With the introduction of ‘changing places’ to the A Level specifications our department decided to introduce it at key stage three. Place is a difficult concept to teach due to its complicated and abstract nature; Tim Cresswell* argues that place is a vital part of human geography but is also a term that is difficult to define. He refers to John Agnew** who argues that place is made up of, ‘location – a point in space… locale – the broader context (both built and social)…sense of place – subjective feelings associated with a place’. I have attempted to teach Year 9 students about a sense of place and many have struggled due to the intangible nature of the topic. They are so used to learning processes that it is an alien way of thinking but this makes it even more important for us to challenge the students.
A simple way of making places relevant to Year 7 students is to focus on their experiences of places. The first lesson in our scheme of work asks students to consider their place in the world at different scales (continent/country/county/town) and to reflect on their local area (e.g. where do you feel safest?). Throughout this lesson the definition of ‘place’ is reminded to students, so that they can connect the concept to real world examples.
Students then move to studying their local town. A series of cropped photos of the local area are used as a starter to encourage students to think about the character of their local place and they explore why the town was chosen as a site for a settlement. There are also lots of opportunities for mapping the local area and our students map the physical geography of the town by looking at local rock types. They use simple GIS to explore how the town has changed over time. The National Library of Scotland has a brilliant website where historical maps can be placed side by side to compare land use and settlement changes over time.
The assessment requires students to create a tour around the local area for the mayor which visits four different locations (physical area/urban area/historic building/place with lots of entertainment) and to explain their choices. In order to achieve a higher level students can map the route around the town (possibly using GIS). This will allow students to use their own local knowledge and to increase their understanding of the town; important as GCSE and/or A Level fieldwork may be carried out in their local town.
The different scales of place that were explored in the first lesson are then used in the rest of the lessons. Students study the jigsaw nature of the UK, famous landmarks, the European Union and the UK’s links to other countries. Underlying all of these lessons is a focus on places and how each place can have its own unique identity or sense of place.
I hope that these ideas about place give you a starting point with the new ideas in the National Curriculum. We should challenge students to consider the places around them and not just accept what we teach them. Hopefully this will lead to us all having more independent and enquiring students!
* in his chapter on Place in Introducing Human Geographies, edited by Paul Cloke, Philip Crang and Mark Goodwin, 2005
** in Place and politics by John Agnew, 1987
Rachel Hawke is currently teaching Geography at George Abbott School, in Guildford. She completed her PGCE at the University of Oxford, during which time she developed an interest in enquiry learning. Her ideas about this subject have since been published in the ‘Teaching Geography’ journal.