5 simple open day ideas for your geography department

Lego blocks

Open days/mornings/evenings are a chance to showcase the great work you do in your department: the event may be aimed at potential GCSE/A Level candidates or it may be for prospective pupils (and their parents) who are entirely new to the school. Whatever the audience here are five ideas to help you make the most out of the opportunity.

  1. Get your geographers doing geography!

You may well have a group of pupils who have volunteered to help you in the department. To get the best from them (and in so doing show parents their enthusiasm for geography) you need to get them involved in a stimulating geographical activity – something they will enjoy and, for practical reasons, will be able to do without close supervision. The activity you choose will depend on your resources, workspace and the age, skills and interests of your volunteers.

Practical activities can work really well: such as making contour relief models out of cardboard  and models from paper such as Montserrat Volcano from the British Geological Society website. A word of warning: craft knives are the easiest tools to use for this but you may want to stick to scissors bearing in mind you will have visitors and possibly very young children accompanying parents.

Pupils enjoy playing geographical games such as the drag and drop map games on the Sheppard Software website. This can be projected onto the IWB and I often find that visiting children and parents get involved! This engineering for earthquakes game also gets pupils thinking and can be displayed on the board.

More traditional geographical games are also popular: they get pupils engaged and help to create an energetic atmosphere.  Wonders of the World top trumps, Flags of the World and geographical Bananagrams have been played enthusiastically during open days and pupils enjoy pitting their geographical wits against their peers.

  1. Get the visitors involved

TwitterTalking to parents and prospective pupils is a crucial part of an open day. However, there are plenty of other ways to get parents and children involved in the work of your department. Popular activities include quizzes and questionnaires. One idea I particularly like – picked up on Twitter from @kesgeography – is where a cube or piece of Lego is placed on a world map according to each visitor’s grandparents’ countries of origin. This is a great way of creating something visual out of simple geographical primary research.

QRFor past open days I have also created a QR code quiz for visitors whereby internet research enables them to answer clues – the answers then spell out a geographical word. Obviously if visitors have QR code readers on their mobile phones this works a treat but you may have a departmental tablet that they can use.

  1. Show off your resources

Resources vary greatly between schools but whatever you have, show it off! For example many departments may have a set of iPads or bank of PCs in the classroom; some will have GIS packages and/or a weather station. What we will all have, however, is pupils’ work: displaying (neat!) exercise books and/or files from older pupils is a great way of showing off much of the good work undertaken in your lessons. The marking will also show teacher feedback and will be really informative and encouraging for the parents. Photographs of other work (have your pupils enjoyed a passionate debate or created pop-up drainage basins, for example?) will illustrate the range of teaching and learning strategies undertaken in the department. Neat copies of textbooks, journals you subscribe to, field work equipment (clinometers, rain gauge, chain for example) and field work investigations are also well worth putting out on display.

  1. Brag about trips and special events

Fieldwork is an integral part of geography education and these field trip are certainly worth shouting about! Photographs of pupils collecting data, having fun in the field and working together will help you convey the spirit of geography in your school. Displaying a list and photos of past trips (local, national and/or international) will show parents the variety of opportunities you provide for each year group. Don’t forget to include any cross-curricular trips.

One-off, special events should also be publicised: have you invited a visiting speaker to address your geographers? Have you entered a team for the Geographical Association Worldwise Quiz (or run it as an in-house event)? Have there been any departmental competitions or initiatives? If so, let prospective parents and pupils know about them.

  1. Share impressive public exam information

If you have particularly impressive examination results you should take the opportunity to share them. Often results can be found on school websites but displaying them in your department may be more meaningful. You should be proud to celebrate pupil achievement in this way and parents will find the information useful. If your department does particularly well in terms of value added that is also something you may wish to publicize.

Rebecca Veals

Rebecca Veals undertook her PGCE at the Institute of Education, and went on to her first job at Eltham College in London, where she spent four years. She is now Head of Geography at The King’s School, in Gloucester, a position which she has held since 2010.