Geographical Association Conference 2015

9-11 April 2015, University of Manchester

Below you can find our Education Officer’s notes from this year’s inspiring Geographical Association Annual Conference in Manchester in April. We hope they are useful. She found it incredibly difficult to decide which sessions to attend, as there were so many great options!

Please also visit for session downloads, and links to the blogs of some inspiring Geography teachers. Photos from this year’s conference are available here:

  1. Lecture: Climate change, glacier decline and water resources

David Collins, Professor of Physical Geography, University of Salford

Prof. Collins discussed the importance of glacier-fed rivers around the world for drinking water, irrigation and hydropower, and concerns that this resource was rapidly decreasing from maximum extents recorded in the 1860s. The material covered made me think of Ethan Steinman’s excellent documentary, ‘Glacial Balance.’ Glacial Balance DVDs are available for schools to purchase at £35 each, including free shipping.

Glacial Balance

  1. Consolidating your thinking: 21st century Geographical Enquiry

David Weatherly, School Improvement Advisor & Geography Consultant

  • Key question: what does outstanding Geography provision consist of?
  1. Geography makes a unique contribution, making links between people and environment.
  2. Understanding what it means to get better at Geography. Progression of skills: Name (recognise) > Identify > Locate > Describe > Observe > Reason >Measure, record and present > Explain > Conclude > Make judgements > Evaluate > Reflect > Critique > Hypothesise

There is also progression in subject vocabulary: basic > appropriate > specialised

Both the mastering and application of subject tools (e.g. scatter graphs, bar graphs) and subject skills (e.g. interpretation, hypothesising, speculating) are important.

  1. Planning for outcomes, not outputs.
  2. Learning through key question-led enquiry. Do less better! Young people should learn to question knowledge and facts, not accept them as gospel.

Enquiry Planning Process

  • Identify appropriate outcomes for stage of learning
  • Agree topic/place/theme/issue focus.
  • Consider what’s most meaningful and relevant about this for young people to know, think about, and act on.
  • Identify key enquiry questions to lead learning: when, where, what who, why, how.
  • Relevance and challenge are crucial.
  1. Subject content (always comes last!)
  • What is it about rivers, tectonics, coasts…that is relevant and meaningful for young people growing up in the 21st century?

Questions during school inspection:

  1. Are pupils engaged and motivated?
  2. Are pupils being challenged intellectually?
  3. Are pupils making progress and/or is there scope (time and space) for making progress?

Pupils are learning to be geographers, rather than learning to be good at Geography.

We looked at an example of an enquiry about sinkholes in one of new Geographical Enquiry books. The books are excellent.

  1. 10 Ways To Teach 10 Diagrams

Anna Moore, Programme Leader in Geography, Exeter College 

  1. Lego population pyramids
  1. Plasticene!
  • Coastal features
  • Plate boundaries
  • Meanders – use different colours to show fast and slow flow
  • Waterfalls – use different colours to show harder and softer rock

Use as a recap, or when introducing a new feature/topic.

  1. Back-to-back drawing

Pupils describe a diagram e.g. past paper question to their partners, who draws. Develops their ability to quickly pick out features and DESCRIBE!!

  1. Be a part(icle) of the Hjulstrom Curve Diagram
  • Distribute photo cards, like the ones in the photo e.g. you are a particle of gravel with a diameter of 5mm; you are a particle of clay with a diameter of 0.008mm.
  • Read out velocities. Pupils move accordingly, depending on their particle size:
    • Deposition = sitting
    • Erosion = standing up
    • Transportation = walking around

Think about other active ways to show river processes e.g. suspension = piggy back; traction = somersaults (cross-curricular with PE!!)

  1. Hands-On Diagram e.g. constructive and destructive waves 

When out on a beach for fieldwork, spend time getting all pupils to put their hands in the shingle to show the difference in berm heights formed from constructive and destructive waves.

  1. Demographic Consequences (DTM revision)

Concertina an A4 (landscape) sheet of paper to make 5 sections. In the column on the furthest left, draw BR, DR and total population lines for Stage 1 of the DTM, ensuring that the ends of the lines just go into column 2, so that the next person can see where to start. Fold to hide your work, then pass to person 2, who completes for Stage 2 of the DTM, then folds their column to hide in and passes it to person 3, and so on. Good way to ascertain where the misunderstandings are. Using different colours for BR, DR and total population will make it easier.

  1. Oreo Cookie Tectonics

Remove the top of the Oreo cookie and break the top into two then demonstrate different types of plate boundary (the cream is the mantle).

Mine didn’t work very well and someone suggested using crackers and plasticene instead – not so tasty though!!

Other edible geography suggestions:

  • Jelly babies (population) and blue flying saucers (water) – show water surplus and deficit (not sure how – let me know how you get on!!)
  • Using ice-cream as a glacier
  • Angel cake coasts (classic!)
  • Population jelly babies
  1. Maps from Memory
  • Groups of 4, numbered. In turn, one minute each to look at a diagram or annotated photos at the front of the class, then report back to team to reproduce it (30 seconds). Play music in the background!
  • In PowerPoint, block off parts of a diagram, and pupils have to drawing the missing parts.
  1. Get Creative!

e.g. card model of the structure of a volcano; pop-up coasts

  1. Other ideas

Bingo grid of key words (devised by pupils when thinking about possible content) when watching a clip/DVD.

  1. Map Skills Outside of Map Skills

Rachel Denison, PGCE Geography student, University of London

  1. The Most Remote Mountain on the Planet

Leo Houlding 

  • com – shows the scale of Ulvetanna
  • Adventure Learning Schools scheme
  • “There a fine line between bravery and stupidity aka between badass and dumbass.”
  • 16 November 2015 – Leo Houlding’s next expedition to Antarctica, with more of an education focus (OCR involvement) – Adventure Learning Expedition – look out for the new resources!
  1. App Suggestions (from Liz Crisp, SAGT, who attended the session)
  • Showbie – better than Edmodo?
  • Invoto
  • RM books – £1.50 per pupil – raise literacy standards
  • Digital gene
  • Quizlet
  • Socrative
  • Edmodo
  • Explain Everything
  • World Atlas (Nat Geo – quicker than Google Earth)
  • Dragon – dictation
  • Learning and teaching tools
  • Noteability Evernote
  • iDoceo3 – teaching assistant for IPad
  1. The Impact of the Ordinary: the Story of a Geography Department

Claire Kyndt, Head of Geography, & Alan Parkinson The King’s School, Ely @KingsElyGeog

  • ‘Learning adventurously’ – authentic, real world learning
  • Ely’s mission statement: Creativity – Integrity – Energy
  • Use Piktochart to make infographics
  • Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities; look for common opportunities and make them great!
  • Look for stories and narratives; enquiry is important.
  • Learning Grid – John Sayers
  • Mission:Explore
  • ‘Stories from a geography classroom’ – Alan Parkinson’s Blog:
  • Big Outdoors Day & Passports
  • Use people within the school – range of previous jobs!
  • IPhone Apps – Tony Cassidy – Inuit and climate change – submit best one to the Apps Store for peer review
  • Geography Map Faces using OS maps to create a simplified image of your face
  • Captain Geography – Year 7 – create own superhero with costume and utility belt!
  • Globalisation revision walk (GlobEly Connected – make the link between walking and learning)
  • E-Waste – Follow the thinks unit e.g. produce a Health & Safety guide for new employees (children) working in Ghana’s landfill sites
  • Stepup challenge – climb the height of The Shard
  • com – polar environments – ‘what’s the coldest you’ve ever been?’
  • Year 7 – The Ice Man – Otzi – glaciers, mountain, adventure
  • Danny Macaskill – mountain biking; adventure and landscape
  • Food homework booklets e.g. fish and chips on a plate: fish – quotes regarding threats, chips – solutions
  • WaterAid – twin your toilet
  • Pupil voice – G Factor – pupils choose topics by voting
  • Flip Classroom – Moodles (open source learning platform), discussion boards etc before the lesson, springboards discussion
  • Ingrid Pollard photos – Lake District
  • DIRT – time to reflect, edit and collaborate
  • 45 minute reading challenges for free periods
  • Boards around the room – pupils add ideas
  • Takeaway Homework menus
  • An Interactive Journey – ‘KingsEly’ on You Tube
  • Reading Challenge 2015
  • Gaming: Pandemic (Development & Health) – end of unit – make a board game
  • Revision time – Jenga; song lyrics, make up revision packs containing highlighters, PostIts etc
  • Film group – use Netflix? Erin Brokovitch, The Impossible etc.
  • Photo group
  • com – tracking a book using barcodes
  • Getting parents involved – quiz questions, exam questions
  • RGS Young Geographer of the Year
  • #teacher5aday
  1. Teaching Geography with great GIS

Jason Sawle, Education Consultant, ESRI 

  • – free 3D
  • Worked through a number of different tasks – confidence boosted!
  • Spreadsheet containing data with latitude and longitude can be dragged to the map, and the data points are quickly plotted.
  • Free 60 day trial is available; for analysis tools, OS data and pupil logins, a subscription is needed.
  1. Special Educational Needs in the Mainstream Classroom

Miriam Cook, Subject Leader, Geography, London 

  • Teach note-taking
  • Consider alternatives for those who find note-taking difficult: spider diagrams, blank fills, use of technology, mind maps, annotation
  • Calculate SMOG level of a text: readability score
  1. Global Learning Programme: what impact can it have?

Dr Paula Owens (Curriculum Development Leader, GA) & Steve Brace (Head of Education & OL, RGS) 

  • Supports geographical learning in KS2 & KS3. More information is available here:
  • Issues:
    • Understanding and progression e.g. what is globalisation and what does it look like in Year 3 or Year 9? What foundation should there be in KS1?
    • High quality Geography e.g. how does Geography contribute to global learning? Is it high quality, and what is the evidence?
    • Critical thinking and values e.g. What? How? When? Balance?
    • Impact e.g. what impact is our teaching having on our pupils? How do we know?
  • Transition Project KS2-3 – £500 available per state school in England and Wales. Ideas of content at different Key Stages is available here: Resources/ideas are still useful in Scotland!!
  • Geographical knowledge e.g. definitions
  • Cultural knowledge – contextualised knowledge, linked to values; might be contested; different views; empathy; tolerance and understanding >>> informs decision-making
  • Critical thinking – ask difficult questions; challenge knowledge and stereotypes; use multiple sources of evidence; flexibility and openness; consider possibilities >>> well-informed decisions
  • Model UN Conference: Climate Change
  • Inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world, which will hopefully be lifelong!
  • Stop using ‘Zombie’ case studies – update them! What’s changed? E.g. Development – consider BRICS (Brazil, India, China, South Africa) & MINT (Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey); low income-middle income-high income classifications from the World Bank.
  • When discussing global trade, we often look at bananas or cocoa beans, but the most commonly traded commodity is OIL!
  • The Economist article: decrease in absolute poverty. Don’t underestimate the change and the great gains that have been made – do we reflect this change in our teaching?
  1. Borders, migration and globalisation: changing geographies of mobility

Jonathan Darling, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Manchester

  • Spatial ‘stretching’ of borders – shifted boundaries, internalised
  • Borders institutionalise inequality and maintain privilege and inequalitysteiff-limited-edition-paddington-bear-78151-0-1417083604000
  • Increasingly the border function is selective – not ‘a line in the sand’
  • Italy’s ‘Push Back’ Policy
  • From May 2009, migrants intercepted in international waters were put on ferries to Libya. Claims for asylum and legal status were checked in Libya where migrants were detained. However, Libya did not sign up to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and therefore, did not have to formally recognise refugees/asylum seekers. Italy supplied Libya with helicopters and surveillance equipment. This all stopped post-Gaddafi.
  • Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’) – programme of stricter patrolling of the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. It became a search and rescue policy. This concluded in October 2014 due to financial pressure.
  • Mare Nostrum was replaced by Operation Triton. The navy were largely replaced by the Coastguard (civilian) – much smaller and with a reduced range, only 30 miles off the Italian coast. This operation has one-third of the budget of Mare Nostrum. Plans are under discussion to ‘outsource’ sea patrols to Egypt and Tunisia and establish reception centres in North Africa. This places the EU border on a different continent!
  • Spain – ‘liquid walls’
    • Increased security led to a doubling of the naval fleet in the Mediterranean along the coast of Spain. This pushed the migration flow further east, to Libya and Tunisia. The same thing happened on the USA-Mexico border as authorities concentrated their attention on certain streams of migrants e.g. Tijuana, which meant that the migrants were pushed further out into the desert, increasing the death toll.
  • Estimated migrant deaths in the Mediterranean:
    • 2012: 500
    • 2013: 600
    • 2014: 3419
    • 2015 (Jan-April): 486 (in the first quarter of 2014, there were 46 deaths)
  • The death toll has increased, while the numbers of migrants has remained similar.
  • 170,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean in 2014.
  • Extension of border function as a way of thinking e.g. US Minutemen; US Borderwatch website – crowd sourcing defence!
  • UK policies to police immigration status:
  • So, what would happen to Paddington today?
    • Detention and deportation to Peru. This would be difficult, because an agreement between countries is needed.
    • The Browns would get up to 14 years in prison for ‘harbouring an illegal immigrant.’
  • Borders and Geography
    • Spatial reach of Governments
    • Re-routing of migration paths
    • Motivations of migrants
    • Cartography of borders (including their historical geography)
    • Questions of responsibility
  • There are currently 250 detention centres in EU member states.
  • The map below, shows the main causes of migrant deaths across Europe (including drowning, asphyxiation in cargo ships/trucks, and suicide)
  • We must educate about context, connection, motivations and responsibility, and encourage empathy.

Map showing main causes of migrant deaths

migrant deaths



  1. Rethinking the Teaching of Development

Dr Alex Standish, Co-Director, London Geography Alliance/Senior Lecturer in Geography Education, University of London 

  • What is Development?
    • Change, growth, process and goal, social and economic, improvement (progress is linear, improvement is not)
    • Consumption over production
    • Very little focus on economic structures. More focus on individual lives, so small-scale development projects.
  • Decreasing number of people living in poverty – not an even pattern, and some areas seem trapped in poverty.
  • China has contributed significantly to the statistics on reducing poverty

  • Higher percentage growth in ELDCs than in EMDCs. Increased investment e.g. in sub-Saharan countries.

  1. The Geography of Elections

Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, Oxford University

  • Office for National Statistics – graphs and maps e.g. commuting, life expectancy, teenage pregnancies, changing family sizes, household spending, rural-urban definition, personal wellbeing map etc.

  • The UK is the most unequal country in Western Europe.
  • Public expenditure as a % of GDP is reducing in the UK. It is now less than the USA and any other country in Western Europe.
  • We need to compare ourselves more with other countries, to avoid having blinkers on and sticking with the status quo.
  • Europe Mapper: the social atlas of Europe
  • Views of the World website – Ben Henning
  1. Stretch Them!

Edwin Chew, Geography Teacher, Singapore 

  • Today’s Meet – give everyone a voice – interactive way to start a lesson
  • My Place, My Home – pupils write about their favourite place, one they would like to revisit, and somewhere they would like to go in the future, then the entries are posted onto a class blog e.g. blogspot
  • Wheel of Reasoning – scaffold thinking and writing –

wheel of reasoning

  • 5Ws & 1H
  • Layers of meaning – build ability to describe photos – foreground, background, quarters. What does the photo tell me? What can I infer?
  • Popplet – Ipad App for organising ideas
  • Use regular online surveys (e.g. every 10 weeks) to find out what pupils think about their lessons.
  1. Awe & Wonder in Geography

Becky Kitchen, Head of Geography, Aylesbury High School

  • Awesome Landscapes – show images – what makes it awesome? Score 1-10
  • Earth from the Air images available online – what’s happening here? e.g.
  • 10 images in an envelope per pair – order according to human impact on the landscape. What makes images, environments or places ‘awesome’?
  • Guardian images
  • Researching awesome facts – have a Pointless scheme to make pupils dig deeper!
  • Show facts onscreen, with blanks, to get them thinking
  • Photo Challenge: what’s unique about this place?
  • Choice of fieldwork tasks:
    • Danger! – identify all hazards in 100m
    • Visiting from space – how would an alien from outer space experience this environment? What questions would they have? What would they do?
    • If you were homeless where would you sleep in this area, and why?
    • Wordscape
  • Modelling – 2 lesson on the physical geography of Japan: 1 lesson for preparation, 1 lesson for model-making (using items pupils bring in from home to reduce prep time for the teacher!)
  • Adopt a US state – homework project and level assessment
  • Making the ordinary awesome e.g. Mission: Explore
  • Treasure Trails for 50-60 places in the UK – story/murder mystery as you follow the trail (£6.99 each):
  • Pupils create a fact file of 10 awesome places in the UK
  • Quiz Classrooms or Toilets from around the world. Toilet twinning (WaterAid)
  • Guardian Eyewitness App
  1. Re-thinking Starters: the use of stimulus material

Rebecca Priest, NQT Geography Teacher, Coventry

  • Inspire curiosity and fascination about the world!
  • Criteria for Initial Stimulus Material:
    • Uses material in certain ways to stimulate interest and curiosity.
    • Establishes a line of geographical enquiry via a key question or series of questions.
    • Outlines learning aims and objectives in a clever, meaningful way.
  • Examples:
    • Year 8 sorting recycling
    • Year 7 – 50 cocoa beans per group; each bean = 1p Chocolate bar costs 50p. Groups are given 2 minutes to split beans between 6 groups to represent how much money they should get (then compare with how much money they really get):
      • Shops: 12p; Government: 8p; Government of source country: 2p; non-cocoa ingredients: 7p; chocolate company: 20p; farmers: 1p
    • Sao Paolo contrasting development photo: show half the photo, and the class sketches the other half
    • Sounds/feelings – what can you hear? What would it feel like to be standing in this place? What might you be doing?

Please send any comments/feedback to Rachel Hay: If you were at the GA conference too, and would like to share what you learned, please get in touch!



Next GA conference:

Geographical Association Conference 7-9th April 2016: Making Geographical Connections