Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A template for outstanding teaching - lessons from cross-curricular observations

This term, more than any other, I have had a wide range of colleagues observe me to help me reflect upon my teaching and learning.  The generic idea was to have an open approach to teaching which would force me to push myself and re-examine how I teach; importantly assessing what works well and what could be improved. I believe that one of the best things about being observed and observing other people is that best practice and new ideas (and mistakes) are shared.

One colleague in particular, a chemist, was keen to swap/share observations. We met up and discussed what we wanted from the process during the Autumn term:

1. The ability to test new ideas with classes and experiment new techniques
2. To focus on independent learning & assessment
3. To work on getting the kids to do more

The outcome is a provisional framework (for all subjects) for consistently ensuring your lessons are outstanding. 

To some extent the latter has been inspired by @TeacherToolkit 5 minute lesson plan, which many teachers (who use Twitter) across both sectors have been using (See @specialsciteach's photograph below.

Source - For Blog CLICK HERE

*Please note this is not a prescriptive list - the template below provides flexibility for teaching and pacing the lesson according to the pace of learning (a more "see how it goes" approach to teaching as opposed to timings being based upon amount of activities)

**Simply the idea based on LESS IS MORE - QUALITY NOT QUANTITY!

1.  Every lesson should have ONE PRIMARY FOCUSED OUTCOME- what is the key thing every student should leave the lesson knowing/understanding/being able to apply to the real world.  Too many objectives can be confusing and often the lesson can be rushed to cover the content as opposed to exploring the core idea in depth & through discussion.

2. Every lesson should be have ONE MAIN LEARNING LOOP  plus a series of smaller bolt-on loops (a.k.a progress checkers / hinge activities or questions / additional content / minor outcomes etc) which can be flexibly added to the lesson, if needed! (See CTT lesson  below for best practice)

3. Every lesson's PACE MUST MATCH THE PACE OF THE LEARNING (& IDEALLY TRY AND FIT THE CLASS PROFILE)The engine and key in my opinion to achieving an outstanding lesson is appropriate pacingHowever, PACE can be a fickle beast and too much can mean the students do not have time to process the information sufficiently, whilst too little means the lesson content is not covered quickly enough and is often lethargic. The key point is to pace the lesson according to the PACE of learning rather than the PACE of the activities you have to get through in the time! It is a tricky balance to strike as PACE needs to vary for each year group, for each day and stage in the year - to get the PACE right takes time and only comes with experience.

4. Every lesson's MAIN ACTIVITY SHOULD BUILD FROM CLOSED/SIMPLE TO OPEN/COMPLEX; ideally aspiring towards higher order & critical thinking skills wherever possible, if appropriate.

5. Every lesson should have a range of FLEXIBLE BOLT-ONS or HINGE ACTIVITIES to support the primary outcome, if needed. Note that the, if needed, is a key idea as too often continuous and in my opinion unnecessary 'reviewing' occurs, wasting valuable independent learning time.

5. Every lesson at the end spends at least 10 minutes ASSESSING THE MAIN OUTCOME. This could be done by a ticket to leave exit slip, an exam question or any other plenary assessment tool. The key question to ask is - How do I know every student has learnt something/made progress & achieved the primary outcome?

6. Every now and again, when near the end of a topic or unit, give the class a FERMI PROBLEM  - in this context a problem designed to teach/encourage approximation, critical thinking, problem solving & synoptic links both within and between subjects. Often they are Oxbridge type questions e.g. For Geography, 'What is the population of Croydn?' or 'Is nature natural?' 

Furthermore, there are some additional best practice techniques I have picked up from colleagues. One of my favourites is using named wooden lollipop sticks (example 1*) to ensure all members in the class are asked questions & assessed.

*Example 1: At the start of term (or at the start of a lesson) get every pupil in the class to write their name on a wooden lollipop stick. These are then collected in and the teacher uses them to record who has answered a question and who has not - a quick, easy and effective record to ensure equality of assessment and differentiation when needed. I have personally taken this idea but instead use paper numbers , from one to twenty-four. Each chair/desk has a number and during the class, i hot seat students by pulling out a random number to assess and gauge progress.

*Example 2 - Hinge questions - 80%

Here is a rough outstanding lesson template format based upon our conversations so far:

Reviews previous learning or introduces topic. Must be focused, engaging/stimulating, provide a basis for assessment either through progressive Socratic questioning or written assessment e.g. exam question.

Assesses the learning from the starter activity - key to identifying strong/weak areas of subject knowledge and acts as a basis to progress onto the main task or take stock and go another direction e.g. reviewing last lesson.

Key primary outcome explained - the focus of the lesson!

MAIN TASK  - should aim to build up from closed and simple to open and complex, liking to critical thinking and independent learning as appropriate.



Many thanks - Please leave your won comments below and hopefully using this template we will no longer feel like the image below:

Further Reading/Blogs:

CTT Lesson - keeping it simple and focused - The one question lesson (from the teacher)

N.B The topic is the environmental consequences of rapid urbanisation for AQA Geog GCSE

 - Teacher puts question on board and on A4 student sheet (n.b. prior knowledge of topic is vital!)
 - Each student writes down one question on the sheet which can be answered Yes/No.
 - After 3 rounds of this reflect on progress so far
 - Next round is questions with a one word answer
 - Next a numbers answer
 - Finally rounds with open ended questions
 - Now, each student or group answers the question on the sheet using the information gleamed form the questions.
 - Video of Bhopal is shown and prep is to add any missing content to notes using textbook & independent research

Question : How could this be improved?

The Geographer & the Chemist: An update on targets for next term...

UPDATE - The Geographer & The Chemist

So, the chemist and I met up today not only to review this term's observations and teaching and learning in general, but also to set ourselves new targets for the coming Spring Term.

The challenges we have both set ourselves are to explore & evaluate:

1. A variety of main tasks (inc. advs & disadvs of each method) - reflecting on what went well & how we would change it, if we had to deliver it again.

2. Assessment for learning strategies/techniques - Investigating what they are, how they work and how best to apply them and to what situations and classes.

3. To make key skills and key terms a core part of our etaching across all of the curriculum levels.

Chemist's top tip of the day:

Pose 3 differentiated questions/equations/problems/phrases on the board and hand out every member a post it note. Students then chose one option and come up and put their answer up. One member of the class is then chosen to sort the correct answers out and explain why.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Teaching quality Geography: reflections on Iwaskow's Status of Geography paper

No matter what sector you teach in, the good news is that Geography, has never been a more topical subject.  In the maintained sector, the new EBacc qualification has meant Geography's status has had a bit of a resurgence - its been 'rebranded' to some extent - and numbers taking up at the subject at GCSE are rising with 187,022 candidates taking it at GCSE in 2012 (up 3.48% compared to 2011 - outperforming History and English!).  It is even estimated that 36% of GCSE pupils will take the subject in the summer of 2014...

However, the challenge facing all Geography departments across the nation will now be this:  how to encourage GCSE geographers to take the subject as an AS-Level/A2 option or IB module?  Furthermore, is the quality of teaching Geography, as an academic subject, improving - are standards rising? For instance, I have noticed at GCSE and beyond, map work skills and general geographic knowledge i.e. where places are located, are particularly poor.

Interestingly a recent report entitled 'Quality Geography - Learning to make a difference' by Leszek Iwaskow, the National Adviser for Geography touched upon many of the teaching & learning themes to do with geography I have been exploring this term. Please click the link below to access the report.

Below are some of my thoughts on his paper and the wider context of geography teaching in schools:

The traditional model for departments it seems is to put the specialist teaching at the top end of the pyramid (Sixth Form) and any non-specialist teaching at the bottom end (Year 7 & 8 Lower School Geography). However, is the best long term approach?

Surely, some of our most skilled geographers need to teach the core skills to students at the bottom end of the school so as to inspire them and equip them with a good set of core geographic skills? What tends to happen with the current approach is that students have to often wait to be inspired at GCSE and even till A-Level before they receive quality geography teaching from a specialist - is this not the wrong way round? The flip side to this, of course, is that specialist teachers are needed at A2, which I do not dispute, but GCSE and even AS specifications, (take Edexcel's for instance), are biased to some extent to covering 'popular geography' and 'popular science' themes, which any good teacher could teach maybe?

Furthermore, in my latest blog entitled, 'a template for outstanding teaching' I discuss the need to shift away from prescriptive outcomes and instead focus on one primary outcome, with a series of learning loops built in, offering a flexible approach and quite organic approach to classroom teaching.  Leaving room for the lesson to progress naturally as opposed to a pre-conceived prescriptive format MUST BE A GOOD THING?!

In relation to Geography teaching, I have been focusing on actually teaching about the geography of case study topics much more e.g looking at the physical geographic aspects which make the city or tourist attraction what it is.  I have used GIS and maps much more to build in the core skills, which are lacking, and have then built in the critical Socratic questioning and higher order thinking skills needed to excel and gain top marks. I find the latter approaches to have been much more rewarding in comparison to trying to speed through a lesson, purely focused on ensuring all the assessment boxes for HMI are ticked or all of the exam spec content is touched upon, however briefly.  Furthermore, more time in lessons has been handed over to the pupils to work independently, the misnomer known as 'lazy teaching.' By only having a single outcome and focusing on the core geographic issues at hand, I have been able to simplify and gut the often wordy syllabus waffle into a series of clearly focused lessons that focus on the GEOGRAPHY & INTERCONNECTIONS between particular spaces and places.

Consequently, my teaching and learning targets for next term are to explore & evaluate:

1. A variety of main tasks (inc. advs & disadvs of each method) - reflecting on what went well & how we would change it, if we had to deliver it again.

2. Assessment for learning strategies/techniques - Investigating what they are, how they work and how best to apply them and to what situations and classes.

3. To make key skills and key terms a core part of our teaching across all of the curriculum levels.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Is digital technology threatening culture?

In the first in the series Aleks looks at how different cultures are preserving their identity in the face of the homogenising effects of technology.

There's a fear that the digital world will make us all the same. But that doesn't seem that well founded if you look at how widely differing cultures are using technology to express their identity and values. We look at the music sharing culture of Mali in West Africa as explored by musicologist Chris Kirkley and hear from the vibrant and intoxicating atmosphere of the mobile phone music market in Mali's capital Bamako. Back in the UK we look at the interesting way immigrant communities maintain their cultural ties through technology and the unexpected effect this has on the growth of immigrant communities.

Aleks also talks to explorer in residence Robin Hanbury-Tenison about his thoughts on how technology might be undermining cultures. Does he see the spread of digital as a new form of cultural imperialism?

How opinion and influence spread in a digital world?

What all this new technology means for how we learn?

Do we always know what technology is for and ultimately what it wants?

Has the digital world changed our perceptions and discussions of death?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

End of term and some Toltec wisdom to mull over the summer

So I started up a Twitter account recently, @jsbgeography, as I thought it would be a good medium through which to share information, network and encourage students to connect with the subject outside of the classroom. So far things are going well but Twitter does require the account holder to keep up to speed a.k.a tweet frequently and for a teacher near exhaustion at the end of the summer term this can be quite a challenge; nevertheless, I will stick with it as I feel this form of social network does have the potential (when compared to VLEs e.g. Fronter) to connect the learner with what is a very dynamic and topical subject. Next term I am looking forward to setting some prep using Twitter and seeing how I can use it in the classroom with a heavy dose of common sense!

Now enough of the teaching and learning diatribe and onto some cultural geography wisdom which i picked up from a recent Inset - it is called Toltec wisdom and originates from, yep you've guessed it, the Toltec tribe (900-1200AD) which literally means "Master builder" or "Reed people". Essentially Toltec wisdom can be distilled into the following 4 points:

1. Be impeccable with your words
2. Take nothing personally
3. Make no assumptions
4. Always do your best

Food for thought for all of us at this time of year and on that note I wish you a happy summer holidays - it's time for me to switch off and disconnect...


Monday, 2 July 2012

The importance of podcasts in connecting with today's mobile learners

After two years of being a loyal Blackberry supporter, with the shift of the company towards its focus on the business community and the lure of Apple and its Apps, I succumbed last week to getting an I-Phone 4S and my my what a revelation.  Although the touch screen keypad is a little frustrating (ahem..predictive text), the power of the I-phone has surpassed my expectations.  It epitomises how EASY it is to connect to the Global Village (M. McLuhan)and in particular share ideas, links, resources, tweets, podcasts etc etc etc.

Podcasts are particularly useful and still, in my opinion, not utilized effectively by many teaching practitioners.  Obviously the tech savvy student in comparison to his more Luddite orientated teacher (apologies for the gross generalisation) may already listen to popular podcasts on comedy, sport (probably football), and radio shows.  However, there are a plethora of GREAT Political, Economic, & Geographic (a.k.a PEG) podcasts which students can download and listen to on their phones - hence, independent learning on the go, and it's not reading 'dull' or 'long' books!

As the UCAS drum starts to beat again, students (and teachers alike) are trying to prove WHY they love their particular subject through the medium of the their personal statement. If you are lucky enough to live near London, then the LSE Event lectures (free) and RGS Monday evening lectures (free to school members) offer a tangible and dynamic medium to engage with Geography at a higher level. However, for those a little further away, podcasts make geographical distances insignificant and allow any student with a decent smartphone and internet connection to engage with their subject at a higher level and through a medium which they may indeed find more engaging and time efficient. 

Below is a brief summary of some of the podcasts I like to listen to and tweet about (@jsbgeography). Check them out, select the ones you like and add any new ones to this post to share ideas and build up a resource bank!

If you are also interested in keeping up-to-date with topical news stories and have an I-Phone then download the free FLIPBOARD app; a great way to collate and browse topical news stories which interest you!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Changing Educational paradigms & the role of Geography

Many of you will have seen this though provoking video which has been making it rounds on the web. I am just posting it to remind us all of what can be achieved and changed!

Thoughts and comments welcome.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Invenite geographiam


Thanks for visiting my blog - jsbgeography. I am currently a geography teacher, educator and collaborator as well as writer when i find the time.  I am really interested in anything geographical and hope this blog provides a place for students, educators and all people with an interest to discuss, share and think about some of the local and global issues that are going on.

Please add a comment to any blog or just follow me on twitter @jsbgeography & check out my scoop it page to keep up to date on the latest geography in the news!

Also for a great starting point on the status of Geography check out the following link to Google books:

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Geography matters on Google Books: Doreen Massey

A classic geographical text for all students wanting to expand their horizons  by  a very prominent geographer.

Abandoned places...spaces or places?

Geographers quite rightly tend to be obsessed with the concept of place and space. I stumbled across a series of interesting images and the following question arose - when places become defunct* are they still places per se or  over time do they lose their human attachment and just return to ordinary spaces/landscapes? Do landscapes have a social or even historical memory and how long can this last before e.g. do humans always have to inhabit places for them to be called a place?

*due to a natural or disaster, quasi natural disaster or simply that it becomes abandoned due to an industry shutting down.

American ruins

Pictured: Ashley, Pennsylvania
The Huber Coal Breaker, built in 1938. “Other coal breakers have been demolished,” Yves Marchand says. “It really is the last of its kind.” All those windows were there to let in as much natural light as possible. Today they are target practice for stone-throwers

American ruins

Pictured: Port Richmond, Pennsylvania A generator stands like a sculpture. In its day it was one of the most powerful in the world. It was housed, Meffre says, in a room “built to look like the main hall of a grand city station”

Robert Polidori's photographs of Pripyat and Chernobyl. 
Robert Polidori's photographs of Pripyat and Chernobyl. 

Non cognito, ergo sum -the power of unthinking

Sometimes thinking is a bad idea, especially for teachers. I am sure we have all been there, a colleague, possibly HOD or even Ofsted inform you of an impending and of course necessary lesson observation. Consequently over the course of the next few days, despite your 'years of experience' or the fact that you are used to being observed (often as an outstanding teacher, of course!) you spend countless hours planning and re-planning, trying to create the perfect lesson. But of course, there is no such thing when one works with children of any age, even in one of the best schools in the country where behaviour management is of no concern at all.

Of course my point is that sometimes thinking or 'over-thinking' can be bad and counter-productive - thus there is case for unthinking

Unthinking is "the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation" (I.Lesile, Intelligent Life, June 2012). A fundamental paradox of human psychology is that thinking too much (over-analysing) can be a bad thing - one loses their spontaneity & natural flair. Lesile's analogy to illustrate his point is the following:

If a rat is faced with a puzzle in which food is placed on the left 60% of the time and on the right 40% of the time, it will quickly deduce that the left side is more rewarding. Young children adopt the same strategy. When Yale undergraduates play the game, they try to figure out some underlying pattern (over-thinking) and end up doing worse than the rat of the child.

Thus as teachers, I am sure, like me, some of your best lessons have been the ones in which you had a rough idea but no real definitive plan or set outcome. Currently i am experimenting in the classroom with what i call 'collaborative'  or 'pupil-led teaching': an image is shown on the board and the pupils decide upon the investigative questions they want to explore - i think this is a great exercise to 'show off' the very essence of what Geography is all about - a subject of enquiry.

Coming back to the original purpose of my article the question which still needs to be addressed is: "How do you learn to unthink?"

In my opinion for what it's worth I think that in an age of microblogging, instant communication and access to vasts amounts of information within a few clicks, we can tend to over-analyse and think too much e.g. books on what makes us happy and how to teach the best lessons can, sometimes at least, heighten the problem - in short we need to put thinking in its place and remember that as teaching practitioners some of the best lessons are those that occur when we simply do and don't think!

Original article posting is here:

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Game based learning

My most popular blog post to date was on Sim City and Rostow's model of development and the similarities between the two. The video below, focused on 'game based learning' reminded me of how important games can be in teaching and learning. Risk is a fantastic game to teach pupils about geopolitics, strategy, warfare, resource allocation, team work etc etc and likewise the inspirational teacher (John Hunter) who set up this phenomenal 4-tiered political science board game just shows a) how engaged pupils (even very young) can get and b) how they can grasp, comprehend and discuss big ideas and have a refreshing take in their common aim of achieving world peace.

My challenge to all the teaching practitioners out there is how could one replicate this in the classroom - could it be done on a smaller scale? There is plenty of opportunity for debate here and cross-collaboration between schools both within the UK and further afield.

Let me know your thoughts...

Everything which is bad is good for you

Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven JohnsonSteven Johnson has written an interesting book entitled, ' How everything bad is good for you' - the notion that popular culture is making us smarter.It is interesting to note the extent to which Western culture can be demonized and as pessimists moan about the state of TV programming and the rise of social networks, this book takes quite a refreshing approch - i know i will be ordering my copy on the Kindle1

The New Yorker sums up the book quite well here as does the Guardian

How to learn from mistakes and take risks...

Geography is all about asking questions, learning to enquire and investigate the world around us but importantly (and often forgotten) it is a subject which is based upon students making mistakes and challenges their pre-conceived ideas.

I feel this is a great (no, inspiring) video to make educators/teachers think outside the box - please post your thoughts on the content of this video and how as geographers we could implement the ideas in our day-day teaching! I would be interested in any ideas posted on class based examples.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Clipperton Project Update

For those of you that have been following the progress of the Clipperton project will be please to watch the new trailer which shows the findings of the group's recent expedition earlier this year!

The Clipperton Project is a multi-disciplinary, international arts and science project which aims to take outstanding practitioners in the arts and sciences on expeditions to little-studied, inaccessible and complex territories which have been isolated by history. - Online Geography and Humanities Resources

Friday, 25 May 2012

Royal Institution - Geographers website

A fantastic website by the RI covering great geographic themes - plenty of videos to watch and discussion to to contirbute to - excellent - also on my links page!

Check out the link on the anthropocene...

Monday, 21 May 2012

Cultural attitudes to the environment & risk

In her latest work, Naomi Klein wonders: What makes our culture so prone to the reckless high-stakes gamble, and why are women so frequently called upon to clean up the mess.

What makes our cultutal attitude to the envionment lead to conflict and risk?

Rio 2012: 20years on from sustainable development

How has our attitude to the environment moved on from Rio 1992 when the paradigm of sustainable development was first publicy showcased.

Have we become a more globally and environmentally aware society?
Are we looking after the environment better and has our attitude to it changed from consumption to protection?

We will move towards a green economy in the next 50years? and more possibly are we on track to achieve the MDGs?


Another interesting video -looking at whether development is compatible with the environment...
or not in the case of the tar sands

Arctic melt releasing ancient methane

Scientists have identified thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane that has been stored for many millennia is bubbling into the atmosphere.This article is a good link to Edexcel Unit 1 World at Risk to show the possible impacts of global warming and positive feedback mechanisms...

Graph of methane levels

An Ocean of troubles - our attitude to the ocean environment

To what extent does the state of our oceans depict the global attitude to the environment?

Last night Simon Reeve's Indian Ocean programme  highlighted the state of the oceans in the tourist hot spot of the Maldives and how some islands are being used for waste dumping!

6.0 Earthquake in Bologna Italy

A ceremics factory damaged after an earthquake
An earthquake in northern Italy has killed at least six people and caused serious damage to buildings in several towns, officials have said.The 6.0-magnitude quake struck in the middle of the night, about 35km (22 miles) north of the city of Bologna.

Questions to consider:
i) Why so few deaths?
ii) What has the response been like?
iii) Is the loss of cultural heritage a significant impact & to what extent can cultural hertiage be protected from natural hazrads?

The old tower is seen collapsed after an earthquake in Finale Emilia May 20, 2012. A strong earthquake rocked a large swathe of northern Italy early on Sunday, killing at least three people and causing serious damage to the area's cultural heritage. The epicentre of the 6.0 magnitude quake, the strongest to hit Italy in three years, was in the plains near Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of the Po River Valley.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ecological footprint

An ecological footprint measures the total amount of land and resources used, it includes your carbon footprint but goes further.See how your choices affect the environment and whether you are living beyond the capacity of the planet by clicking here -

The Economist provdies an excellent spatial overview:

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Charles Rothschild & UK Conservation

An interesting centenary marking the impact of one individual's attitude to the environment and how it defined a nation's approach to conservation:

Culture & conflict over the environment

Satellite image of Eastern Medditerranaen

Another excellent case study on how cultural attitudes and values (economic versus environmental especially) lead to conflict in one of the world's most charged regions. This case study is an excellent example of the environment as a contested category and how different cultures view the vital resource of water - economic development & geopolitics versus indigenous cultural rights versus environmental value (biodiversity). The map link here shows a classic case of upstream versus downstream conflict & dispute (

Friends o the earth Middle east provide a good overview of the situation, admittedly from an environmental perspective:

Opinion: Cultural cooperation is key to this area in order to preserve the cultural heritage from a multi-faith perspective!

Other opinions suggest that Israel is violating the human rights of indigenous Palestinians by not only occupying territory but also denying water access to the Palestinians - however, this is the opinion of Amnesty and it is a very divisive & debated issue!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Cultural capital - valuing nature a little differently?

Arguably in a post-industrial society we have moved towards 'valuing' the environment very differently to how we used to perceive it; an economic resource to be exploited under the guise of such paradigms like industrialisation, modernisation or globalisation. According to Kuznets would the West place itself in an era of increasing environmental awareness and decreasing degradation?

Since Carson's Silent Spring and the emergence of radical environmentalism in the 1970s &1980s, the environment has become an issue of common parlance and to put it simply, the environment matters. Today the environment should be (and to some extent is) viewed as as a holistic concept (economic, biodiversity, social-cultural etc etc) as UNESCO outlines in it's definition & mission statement. Clearly though, the latter developments have meant that from an economic perspective whilst economists still see value in the environment, it is fundamentally a different type of value to the one in the industrial period (

The new paradigm of the environmental movement of the 1990s and new millennium was Sustainable Development, and as the environment became an issue of national (and international) security, politicians and academics started to see the need not only to protect but also to preserve the more subtle cultural and often spiritual connections organisms  had to the environment. It appeared that the cries of deep ecologists to revert back to pre-industrial times had been answered (well not really!) - alas though, the the environment is and always has been/will be a contested category providing that the human population conitue4s to grow and expand and nations continue to industrialise. Thus, with the Advent of the new Rio Summit there are cries (as there were in 1992) to improve our level of protection and romantic platitudes of a return to some modified form of a pristine wilderness...!(Just look at the BBCs recent programming over the past 5 years to increase our environmental awareness).

I would argue though that on the hand yes, protection is paramount, but from my time researching in Honduras, i would caution outright protection as often the Western model of a core and buffer zone can alienate the local people from the land and cut the connections which make that particular environment so diverse - just look at Ayres Rock (or Uluru) to see how poor management can lead to severe conflict...Israel, Palestine and the West Bank water security issues is another example.

Q: To what extent do different cultural attitudes to the environment make conflict inevitable?

Discussion: Is there such a thing as a pristine wilderness as Humboldt asserted or not? Discuss.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A great little video clip showing the positive impact of the London Olympics...

Whose water is it?

Fred Pearce's article provides an excellent service in highlighting the chronic problems around the world of excessive groundwater exploitation - but it may not be taking us much further forward in finding solutions...what's your opinion?

Check out this month's New Scientist - Whose water is it? Very good for water security and conflicts.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Slums in the UK! Sheds with beds....

Admittedly the title sounds like the frontpage of the Daily Mirror but undercover BBC reporters have found that hundreds of illegal immigrants are living in sub-standard and cramped accomodation in the streets of West and NW London.

For information and to look into this strange use of space click here for the video

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Brazil's new forest law: short term economic gains over long term environmental security?

A\member of Congress protests as the Chamber of Deputies holds a plenary vote on the forest code 25 April 2012Despite the countless geographical case studies, the radical environmental groups and lobbyists and a global increased environmental awareness, it saddens me to read that yet another emerging superpower, one of the BRICs nonetheless, has chosen to put economics over environmental protection.  After over a year of political wrangling Brazil's government have passed a law ( 247-184) which eases rules on how much land farmers must preserve as forest. Now, i know it is easy for me with my Western perspective to sit here an chastise the Brazilian government for following the lead of the hegemonic USA and post industrial attitude of China, but having been and for a short timed lived in the Amazonian rain forest i feel it will be the TNC loggers rather than the indigenous tribes who will reap the rewards.

Once again this issue touches upon the wider themes of how societies (and cultures) view and subsequently protect the environment. With the law now passed it will be interesting, yet very sad to watch how deforestataion rates possibly increase even more over the coming decade and taking a particular morbid line i wonder how many more incidents of this will occur: Loggers 'burned Amazon tribe girl alive'

Graphic showing Amazon deforestation

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Cultural capitalism

A little video from the RSA on the shift from an industrial, modernist society to one of post-industrial cultural capitalism with an increasing concern for the environment and nature.

Good one for Unit 4: Culture.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Liverpool's Giant Sea Odyssey captures it's heart

Giants in Liverpool

Sea Odyssey, the last production to use European legacy funding from Liverpool's 2008 Capital of Culture year, was inspired by a letter a 10-year-old girl posted in 1912 to her father, a bedroom steward on the Titanic.

Liverpool would be an excellent case study for those students studying Edexcel's Unit 4 Culture Option.

A new commodity: second hand clothes

Prices paid for second-hand clothes in the UK have tripled in the past five years, sparking a battle between charities, criminals, companies and local councils for the nation’s cast-offs.

It is an intersting development to new and 'emerging markets', especially when considering many developed nations export much of our recyling to LEDCs as they are more efficient at recycling.

As the FT states:

'The price rag dealers pay for used clothes has climbed from about £220 a tonne in 2007 to about £650 a tonne today, according to trade publication Demand has mushroomed since the European Union expanded eastward in the mid-2000s, creating accessible markets for winter clothing that rag dealers cannot sell in Africa. Sterling’s tumble has accelerated the trend. Charities say donations are falling in the face of new high street competition. “Clothing has always been seen as something charitable,” said Maria Chenoweth-Casey, chief executive of charity TRAID, which runs second-hand clothes shops. “Vintage clothing is dying . . . It’s sad to see it shipped out of the country without even being looked at.” Criminals are also drawn to the high prices. In 2008, when Ms Chenoweth-Casey noticed the “yield” of her charity’s textile banks dropping, she hid a tracker inside a bank and followed the signal to an industrial estate in Havering in North London. The stolen clothes were in a trailer bound for east Europe.

Millenium Development Goals for 2015: Going no where fast or on track?

The MDGs formed at the start of the Millennium when aspirations were high that the world could unite against the global problems of poverty (the bottom billion), climate change and move towards a much more pro active post-industrial sustainable attitude towards the use of our shared environment.

Yet in 2012, with the mantra of sustainability to some extent part of political rhetoric but a global recession stifling the good deeds of many a different player, are the MDGs now just too idealistic or were they always going to be given the attitudes of the emerging superpowers like China and the other BRICs?

This video provides a useful overview and the questions are for you answer and discuss.

Q: Which in your opinion is the most important and why?
Q: What do you think are some of the barriers to achieving the MDGs? Think of current examples to back up your opinion.

Q: Do you think the MDGs will be achieved by 2015 - why?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Fracking - extreme energy exploration & resoirce exploitation

Is fracking a game changer?

The Deepwater Horizon disaster proved the dangers of searching for our oil and gas in ever more challenging environments. Oil companies that had been keen to explore in deeper, colder and more isolated waters have been forced to take a step back and reconsider their options.

Their response has been to launch an extraordinary land grab, buying up the rights to explore vast tracts of the US and Europe in search of unconventional oil and gas. From Lancashire to Gdansk and New York to the Rockies enormous reserves of shale gas lurk temptingly close to the centres of population. Recent advances in extraction techniques have launched an industry in the US and persuaded the major oil companies to begin prospecting expeditions throughout Europe.

The advantages are obvious, removing our dependence on the Middle East, cutting back on the costs of transport and transmission. The disadvantages are less obvious but could be fatally insurmountable. In the US shale gas producers are blamed for poisoning water courses and even causing earthquakes.
Exploratory drilling is already happening within sight of the Blackpool Tower so the need to consider the pitfalls and potentially enormous prizes of land-based oil and gas in the UK is urgent.

Feedback comments from various newspaper sources include:


 With respect to fracking, earthquakes are the least of our worries. Fracking involves drilling 1,800 metres down, then horizontally the same distance. Water, sand and chemicals are forced down the hole, the pressure splitting the shale and releasing the gas. The gas forces 40 per cent of the liquid back up the shaft, now contaminated with volatile chemicals and harmful carcinogenic metals. The really negative effects come from contamination of water and soil, as seen in Pennsylvania in 2010: sick animals and people, contaminated crops and air pollution. The promised job creation will be outweighed by job losses in agriculture and tourism: crops will be blacklisted, property devalued and landscapes scarred. An outright ban on fracking, as in France and Germany, is the only sensible answer.

There are hundreds of documented cases in the US of shale gas fracturing leading directly to water contamination, in some cases so severe that domestic water supplies became flammable. If there's even a tiny chance of this happening in the UK, I would expect the Department for Energy and Climate Change to imprison those responsible.


It boosts overall worldwide gas supplies and can help to reduce market cost. Shale is not anticipated to supply a large proportion of Britain's gas needs, but it is contributing to a worldwide flow of gas that has halved gas prices in the US domestic market, and led to a glut in world markets. It's estimated to have offered gas security to the US and Canada for about 100 years, and has presented an opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal. Exploration companies are also claiming there is a potential £70bn of reserves in rocks deep under south Wales.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ice climbing: Tim Emmett

Frozen limit of endurance: Canadian ice-climber Gadd, with Londoner Tim Emmett, spent four hours battling temperatures as low as -25c to become the first men ever to ascend the 450ft Helmcken Falls in British ColombiaTim Emmett - one of the world's best ice climbers and deep water soloists as well as part time surfer, flying suit jumper and adventure junkie is seen photographed below on the 450ft Helmcken Halls. Tim spent four hours battling temperatures as low as -25c to become the first men ever to ascend the 450ft Helmcken Falls in British Colombia.

This is one of my favourite photographs...ever. The ice is 'spray ice' formed from the splash black of the waterfall.

Long way down: If either of the climbers lost their grip, they faced a 100ft drop into an ice hole


To Infinity and beyond...

To Infinity and beyond so said Buzz to Woody...but it looks like a new form of extreme adventure tourism and science is about to begin 70years after Don Walsh made his monumental dive!

The BBC, as ever, has created a very informative link with good video links and excellent summaries:

But does the race to the bottom also herald a new form of extreme and elite adventure tourism?

The age of energy and the Green economy

Tribalism vs Globalisation

An extract from a good article:

Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures—both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanonization of national states in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe—a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food—with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald's, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.

These two tendencies are sometimes visible in the same countries at the same instant: thus Yugoslavia, clamoring just recently to join the New Europe, is exploding into fragments; India is trying to live up to its reputation as the world's largest integral democracy while powerful new fundamentalist parties like the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, along with nationalist assassins, are imperiling its hard-won unity. States are breaking up or joining up: the Soviet Union has disappeared almost overnight, its parts forming new unions with one another or with like-minded nationalities in neighboring states. The old interwar national state based on territory and political sovereignty looks to be a mere transitional development.

The tendencies of what I am here calling the forces of Jihad and the forces of McWorld operate with equal strength in opposite directions, the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by universalizing markets, the one re-creating ancient subnational and ethnic borders from within, the other making national borders porous from without. They have one thing in common: neither offers much hope to citizens looking for practical ways to govern themselves democratically. If the global future is to pit Jihad's centrifugal whirlwind against McWorld's centripetal black hole, the outcome is unlikely to be democratic—or so I will argue.

McWorld, or the Globalization of Politics

To read on  - click here

What is culture?

Is culture simply a system of shared values in a society, which influences lifestyles and creats boundaries for behaviour and interaction with others? What is the role of tradition? Of class? Of background and historical context...? And what role does globalisation have to play?

Is William's definition useful:

Or do shows like the BBC's Culture show help a little (or at all?)?

Is there a common definition? - I mean the word 'culture' features in one of the governments' departments -

And then there is the question of how culture produces cultural diversity and forms different cultural landscapes:

A good overview for this unit can be found here:

Andaman Islands tribe threatened by lure of mass tourism

The world of cultural diversity through film

So I am about to teach a research unit on Cultural Geography, part of the Unit 4 Edexcel A-level spec. It look fascinating and i thought I would start off by encouraging my students to explore cultural diversity through film - in an ever time spaced compressed world of homogeneous, cloned high streets and TNC cultural imperialism there is a fear that culture is becoming the same - homogenised and assimilated - but human nature has a habit for surviving and finding alternative spaces in which to express individual identity and keep customs from a past way of life.

Here are a few films that i thought of to show cultural diversity:

This is England - Mod and Skinhead culture in Thatcher's Briton.

East is East and Bend it like Beckham - clash of cultures and traditons versus Western influence

Lost in Translation:

Buena Vista Social Club - Cuban music survival in an era of online mucsic and itunes...

The class - entre les murs:
Teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau plays a version of himself as he negotiates a year with his racially mixed students from a tough Parisian neighborhood.

Other titles of interest:
Goodbye Lenin! / Slumdog Millionaire / City of God / Waltz with Bashir / Babel / Fight Club / The Wickerman (for paganism)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Cultural landscapes and environmental knowledge

Programme is only on for a short time - click here

The BBC did an interesting doc on BBC last Friday - very interesting to see how indigenous environmental knowledge is passed on (or not).


Monday, 13 February 2012

Another Lake Nyos disaster....?

More than 1,000 people died in 1986 when a lake in Cameroon released a cloud of CO2 that suffocated entire villages. A much larger lake in Rwanda - with two million people living nearby - is also at risk of eruption, but plans are afoot to make it safer. Click here

Graphic showing Lake Kivu gas project