data
  • completing data analysis (mean, median, mode etc.)
  • forming conclusions

There are many opportunities to embed unfamiliar fieldwork throughout the AQA GCSE Geography course, providing students with multiple opportunities to hone their enquiry skills. Students exposed to unfamiliar fieldwork, little and often, are more likely to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to complete effective fieldwork investigations and improve their enquiry skills.

Most units in the AQA GCSE Geography specification provide opportunities for addressing unfamiliar fieldwork. At an appropriate point within a unit, when students have acquired a strong foundation of subject knowledge, geographical enquiry can be introduced.

So, how might this look in practice?

If the first GCSE unit covered is ecosystems, introduce an unfamiliar fieldwork enquiry by showing your students an image of a deciduous forest ecosystem (once they have studied this aspect of the course). Next, model several examples of geographical questions/hypothesis for this environment, then ask them to develop more. Paired or group work might be appropriate at this stage. You could also address the risks associated with completing fieldwork in this environment and examine risk management along with some basic data presentation and interpretation.

Identify enquiry questions and risks associated with the deciduous forest

Identify enquiry questions and risks associated with the deciduous forest

In the next unit, present the students with another image and ask them to formulate questions independently, identify risks along with strategies for managing the risk and complete data presentation and interpretation. Next, spend time examining the fieldwork techniques that will support investigating the geographical question(s)/hypothesis. The students can then select appropriate data collection techniques for their enquiry questions/hypothesis (perhaps from a list of methods suitable for the environment) and justify their choice.

River fieldwork techniques

River fieldwork techniques

For homework, they can re-visit their ecosystems enquiry and identify suitable data collection techniques (again, from a list of possible approaches), explaining their choice.

As you move through units, expose your students to further aspects of the enquiry processes, including:

  • data presentation
  • data processing
  • describing, analysing and explaining data
  • forming conclusions
  • evaluation

In addition to addressing unfamiliar fieldwork in class, assessments should include unfamiliar enquiry questions from the beginning of the course. Start small and build throughout the course.

Unfamiliar fieldwork questions - rivers

Unfamiliar fieldwork questions – rivers

Below is an outline of resources available to Internet Geography Plus subscribers to support with the enquiry process.

I will be sharing further thoughts on how to embed enquiry in the geography curriculum in future posts.

Comments are welcome below!

Anthony

Internet Geography Plus resources to support with enquiry

To support the above approach, we are developing a range of resources for AQA units that cover fieldwork in unfamiliar contexts. These will include:

• exam questions and mark schemes covering unfamiliar fieldwork contexts
• a PowerPoint resource to support the process of tackling unfamiliar fieldwork contexts in a range of units
• examples of techniques used in a variety of fieldwork investigations
• example fieldwork enquiries

Our first set of resources, available to Internet Geography Plus subscribers include:

Did you know? Our Geography Curriculum Tracking Tool allows you to plan for progression in developing enquiry skills. The tracking tool is useful, not just for planning for progression, but is handy if you suffer a ‘deep dive’.

If you have any resources to share in this area, please send them over to admin@internetgeography.net.

Questions based on students’ individual enquiry work

We are currently developing resources to support students in the enquiry process. These guides will take the students through the enquiry sequence and will provide examples of what they need to consider. The A3 resources are fully editable so you can customise them to meet the needs of your students. Each resource pack also contains an overview of the enquiry process and a summary document they can complete at the end of the investigation to support revision.

Fieldwork investigation guide – rivers (available to download in the Internet Geography Plus area)

You can download our first draft of a river-based investigation guide and presentation.

These documents will be updated as we build more online guides to support data presentation techniques etc.

Look out for additional resources shortly.

7.7 Billion People and Counting

If you’ve not seen 7.7 Billion People and Counting Horizon documentary by Chris Packham, you really should. Chris presents the causes and effects of exponential population growth on Earth in a way that is accessible.

The episode is full of synoptic links and effectively brings together many units of the GCSE specification including development/economic challenges, urban environments, resources and ecosystems.




It really is worth showing this programme to GCSE groups to help them see the big picture of their GCSE course. No other programme, to my knowledge, does it as well as this one.

The diagram below provides a breakdown and timings for the episode if you want to ‘cherry-pick’ elements of the programme.

Outline and timings for 7.7 Billion People and Counting

Outline and timings for 7.7 Billion People and Counting

A more detailed break down is provided below.

Detailed outline and timings for 7.7 Billion People and Counting

You can view the 7.7 Billion People and Counting on BBC iPlayer until around the 18th February 2020.

Sarah Dodgson has kindly agreed to share a set of questions and answers for students to use when watching the programme:

We’ve also developed an exercise for students to investigate synoptic links explored in the programme.

7.7 Billion People and Counting Synoptic Links

7.7 Billion People and Counting Synoptic Links

In this exercise, students are to complete the unpopulated circles around key concepts and case studies. Once they have done this they are to develop links between the different aspect of geography covered in the programme. An example of this has been included (see line 1 above). The students then discuss how these different elements are connected.

You can download the A3 7.7 billion people and counting synoptic links document in Word format. If you develop any variations of this please share with us and we’ll upload to the site.

If you have any resources you’ve developed around this programme we’d really appreciate it if you shared then with us to post on the site. Please email them to admin@internetgeography.net.

These resources are available due to support by Internet Geography Plus subscribers. Please help us further develop the site by taking out a low-cost subscription. 

 

Grid Reference Retrieval

Grid reference retrieval is a simple way of encouraging students to recall information and make links between different elements within a unit of study. It provides the opportunity for students to re-visit grid references then make connections between what they have been learning.

Grid Reference Retrieval

A pre-requisite of completing an activity like this requires the students to have already studied the unit, so it is ideal for revisiting learning and making links.

Grid reference retrieval can also be further developed to include multiple units, encouraging students to make synoptic links.




Another way this activity can be developed is to colour code the squares and allocated points to the colours. More challenging elements should carry a higher tariff to encourage students to tackle these elements of the unit.

There are a range of different ways this resource can be used in the classroom, including:

  • students working independently
  • providing students with grid references (could be differentiated by ability)
  • students playing battleships

Download the Natural Hazards Tectonics Grid Reference Retrieval Template

Download the Climate Hazards Grid Reference Retieval Template

If you create your own version of this please send us a copy (admin@internetgeography.net) and we’ll share it here.

Geography Revision Timetable 2020

Last year we shared a fantastic revision timetable for AQA GCSE Geography developed by Laura Gregson (@grego_geog),  inspired by @MrThorntonTeach.

This year, Charlotte Clarke (of @HornseyGeog) has been first to share a version for 2020. There are some repeat questions in there that cover some of the areas Charlotte’s students need to revisit. However, it is fully editable so you can customise it for your students. If you do customise it please send us a copy to share here via admin@internetgeography.net




You can download Charlotte’s version by clicking the image below.

GCSE Geography Revision Timetable

Geography Revision Grids

Several geography revision grids have been well received on Twitter recently. An example is shown below.

Living World Revision Grids

To support teachers we’ve put together a set of revision grids for AQA GCSE Geography paper 1, Edexcel A Component 1 The Physical Environment and Edexcel B, Hazardous Earth, People and the Biosphere and Forests Under Threat.

Revision Grids

AQA GCSE Geography Paper 1 Revision Grids

 

Edexcel A GCSE Geography Component 1 Revision Grids

Edexcel A GCSE Geography Component 1 Revision Grids

 

Revision Grids Set A Edexcel B GCSE Geography

Revision Grids Set A Edexcel B GCSE Geography

You can download each set of revision grids in PDF format for free below:

Subscribers to Internet Geography Plus can log in and download editable PowerPoint versions of these resources.

What do you buy a geography teacher for Christmas?

Geography teachers are amazing creatures. They are talented, intelligent, attractive and funny, so what do you buy the person who has everything? Worry not, we’ve put together a list of must-have gifts for the geography teacher in your life.

1. Stocking fillers

This reusable coffee cup, made from recycled plastic, is ideal for geography teachers on the go!

If your geography teacher enjoys the great outdoors, an elzle Solar Charger 26800mAh and powerbank 15W(5V/3A) provides energy on the go, is fast charging and waterproof. 

2. Floating Globe
The e-plaza C shape Floating globe with LED lights magnetic field levitation education globe for home/office decoration looks cool. Be sure to opt for the 4″ version as it spins!

3. Drone

Another great Christmas present for the geography teacher in your life has to be a drone. If your budget is tight considered a tello drone or if you want to splash the cash consider a DJI Mavic Pro 2. The newly released, mid-budget, Mavic Mini is also worth a look!



4. Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain book
Cheap, cheerful and guaranteed to keep them occupied, the new Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain Book will keep them quiet during the festive period.

5. Ordnance Survey Colouring Book
For the more creative geography teacher treat them to an OS map colouring book. If you need to, throw in some colouring pencils. Just make sure they don’t go over the lines and the shading is in one direction.

6. Ordnance Survey OS Maps online subscription
A subscription to OS Maps will win the heart of the geography teacher who loves the great outdoors. They can plan routes online, check them out in 3D and use their mobile phones to stay on the right path in the great outdoors. Of course, don’t bother if you’re after losing them! Find out more about OS Maps online subscription.

7. A good read
We’ve compiled a list of books that should be on every geography teacher’s bookshelf. Take a look at our favourite reads.

8. A personalised OS Map
The Ordnance Survey offers a personalised map service. Focus on their favourite area or create a unique gift with folded, flat or framed maps. Show the instantly recognisable style of the OS Explorer and OS Landranger leisure maps.



9. Anemometer
Sit and watch them blow it until they’re blue in the face. If it’s peace and quiet you are looking for, look no further than an anemometer.

10. Geography Teacher Mug
Perfect for break-time refreshments, treat them to a mug

11. Tooth Brush Holder
Finish off their bathroom with the perfect toothbrush holder

12. Gin
What more could the gin-loving geography teacher want? Yes, you guessed it, more gin! Mother’s ruin will help them plough through marking on an evening. Take a look at these craft gins.

13. Beers
Let them travel the world with their taste buds. Beer Hawk has put together a great collection of world beers. Staying closer to home you won’t go wrong with Marston’s classic ales.

14. Geography Stationery
Who doesn’t love a bit a nice stationery? Throw in a geographical theme and the geography teacher in your life will love it. You might consider:

15. Globe
It sounds obvious but why not go for a light-up globe? Alternatively, this floating globe with LED lights is pretty impressive.

16. Globe Drinks Cabinet
The best of both worlds! Drinks + globe = happy geography teacher. Treat your geographer to a globe-shaped mini bar drinks cabinet

17. A GPS Device

18. T-shirt
Geography teachers are loud and proud about their subject. Help them shout about it with a geography-related t-shirt.

19. An anorak
Ok, walking jackets are a lot more sophisticated now than they were in the past. Why not look after them and keep them warm with an insulated coat or dry with a waterproof jacket.

20. Virtual Reality
A VR headset will get them turning heads (sorry, that was shocking). A VR headset combined with a smartphone and Google Earth VR puts the whole world within their reach.

Synoptic Links in Geography Revision

The aims and learning outcomes of the AQA GCSE Geography course focus heavily on students thinking, studying and applying like a geographer. This includes students making links and applying their knowledge to a range of real-world contexts.

The Assessment Objectives in geography clearly reflect these aims and learning outcomes. AO2, for example, involves students demonstrating an understanding of the interrelationships between places, environments and processes. Also, AO3 covers the application of knowledge and understanding to make judgements. Combined, these two assessment objectives account for up to 70% of the assessment weightings in the AQA GCSE Geography course.

Therefore, it is critically important, not just in creating good geographers, but also in raising achievement that students develop the ability to make synoptic links in geography. Some students will have an innate ability to think like a geographer and make connections in the world we live in. However, others will need support in developing their ability to do this.

The document below encourages students to connect their learning to the wider world. The example covers the synoptic links that exist between The Living World unit and the other main units in the AQA GCSE Geography specification. This could be used once the Living World unit has been completed, using the additional guidance on the second page to support, along with a textbook. Alternatively, it could be used once all the major units have been completed as a summary revision activity.

Synoptic Links Revision Activity

Synoptic Links Revision Activity

The students draw lines representing synoptic links between The Living World and other units. An example of this is shown below. Students should be encouraged to further develop links that address multiple units.

Synoptic Links Revision Activity Support

Synoptic Links Revision Activity Support

There are synoptic links support resources available for students to access on Internet Geography.

Download the A3 Living World Synoptic Links revision document

Geography Myth Busters

Misconceptions? Who you gonna call? Geography Myth Busters! 

I recently asked geography teachers for the most common misconceptions that crop up in the classroom. As usual, the geography teacher community came up trumps with lots of suggestions. To return the favour, I’ve collated some of the most common misconceptions and created a pack of A4 posters to download for free.




The resource can be used in a range of ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • display one a week and have a competition to encourage students to explain why it is a misconception
  • distribute them to your class and get them to prepare a presentation as to why it is a misconception
  • put up on your classroom wall and use them as a discussion point
  • add a QR code that links to a web page that busts the myth so students can find out why its a misconception

If you have any other ideas to share or if you think we’ve missed a common misconception leave a comment below!

Download the PPT presentation containing the posters below (32MB).

Download Geography Myth Busters

Hexagon Thinking Task

The use of hexagon thinking tasks has been popular on twitter recently. The principle is simple, students are to describe what the hexagon shows and how it relates to the content of the central hexagon.

If you have hexagon thinking task resources that you are willing to share please send them to admin@internetgeography.net and we’ll publish them below.

We’ve put together a template to support teachers in using them.

Click the image below to download the template.

Hexagon thinking tasks shared by the geography teacher community

Stephanie Ramsdale (@geog_missR) has shared a collection of hexagon thinking tasks covering sustainable urban development, evidence of climate change, natural causes of climate change and contested borders in Taiwan. Click the image below to download.

Hexagon Thinking Task

Investigating links in geography using KnowledgeBase Builder

Geographers see connections in the world, how things interact and inter-relate. Making links in geography involves examining relationships within and across themes. An understanding of these links supports students in seeing how the world is interconnected.

One strategy to encourage students to investigate links could involve the use of concept maps. However, before your students attempt their own concept maps it would be useful to live model links with them. Enter KnowledgeBase Builder.




Available for Windows, Android, IOS and Mac OS, KnowledgeBase Builder is a remarkably easy tool to map out curriculum content then investigate links. In the example below, we have produced a simple map the characteristics of the tropical rainforest (for demonstration purposes, there’s lots more that could be added). The characteristics are grouped under headings including vegetation and climate etc. This could be achieved by students contributing key features based on prior learning.

Characteristics of tropical rainforests

Characteristics of tropical rainforests

Next, it’s time to investigate links between the different characteristics. Simply drag a connection between two elements, give it a simple title and an explanation of how the two are connected. Below is an example of a link between buttress roots and emergents.

Making a link

Making a link

Once an explanation has been added in the description box, simply click the link to display the explanation as shown below.

View the link

View the link

You can view your map in a range of ways including as a table which shows the main characteristics as shown below.

Information presented as a table

Information presented as a table

You can also view the map in 3D. Which looks pretty fancy! It is possible to save the 3D graphic as an animated gif.




There are several options for exporting your finished diagram. Below is an example of an exported image.

The information can also be exported as an HTML file (web page).

Other features included in the software to explore include:

  • adding images
  • reverse links where flows/links go in both directions
  • adding hyperlinks
  • embedding Wikipedia pages

In this example we have explored links within a theme, however, we can just as easily develop a map over time and explore synoptic links in geography.