There is no doubt that the profile of geography is in rude health: geography is the “must-have A level” according to an article in The Guardian last August and reports from the Royal Geographical Society show that geography is now the 8th most popular subject at A level (having seen the largest increase in entries of any subject in 2014-15). The various reasons for this surge in popularity are discussed in an article in the TES by Rita Gardner. So, the study of geography is looking healthy but what can teachers do at the “grass roots” to maintain the trend and boost the profile of the subject further in schools? Here are a few ideas.
- Focus on field trips
Field trips are arguably one of the real highlights of a student’s school experience and geography is the subject best placed to deliver exciting opportunities for academic work “in the field”. The changing GCSE and A Level specifications will compel geography departments to look again at their field work provision. There will undoubtedly be challenges to overcome with the new requirements at these stages, but it could also be a chance to look afresh at what field work opportunities exist for pupils throughout the school. Where possible it would be ideal to give each year group a taste of fieldwork – for Year 7 it could be something local (possibly even taking up only a lesson or two depending on where your school is located). Year 8 and 9 might go on a day trip linking with one of their topics so that they can enhance and extend their knowledge. It would be worth considering the timing of the Year 9 field trip: as field work is one of the highlights of studying geography it might be prudent to arrange your trip before the students are asked to make their choices for GCSEs.
An example of my KS3 trips:
- Year 7: Town centre surveys in Gloucester, for example the Home Town or Clone Town survey from the New Economics Foundation
- Year 8: day trip to Birmingham Botanical Gardens to link with our topic of ecosystems (they do orienteering in the afternoon)
- Year 9: day trip to Cadbury World which ties in with development (fair trade) and globalisation (a great case study in light of the Kraft take-over)
GCSE and A Level field work will be heavily dependent on your specifications. International field trips, whilst not necessarily accessible to all, can serve as a great marketing tool and get the students excited about geography. If you do run a residential field trip consider also writing a blog – WordPress is free and easy to use. Parents can read about the trip as it happens and in my experience this is a real winner. It can also be linked to your school’s website.
- Arrange extra-curricular opportunities
There are so many options for extra-curricular activities and these can really engage and inspire students and thereby enhance the profile of your department.
- Visiting speakers: it is worth investigating who might be able to come and speak to your students. Some visitors will charge a fee or ask that their travel costs be covered but others offer their services free of charge. Also, friends with interesting careers linked to geography or those who you know with a geography degree may well agree to come and speak to your students. If a visit in person is not an option, you could always conduct a session over Skype or FaceTime to be projected to the class. The RGS runs the Geography Ambassadors scheme specifically for the purpose of promoting geography: keen undergraduates bring their experience, enthusiasm and, most importantly, their love of geography to your school.
- Competitions, such as the Geographical Association’s Worldwise Quiz, are really good ways to get your students actively involved in geography and they love competing – particularly when there are prizes at stake (inflatable globes always go down a treat or there are scratch maps or volcanoes top trumps – the possibilities are endless! Plus badges for participants). The GA provides you with a PDF certificate to print out too so these can be given out in assembly or year group meetings. There are also several academic competitions such as the Royal Geographical Society’s Young Geographer of the Year and, for high-flying Year 12 students, there is the Trinity College Cambridge Essay Prize.
When you run an event, don’t forget to advertise it to get as many participants as possible. Why not try using an app such as Phoster to make really eye-catching? Make sure you put them up in the department and beyond.
- Shout about achievements in geography!
Following on from the first two suggestions: if you have run a successful event let the rest of the school know about it! Could one of the students do a short report on it in assembly, for example? Promoting achievements more widely such as on the school’s website and/or on Twitter (see below) will be effective and will do much to enhance the profile of your department in school and beyond.
- Set up a Twitter account
Getting your department on Twitter has many benefits (see “5 reasons to use Twitter for geography teaching and learning“) and tweeting examples of pupil work, field trips, special events and so on will get the great efforts of your department and pupils noticed.
- Be a part of national or international events
Part of the beauty of geography is its breadth and topicality. Geography departments can join in with events such as World Water Day (UN) which is on 22 March each year. Other examples include:
- WorldWise Week (GA) – last complete school week of June each year
- National Poetry Day (there are so many poems related to geography – or your students can write some!) – next year on 6 October
- Earth Day – 22 April each year
- World AIDS Day – 1 December
By getting involved with such events you can create a buzz in your department and school and pupils will see that geography is a current, outward-looking subject.
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.