You might be aware that, over the last few days, the UK has had some snow. The so called ‘Beast from the East’ (and now Storm Emma) has caused havoc across parts of the UK with transport disruption, school closures (much to the delight of Edu-twitter!) and seemingly record sales of bread and milk!
This has been of particular interest to the burgeoning community of geography edu-tweeters, this morning I set up a poll asking whether people intended to teach about the UK’s extreme weather when they are next in school. I had already planned this post, and so the poll results will make for interesting viewing.
I’ll be clear from the outset here – I don’t think teachers (especially geographers) need to be teaching extreme events exactly at the moment of their happening, certainly not during timetabled lessons (I would make exception for terrorist attacks etc and we teach/discuss these during assembly and form time). My rationale for this is outlined below.
- Geography is struggling for curriculum time – This is certainly the impression I get when I discuss timetabling with colleagues in other schools. We have 2 hours a week in Y7 and 1 hour a week in Y8 before beginning KS4. This means, that for the students I teach, I cannot waste any lesson time. As a department, we have already planned the curriculum for this year – a serious amount of time went into this, debating content, case studies, concepts – to let that all be thrown out in one week makes a mockery of those efforts. In my last post, I argued for geographers to be selective about the places we teach, but the same threads apply here. We owe students powerful knowledge delivered within an well planned and logical framework.
- Workload matters – This argument seems illogical at first consideration. How could planning about such an event, so widely reported, increased my workload? There’s a huge amount of stuff out there already! – Whilst that’s true, we know there’s more to planning than making a PPT/worksheet. You need to identify your key concepts (there is a lot that comes with teaching such an extreme weather event!), craft your explanations, select and adapt your resource materials. This is not a workload reducing task.
- It gives the wrong impression – This is especially true if you take a break from another topic to specifically teach about it. E.g. Y8 are currently working on ecosystems – looking specifically at savannah grasslands at this moment. If I delivered a lesson on the UK’s extreme weather next week I am telling my students “This lesson is only important when nothing extreme is happening, but the moment there’s a sniff of geography, you’re getting that.” So often, we are the representatives of our subject in school, we cannot be doing anything which potentially diminishes the subject in the eyes of the students.
- Students, as novices in geography, find it difficult to manage such change – Rapid change of content is difficult for students to process and meaningfully engage with. This references the ways in which experts (teachers) think differently about content to students (novices). Even now, my mind boggles at the extent of the background geography I would need to teach to ensure students could even effectively comprehend such an event. As geographers, we have already built an extensive bank of geographical knowledge, and so managing these transitions is not problematic for us. Excellent stuff on the ‘curse of knowledge’ by David Didau found here.
- We are subject experts – I have referenced this point in passing above, but let me spell it out again. We are subject experts – we have spent extensive time learning and developing our knowledge of geography. We are not news presenters, responding to what goes on in the world the moment it happens, we need to present to students the importance of scholarship and our selection of content does this. I remember, completing my A-Level in Geography in 2009. One unit of study was on tectonics and, in particular, earthquakes. In 2008, the Sichuan earthquake hit, devastating Southern China. I learnt nothing about that case study until I came to teach it myself in my first year of teaching in 2013. My teacher had already taught us about the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and had decided not to muddy the waters of our novice minds by introducing new content. Have faith in your expertise.
However, I will caveat this post with the following:
- Yes, I will be updating the lessons I use for the weather hazards topic at GCSE (but this will be in place for next year, I don’t want to rush it). If you are yet to deliver any case studies on extreme UK weather – of course it makes sense to update things.
- Yes, the students will want to talk about it and I will engage them in these conversations (in form time or out of lesson).
- Yes, my strongest students will want to do some additional work on this – I will support them where I can with recommendations for reading/videos etc, again out of lesson time.