Posted by: markhowell101 | November 24, 2013

2013 Music Masterpieces Month

As ever, December for me is Music Masterpieces Month. For a full explanation of what that is click here but in summary throughout December every year I listen to an entire album per day.

The rules for selection are simple, 31 great records which I think are brilliant and worth a listen start to finish. No artist can have more than 1 entry and there can be no compilations of course as these are not always intended for a complete listen. 

The 2009 list was: Slipknot - Slipknot, Foo Fighters – The colour and the shape, The Bronx – The Bronx, At the drive-in – Relationship of Command, The Darkness – Permission to land, Jamie T – Sticks and stones, Hell is for heroes – Transmit disrupt, Levellers – Levelling the land, Frank Turner – Love ire and song, A - vs Monkey kong, Pearl Jam – Ten, Nirvana – Nevermind, Funeral for a friend – Casually dressed and deep in conversation, ….And you will know us by the trail of dead – Source tags and codes, Sparta – 3′s, Strung out – Twisted by design, Oasis – Whats the story morning glory, The Offspring – Americana, The Music – Strength in numbers, Gaslight anthem – 59 sound, Bloc Party – Intimacy, The cooper temple clause – See this through and leave, Kasabian - Kasabian, Longcut - A call and a response, Million dead – Harmony no harmony, Seafood – When do we start fighting, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever you say I am that is what I am not, Biffy Clyro - Puzzle, Roddy Woomble - My secret is my silence, Mars Volta – De-loused in the comatorium, Interpol – Turn on the bright lights.

In 2010 the list was: At the drive in – Relationship of Command, Bloc Party – Intimacy, Enter Shikari – Common Dreads, Foo Fighters – The colour and the shape, Jamie T – Kings and queens, Levellers – Levelling the land, Mars Volta – Deloused in the comatorium, System of a down – Toxicity, The streets – Original Pirate Material, Nirvana – Nevermind, Million dead – Harmony no harmony, Hell is for heroes – Neon handshake, Funeral for a friend – Casually dressed and deep in conversation, Frank turner – Sleep is for the weak, Cooper temple clause – See this through and leave, Biffy clyro – Infinity land, Bronx – Bronx, Jose Gonzales – Veneer, Kasabian – Kasabian, Slipknot – Slipknot, A – Hifi serious, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever….., The offspring – Ixnay on the Hombre, Gaslight anthem – 59 sound, Yourcodenameis:milo – Ignoto, Longcut – A call and a response, Interpol – Turn on the bright lights, Gallows – Orchestra of Wolves, The music – the music, The Darkness – Permission to land, Rival schools – United by fate

Sadly the 2011 list is in my old teachers planner in a cupboard in England and I skipped 2012 for reasons unknown

But for 2013: Foo Fighters – The colour and the shape, At the drive in – Relationship of Command, Frank turner – Sleep is for the weak, Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse, Levellers – Levelling the Land, Million dead – Harmony no harmony, Nirvana – Nevermind, Arctic Monkeys – Whatever….., Cooper temple clause – See this through and leave, Hell is for heroes – Neon handshake, Jose Gonzales – Veneer,  Longcut – A call and a response, Slipknot – Slipknot, A – Hifi serious, Bloc Party – Silent Alarm,  Courteneers – Falcon, The Darkness – Permission to land, The Wombats – This Modern Glitch, Yourcodenameis:milo – Ignoto, The streets – Original Pirate Material, The Music – The Music, My Vitriol – Finelines, The Bronx – The Bronx 1, Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg, Jamie T – Kings and Queens, Hope of the States – The Lost Riots, Gaslight Anthem – 59 Sound, Funeral for a Friend – Casually dressed and deep in Conversation, Enter Shikari – Common Dreads, Maccabees – Colour it in, Oasis – Whats the story morning glory

Posted by: markhowell101 | November 2, 2013

Land Art, Seychelles style

For a while I have been meaning to take the time out to do something different with regards to fieldwork. I am getting pretty adept at the traditional geography data collection type fieldwork but wanted to try something with a more creative edge. Recently at school we collapsed the timetable for a week of lessons with an environmental focus and this gave me the chance to do this. The original inspiration for this came from the Geosculpture page of the Staffordshire Learning Net and the work of Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long. Luckily my head is also an artist and had completed work of this kind in the past. He was therefore able to give me some wisdom on how best to carry it out.

We started with a short class session where we showed some work of the artists above. We told the students that the work would not be permanent but that they would take photos which would last forever. As an added incentive we said that the best 3 would be made into canvasses and put onto my classroom wall. We chose to do the work on the beach as it sort of presented a blank canvas on which to work. When we arrived at the beach the students were briefed and given 20 minutes to scavenge for materials. Many students already had ideas on arrival but we stressed that they could not make firm decisions on what to do until they had the materials. They then had to sketch a plan of what they wanted the work to look like and consider what to use for each element. They then had 2 hours to create their work, scavenge for any additional materials and photograph. As a follow up they spent some class time selecting the best photo and editing it to be entered into the competition for the best 3.

Below are the best results, see what you think:


After a year working in an international school on a ‘desert island’ I thought I would offer a few views on the way in which growing up in such a place has affected the learners in my experience. A bit of a niece post I know……

First of all some background: I live and work on Praslin, the second island of the Seychelles which has a population of about 5,000. The only industry to speak of comes through tourism and a quick Google of Praslin will show why, some of the world’s best beaches are found here. Other than this some primary industry does exist in terms of fishing and farming but nothing else. The school I work in is fee paying or  scholarship based and therefore my opinion may be slightly warped as I only deal with the financial and / or academic elite of the island but this at least gives you an idea of the difficulties and benefits to learners of this king of upbringing. I will also ignore the major problem we encounter which is of course the fact that English is a second or third language for most of our students and this is our greatest challenge as staff. I will ignore this as this is likely to be an issue in any overseas school regardless of it being a small island.

The first major issue is with ambition and this is a problem nationwide. Apparently in the 80’s as tourism took off in Seychelles the president said “we are not going to become a nation of waiters and waitresses”, however to some extent this has happened. Whilst many Seychellois work in the tourism industry very few have progressed through to management in hotels or restaurants as these jobs tend to be filled by ex-pats from Europe or South Africa. The reasons for this are numerous and include a lack of tertiary education here (the university is very new and not yet established), the Creole language and a huge brain drain of local, well qualified people. The result is that few young people see many successful Seychellois and there is therefore few role models for young people to look up to. Many young people see customer services as the likely outcome for them career wise and therefore they do not need to apply themselves fully to achieve high grades.

The flip side of this is that whilst many of the students show a lack of ambition in their career they do not have the exposure to modern culture of British students I have taught. In the UK I was constantly frustrated with students who simply believed they would grow up to be a footballer or the X-Factor culture that fame and fortune would one day be handed to them by some sort of Simon Cowell figure, regardless of them having any talent or ability. Here celebrities do not exist and those that do are a few global mega stars who are all from western countries. This means that the students here who do have ambition are at least a lot more grounded and have aims which can be achieved through academia and hard work. I teach a number of students who’s sole goal is to become doctors or vets or airline pilots. They know clearly the steps to reach these aims and the grades they will require for the next step. Sadly in order for these students to achieve their aims education or training will need to take place outside the Seychelles and at great expense. This can create a division in the classroom between those from wealthy backgrounds who see themselves going to European Universities in the future and needing grades and those for whom education beyond the Seychelles is not financially possible and therefore education will in all likelihood end at 16 or at best 18.

Another interesting nuance of learners here is the way in which they would like to learn which I have to say is in contrast with the way UK students like to learn and the way I was taught to encourage learning. The fact here is that most of my students here would be happiest if I walked into class, sat them in separate desks, put a text book in front of them and told them to copy notes and answer questions in silence. They would do this and there would be little to no behavior difficulties or distractions. Try doing that in an inner city school in the UK!!! The trouble is that I believe, like many modern teachers, that this is not the best way to learn and that shared learning and discussion and enquiry and all the other things we try to do in the UK is a better means to an end. Studies seem to suggest that the outcome in terms of exams results is not clear cut and there is a fair argument that the way the students want to be taught would yield better results. However, it is also clear that my approach (and the approach of the school) will create a student who is more ready for the world. I mean how many jobs involve making notes from text books and answering questions, versus how many jobs require discussion, debate etc. The answer is clear for me. I have been trying to think about why this is and again I think the reasons are numerous but i think the lack of modern media may be a major contributing factor. Few students have internet access and very few keep up with current affairs and even more worryingly, as far as I know there is no bookshop in the country. This means that they are not used to researching about something or informing themselves about something independently.

Another issue is time management. In the UK I frequently had students rushing through work making a poor job of it and asking for more. This does not happen here.  Time is not a currency in Seychelles, nothing runs on a schedule and any kind of admin job takes days to do. This means that there is a culture of things being done very slowly. For the teacher a task you thought was a starter in the UK takes all lesson and that is no exaggeration. The time is not spent misbehaving, in fact we have far fewer problems with that than in the UK but just too much time is spent thinking or planning or just working on details like presentation. This is all great but the time comes when speed is needed!! The result for me this year was despite working all year with some students on time management many of them did not finish or even come close to finishing their exams or mocks. The world does not wait for Seychellois!!!

A final problem you may find in communities like this is the fact that they can be very inward looking. Travel from here can be expensive and the Seychelles is an isolated island nation. Many people here have never been abroad. The lack of current affairs and news media here mentioned above means that not only have many students not travelled but many do not want to or have an apathy to the rest of the world. I know that Seychelles is beautiful and many of them recognize that but there is a world beyond it!!! For the geography teacher this lack of world outlook and at times xenophobia is frustrating. About 3 months into this year a girl in my year 10 class announced after a bad test result that she hated geography. When question why she responded “because we always learn about places in the world other than Seychelles, why should I care about them?”, luckily the rest of the class did put her in  her place but that sentiment does exist.

A final huge benefit is that people here really do care. Their culture is a caring one due to the small nature of the country and the island. Other teachers here have found it awkward, none of this living out of catchment business, the island is the catchment. When you go to the supermarket you see students, when you go to the beach they are there, when you go to the nightclub they are there (no, really they are) and even when you go to birthday parties for people in their 30’s when you think it will be a raucous, alcohol fueled occasion you can bet there will be students there. I don’t have a problem with this, others have struggled but it has a link with their relationship to school. That is that they care about you. As a new teacher or a training teacher I can now look back and say that I got taken for a ride by some students. I was new to them and they didn’t care what I said or did and they ran rings. That would not happen here not because they are scared that you play golf with their mum or go out fishing with their dad but because you can build a better relationship with them. I recently had a baby here and every student I see wants to meet the baby to ask how I am, ask how my wife is, volunteer to babysit, buys the baby presents. I cannot image this happening to the same extent in the UK. This caring extends beyond the personal level to the environment too. The students here love their surroundings and recognize how important they are to sustaining a good lifestyle on this island. No stunning beaches and rainforest means no tourists and no money. They recognize this and want to do something about it, always volunteering for any kind of conservation project.

I am sure that many people more informed than me will have differing views but in my experience this is a snapshot of how students are affected by their small island surroundings.

Posted by: markhowell101 | January 13, 2013

What’s it like to teach in the Seychelles???

Whilst not an authority on this matter I thought I would write a quick piece on this whilst I can still remember what its like to teach in the UK, its already a fading memory……

Whilst I realise my market is niche, there may one day be people in the situation I was in 12 months ago who are coming out here to teach and have no idea what to expect in terms of their day to day classroom teaching. There may also be others who are just interested how teaching and learning in secondary geography is different in the Indian Ocean, for those people this may prove a little interesting too.

Firstly, for reference I am teaching the iGCSE Cambridge Geography spec and its the first time I have taught that which in itself is a learning curve too, its more a watered down A-Level than a GCSE and very old school.

From a geographers perspective the main thing I noticed was how in tune with the natural world students were compared with their UK counterparts. In an early piece of fieldwork I wanted Y9 and 10 students to complete transects where they had to record the names of plant species found. Of course I armed myself with an extensive guidebook to the plants of the Seychelles lowland regions so that I could help them identify the plants they came across. This was not needed. Where UK students would not be able to distinguish even the most common local plants, Seychellois could tell me the names in Creole and in most cases translate them into English. This theme has continued, students here have grown up with an added interest in their environment and a passion for learning about it. Quite why this would be is a mystery but I put it down to there being such a wonderful natural environment here and their being not a lot in the way of games consoles and shopping malls and all the other things which UK kids have to distract them.

This brings me to another distinct difference, that being that Seychelles kids have no concept of celebrity or brands or fashion. This is very refreshing in so many ways but can also make the teaching of certain things like Trans-National Corporations and advertising very difficult. When they are not exposed to slogans or logos or anything like that its hard to teach them the power of them. Remember this is a country with no McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King, KFC, Subway or even Tesco. There are no celebrities here due to local media having such limited funds and local sportsmen and music stars having such limited fan bases (think of a country with the same population as Burnley) and this means the concept of celebrity is very alien. In an early lesson I did in the whole of year 8 nobody knew who Beyonce or Didier Drogba were but they all knew Bob Marley, reggae culture is big here. Since then I have had numerous reminders of the lack of globalisation here. Students all support English football teams but know of no players by name, Formula 1 is unheard of here and Western pop music is not big here, very few British and American acts are on the radio here. A colleague of mine did a brand recognition task in a lesson and nobody knew the Nike logo for example. You might think this is not a problem for a teacher but when you have lesson plans built around UK kids it can spring surprises. In the past I have built lessons around ‘hooks’ which draw kids in, maybe a music video, a youtube clip or similar which would grab their attention as something they like and I use this as a basis of a lesson. We all do this. Out here, it often falls flat which can be a source of great frustration when a youtube clip you have used 10 times before as an inspiring or thought-provoking starter is met with shrugs.

In general though here very little is met with shrugs. The average student here is so much more enthusiastic and motivated than their UK counterparts. In general they want to work and will work hard on any task given to them. In particular I have noticed they take much longer over tasks than UK kids and this is both good and bad. The good is that they want all tasks to be completed to a high standard with much better standards of presentation than UK kids. The bad is that they struggle to work to a schedule. This is a country where time is not a currency, very little runs of time and most people are late for most things and so if you don’t complete classwork in time no matter. The problem is that when it comes to exams, not completing in time does matter. So far its been a painstaking process to stop year 10 students copying out questions in exams before answering them and stopping them from colouring in diagrams when taking notes.

Another issue is the opposite of one mentioned earlier, in that whilst they are very good at recognising and being interested in the natural world they have a much weaker understanding of some aspects of geography than their UK counterparts in particular urban geography. This makes sense as Victoria, the capital city of the Seychelles is a small market town by UK standards and differs greatly from the kind of world cities studied at GCSE. Certainly concepts like Burgess models and inner city issues are alien concepts here and ones which I have found students struggle with.

The final issue is specific to working in a new school here. All of our secondary students had spent a good deal of their education in the government school system here, which it is fair to say is very different to what is encouraged in the UK. From what I can gather teaching is very text book and teacher lead and discipline is given utmost importance over progress. This leaves us with students who are very well behaved but for whom independent learning and class or group discussion can be difficult. Student led lessons which I have taught many times in the UK and felt progress was excellent (including a lesson observed by OFSTED in May as outstanding) have failed here, whereas more teacher led lessons have yielded good student engagement and outcomes. Most students would rather be handed a text book and told to sit in silence than an interactive out of your seats style lesson. My world turned upside down!!! Thankfully, our head is keen to keep pushing us to push independent learning on them and slowly they are coming round. Exciting to see this process going on.

Generally I have found teaching in the Seychelles to be a interesting and exciting experience so far and I have enjoyed the challenge or trying to adapt tried and tested good or outstanding UK lessons and turning them into lessons which work here. Long may this adventure continue.

Posted by: markhowell101 | June 20, 2012

Music in geography lessons

Not sure what most school’s policies are on listening to music in lessons but we don’t let students. When I first started we did and it was common to see KS4 groups around the school sat working with headphones in often working very hard in their own little worlds. Certainly many of us know how music can improve focus and enthusiasm and spark creativity in many many case (he says sat writing this whilst listening to the Manic Street Preachers) . This proved problematic as many students took liberties and used their devices for other purposes ‘whilst they had them out’.

It was rare that I let students listen to their headphones during the time they were not banned as I was new to the school and still trying to find my feet so playing things with a pretty straight bat with regards to classroom management. I have since the ban experimented with having the radio on in some select classes whilst students work but found mixed results with this. Many students use it as an opportunity but others would rear their heads between songs to complain about the selection offered by Radio 1 – me included at times. This is therefore something I have not done in a while.

So I wanted to compile a playlist for geography teachers with decent tunes with a geography influence which could be played in class. Sadly despite owning somewhere near 1000 CD’s (15 days worth of music on iTunes) I could find only a handful of songs which would fulfil the above criteria. Also many songs be not actually be used in class due to ‘language’ issues so some of the following are fairly tongue in cheek. Some have lyrics which could act as a starter others could use the video to help. A couple of these are only useful with the video so I have linked to the videos for those tracks. Feel free to contribute to the list….

My one useful and useable track was…

The Enemy – We’ll live and die in these towns (problems of inner city deprivation)

3 good videos I have used are…..

Green Day / U2 – Hurricane Katrina Response

Oasis – The Masterplan – Inner City area

Chemical Brother – Star Guitar (Urban zones and changing urban landscapes)

Thanks to where I originally got those 3

Not so serious, but maybe of use but in some cases a shame that choice language stops them being useable….

A – Old Folks (problems of an ageing population)

Arctic Monkey – When the sun goes down (problems of inner city deprivation)

Chirs T-T – When the huntsman comes a marchin’ (Rural change)

Levellers – Cholera well (Problems of LEDC lack of development)

Levellers – Cardboard box city (Homelessness in MEDC cities)

Maximo Park – The coast is always changing (The fact that processes change the coastline)

Its got the title but not much else….

Manic Street Preachers – Tsunami

Manic Street Preachers - Australia

…and you will know us by the trail of dead…. - Monsoon

Battles – Atlas

Bedouin Soundclash – Immigrant Workforce

Biffy Clyro – Mountains

Bruce Springsteen – The River

The Cooper Temple Clause – The Lake

Frank Turner – Rivers

The Gallows – The Riverbank

The Gallows – The Riverbed

Hundred Reasons – Avalanche

Hundred Reasons – Savanna

Incubus – Mexico

Interpol – NYC

Maximo Park – Limassol

Pearl Jam – Oceans

Kid Harpoon – Riverside

Kings of Leon – Arizona

The Kooks – Seaside

Levellers – Riverflow

Placebo – English summer rain

The Stone Roses – Waterfall

Temper Trap -Down river

The Vines – In the jungle

The Vines – Rainfall

Yeah yeah yeahs – Maps

30 Seconds from mars – Hurricane

I noticed there is almost enough songs about Rivers there to do a hydrological cycle using this list. Maybe a lesson in there somewhere.

As ever anything else to add to the list would be great.

Posted by: markhowell101 | June 14, 2012

Perspectives of a geographer recently observed by OFSTED

Whilst this perspective will offer nothing to senior members of staff within a school I thought I would offer a brief perspective on my recent OFSTED inspection at ordinary geography teacher in classroom level. Whilst this will clearly be out of date in not very long I thought that it might offer people one or two ideas if you happen to have an inspection in the not too distant future.

As a bit of background, I was observed in a tandem observation by both the head and the HMI lead inspector. It was one of 4 such observations done across the school in order to standardise and verify the judgements made by the school. The lesson itself was a revision session for year 11’s as I had finished teaching the course and was therefore in the fortunate position that I could get away with teaching anything and did not have to really worry about sequence as the lesson could be a one off targeting revision on a specific topic from any point in the last 2 years. The group in question vary in target grades from D to A* but in general are two thirds B or above candidates. It was a very hot afternoon in the world’s hottest classroom and my best efforts to justify a practical lesson based on the idea of what it would be like to live and work in a desert fell on deaf ears.

The lesson I delivered in the end was a recap on development indicators with a focus on mapping development and how to interpret such maps, something some of my students had struggled with in some prior past papers. On the OCR B course it seems that questions on this subject ion the exam may focus on simple interpretation but may go as far as students suggesting problems with or benefits of a given development map.

The lesson began with a simple development indicator starter. Students given a list of a few indicators and asked to interpret their meaning and what we can learn from each. This was of course differentiated with weaker students interpreting mostly conventional ones (GDP per capita, life expectancy etc) whilst the more able were given more abstract and complex ones (TV’s per 1000 etc). They were given 5 minutes to interpret these and we then had a brief discussion about the use of such statistics. It was during this discussion, around 7 minutes into the lesson that the observer came in and headed to the back of the lesson. I provided her with the seating plan, context sheet etc and took the opportunity at the end of the discussion to recap the learning objectives and suggest that we had already achieved the first one (To be able to interpret a range of development indicators and maps – C grade). The other 2 objectives were  set at B grade (To explain the problems and benefits of using certain indicators and maps) and at A/A* (To  be able to critically evaluate  the validity of certain development maps), although I took this opportunity to suggest to students that at the very top end the ability to offer critique on some development maps was beyond GCSE level and therefore would allow all students within the group to work beyond target.

I moved on to the main task in which each table was given 4 development map which they had to interpret. They were to identify areas of high and low development on the map and then offer some uses and problems with their maps. The students were in mixed ability groups of 4 and whilst they were told to work together on the task each student was to take ownership of the map they had been given. During feedback they would have to feedback on their map if their table was selected. I felt that this ensured that all students participated in the activity rather than just 2 or 3 within the group doing all the work. It also meant that I could allocate maps based on ability, giving the least able on each table a straightforward map (perhaps of GDP per capita or the HDI) and the more able a more complex or abstract map (like the happy planet index map or the Facebook connection map shown below). Students were given some basic information about what the map showed but were generally left to figure that out for them selves.

Students were given around 10 – 15 minutes to complete this task during which time I circulate as did the head and the HMI. The HMI also spoke to me regarding my rational for the lesson, why had I given certain student certain maps etc.

A discussion then followed where I directed certain table to feed back about their maps. Others were encouraged to contribute or challenge the views put across. This discussion lasted around 10 minutes.

Finally students were given some exam style questions about a map they had not yet seen during the lesson (Brandt line) and asked to interpret it and then explain any problems they can see with this. This was completed in timed conditions and then peer assessed. We discussed how such questions would be marked (this close to the exam students are well versed in that) and we modelled some answers which students had felt achieved full marks. There was a quick review of how many marks students had picked up and bar one or two exceptions all had scored maximum marks.

The above is not meant as a guideline for what should be done it merely serves to outline what was done in this case. The result was a grade 1 lesson and what is probably worth noting are the reasons why the HMI graded it that way as it will give people an idea what they were looking for, at least in this case anyway.

The inspector liked that pitch of the lesson with students all able to achieve something beyond their target grade and she liked my emphasis that at the top end the work was more like A-Level than GCSE. She thought that the method of differentiation was good giving students work at their level but as she said by allowing them to work together ‘cross-fertilisation’ occurred where the more able and less able shared ideas. An unexpected positive comment was that she liked the social and spiritual ideas which came out in discussion. There had been some talk during discussion of human rights and whether blocking websites like Facebook was a denial of a rights and also whether all people across the world want development and this was an aspect which was praised although I have to admit not something I had especially planned to occur. A final positive worth noting was that she liked the discussion and questioning that took place and whilst it is difficult to pin down why my questioning / discussion style worked, she said that she liked it when students were asked to paraphrase the answer of a peer and then extent it. Asking questions like are there any aspects of students X’s answer that you thought were especially good or any aspects you disagree with she said was particularly useful.

As ever I hope this will help someone draw their ideas together for OFSTED. Clearly on any given day with a different group, time of year, inspector, star alignment etc the grading may have been different but the above outlines so strategies on the classroom which a very recent inspection verified as being ‘good and then some’.

Posted by: markhowell101 | June 4, 2012

Coastal fieldwork methods – Where to start

Having run several coastal field trips now I thought I would compile a run down of all the techniques I have used with a bit of a review of their success, what groups they are good for, the likely results, how to present the data and how to go about doing them. When I first embarked on field trips I found limited information on the internet about specific methods that would work and how successful the students would be at each. It is my hope that someone finds this useful in putting together their own trip. I will add to this as time goes by and I try alternative methods.

General Advice

  • Pick the methods to suit you group – you will know what will work and what will not
  • Pick the methods that will give the right results to answer your question set. If this is for a controlled assessment task this is of course very important, whilst at KS3 you may have more leeway to design a question to suit the methods you want to use.
  • Practice the methods before you go, it makes a massive difference if they already know how to do it before you get there. This could range from counting breaking waves on a youtube video, to measuring pebbles brought in from your drive to measuring the slope of the hill on the school field with poles and clinometers.

Beach profiling

A great piece of fieldwork which always yields decent results in my experience. Select 2 or 3 locations along a stretch of coastline and get students to profile the beach at each location. Make sure you invest in trundle wheels rather than tape measures as in the wind the tape gets destroyed very easily. You will need ranging poles of course and clinometers but the process itself is straightforward and the students usually enjoy working as a team of 4 or 5 to get the results fo this. Absolutely essential to practice this with the students before the day, I always take them out to an undulating bit of the school field to have a go at this in advance. When back in class it is easy for the students to draw up the results and come to good conclusions about the types of waves and processes at each location. I have found that even the weakest GCSE students can access all elements of this piece of fieldwork but would not attempt this with a key stage 3 group unless they are a particularly small / sensible group.

Pebble Analysis

Again a simple piece of fieldwork and one that yields good results which are accessible for students right from key stage 3 to key stage 5. Students again visit a number of sites this time measuring the size of pebbles found and, using a rock matrix record the angularity of those pebbles. Below is the matrix I have used over the past 3 years. I encourage students to try to measure the angularity numerically but some, especially weaker students prefer to classify. Students come up with their own way of random sampling and this I discuss in the lessons in advance, we also have a practice with a sample of pebbles in the classroom before we go. The key is to ensure that students get a large enough sample, 20 at least, otherwise trends are difficult to find. The display of this data works well in scattergraph or box plot format although for the weaker students bar graphs for the various classifications works ok. I have found that the key geography here (the idea of rates of attrition, linked to destructive waves) is accessible to top end key stage 3 students and almost all students at GCSE level.

Field sketches

A very straightforward way to get students to try to interpret features which you might see at the coast. This works well at all key stages and is great for controlled assessment as it allows students to revisit the sketches once back in class and add annotations of the features. As a back up plan make sure you take photos too, I find many students will produce poor sketches in the field, or time constraints mean that they don’t produce much and many students benefit from copying a projected image once back in class. If possible allow  a good amount of time for this in the field and provide students with a clipboard to help them do it.

Long Shore Drift

Measuring long shore drift is a difficult process during a one day fieldwork visit. I have experimented with a number of ways to do this and perhaps the best is very simple (although whether it does actually measure LSD is open to debate). What I have done in the past is place 2 posts 10 meters apart along the coast, parallel to the sea. Then at one post I throw an orange directly out to sea (biodegradable, bright and it floats) we then time how long it takes for the orange to float past the second post. This has yielded decent results for me in the past as if you have a strong rip it is likely that long shore drift will also be taking place however I think I have been lucky with my results in the past and this could of course produce peculiar or misleading results if you went on a given day. The whole issue of bad results is not actually too much of a problem as it allows students to easily find fault with their fieldwork in an evaluation if one is required. There are further issues with the above fieldwork as it may present a problem with risk assessments and safety. Many people will specify in their risk assessments that students do not go past high water mark (I know I do) and this creates a problem in places with a large tidal range if you are there at low tide. In the past I have had to trek down to the sea on my own to carry out this experiment leaving the students with other staff further up the beach. All in all a fairly hit or miss task, would be interested to hear any advice on this.

Wave counts

A very simple process of counting waves for a set period of time at each location. Clearly this is wildly open to error but I find all students can make the link between the number of waves and the nature of them. I start by showing the 2 videos below in class and we talk about constructive and destructive waves, what they look like and how many we are likely to get in a minute. Presenting the data for this is very easy indeed, maybe even just a bar graph and I find students of all ages and abilities can draw meaning from the results and relate it back to their ideas in class. Again the results could be warped on any particular day but again this allows the students to evaluate this piece of fieldwork.

As I said above I hope this helps someone get started. I will blog in the coming weeks about some of the urban fieldwork I have tried and tested but hopefully this enables people to get off the ground with their coastal work.

Posted by: markhowell101 | October 31, 2011

The High Line

When you look at this photo, what is the first thing that comes to mind??? Where do you think it was taken???

Well your wrong, it was taken right in the middle on Manhattan just last week and not in Central Park. It was taken on New York’s newest tourist attraction, the High Line which runs from the Meatpacking District (Gansevoot), through the Art Gallery District and finishes in Midtown (11th Av and 25th Street). The project has turned an abandoned railway line into a designated park space filled with grasses, trees and some open picnic spaces. The series of pictures below shows the park and its surroundings, it makes for quite a unique location.


I read about the High Line 2 weeks before my trip to New York and was really interested by this clever and unique use of public space. Firstly, along the High Line is a smattering of market stalls selling sustainable produce and locally grown and sources items, many of which claim to have been sourced on Manhattan itself. In the place so obsessed with mass production and economies of scale it was refreshing to see tiny independent retailers selling genuine local items.

However, the High Line has done more than just add a small open space and sustainability to New York it was clear to me that it is being used to try and regenerate an area of some urban decay. At its farthest point south the High Line runs through what seems a reasonably affluent area with the Meatpacking District having a range of high end shops and expensive apartments (for reference this is where Friends was set). However as you walk north along the park the apartments around the line decline in quality until you reach the area furthest north, near the bus depot and Madison Square Garden, not famously a high end part of New York. In this area the High Line is being used as a selling point for a range of new properties which are quickly being put up. Alongside the park were several clearly brand new blocks of apartments, as yet with nobody living in them and several more being built. All of them were adorned with huge signs advertising the properties fantastic view of the High Line, not their view of the skyline of Manhattan. Clearly this is a new USP for these properties as it is unlikely that they would of been advertising a view of an abandoned railway line.  These new properties seemed much larger and modern than those around them and would clearly fetch a much higher asking price and therefore a higher earning tenant, increasing income levels and reducing deprivation levels in this area.

The High Line was an excellent new attraction to visit and whilst it remains to be seen if it has any impact on the area it certainly seemed popular with tourists and New Yorkers alike. Well worth a visit.

Posted by: markhowell101 | September 4, 2011

Stratford and the Olympic site – Urban regeneration case study



I have been teaching the ongoing redevelopment of Stratford in London as a case study of urban regeneration for 2 years. As I am sure you are all aware the area is undergoing huge changes for the Olympics next year as 6 major sports stadiums, an athletes village and a media centre are all being built. The hope is that the redevelopment will bring with it further investment into the area and there are already signs of this with the large Westfield shopping centre being constructed right by the Olympic site. Having recently visited the site with a group of students I thought I would add a few thoughts to a case study that I am sure many people are teaching.

Prior to the Olympic bid Stratford was one of London’s more deprived areas, not a no go zone by any means but unemployment rates were high income was low, housing quality was pretty poor etc. The case study lends itself well to both GCSE and A-Level specs as a lot is being done to ensure the sustainability of these games and clearly the current exam specs have a real focus on sustainability. The world marvelled in 2008 when the games went to China at the impressive show put on in Beijing but the feeling was that the games in London needed not just to impress but to leave a legacy. The stadiums in China will, in all likelihood, turn into white elephants in the future, seldom seeing use and slowly rotting away. Unfortunately this is the case with a number of events which have preceded it, with the Montreal,  Atlanta and Athens stadiums all being victim of this fate and the 2010 world cup stadiums in South Africa already falling into some state of disrepair. The exception to this doom which has followed after Olympics is Sydney where the games were planned with sustainability in mind, the result is that the venues continue to make money and create jobs for the people. London therefore used the success of Sydney to model their ideas on and tried to adapt as many of the good ideas from those games as possible (I use information on the success of Sydney as a starting point for my GCSE and A-level lessons – which ideas could work for London).

An example of the typical housing and tower blocks in Stratford with stadium behind

With that in mind the London games looks to be sustainable in 3 ways, economic, environment and social. The main aim for the venues is to provide income for the next hundred years. However the capacity for the venues was considered to be too great for events following the Olympics and so the major stadiums were all designed to be partly dismantled after the Olympics to create smaller venues which can be more regularly used. Notably the main athletics stadium is to be reduced from a capacity around 65,000 to nearer 30,000 and will become the home of West Ham football team (although Spurs are doing their best to prevent that from happening). This should create thousands of permanent full and part time jobs in the area and this should help to provide a better economic situation in Stratford as the multiplier effect kicks in and local businesses benefit from higher rates of employment and increased tourists and visitors. A major issue for the games was the environment and so a vast area of parkland has been created around the area to offset the damage created by the stadiums. Local waterways, much of which have suffered with environmental pollution, have also been improved to encourage wildlife back into the area. Certainly on out visit we saw evidence of this with canals far from the stadiums looking to have oil and other deposits on the surface and lots of rubbish floating around, whereas waterways nearer the games were cleaner, with green algae floating on the surface and resurfaced towpath’s. The games also wanted to create the minimal carbon footprint possible and this is to be achieved by retailers within the park selling food and drink in biodegradable containers and supplies will be sourced from local producers wherever possible to keep air miles etc to a minimum. To ensure social sustainability the games is looking to not disrupt and hopefully improve the day to day lives of those in the area. Previous games, notably Barcelona, have brought the host city to a standstill during the event and London was keen for this not to happen. To ensure this, public transport in the area has been greatly improved, an infrastructure which will clearly last well beyond the games, and public transport costs have been reduced for those with tickets to events to try to encourage most people to travel to the games by train and not by car. Additionally the athletes village will be converted into affordable homes after the games many of which will be set aside for those in ‘key’ occupations such as nurses and teachers. 

So what has been the impact of all these developments? Well clearly the true impact will only be realised in the years after the games have happened, but already Stratford show signs of improvement. Beyond the Westfield shopping centre, residential developments like the one below have begun to spring up in the area, with the whole Stratford area looking like a construction site at present with high end residential and commercial properties appearing. Indeed the architect I spoke to on our visit was saying how the area was now experiencing an influx of higher earners and city types and with that bars and cafe’s in the area were profiting from new customers with higher incomes. So clearly even with a year to go before the games, many people in the area are beginning to benefit from the changes.

An example of the sort of modern development taking place in Stratford

However, clearly the problem like with many urban redevelopments is what has become of the people who previously lived in the area who are no longer able to afford the rents being charged by landlords. Well, i didnt take us long to find out that what is being done in nothing. On our way out of Stratford we stopped at a McDonalds, located a stones throw from the stadium, and sat outside was a group of ‘hoodies’ in their late teens and early twenties. Perhaps not very wisely I decided to talk to them about what impacts the developments were having on them. All of them agreed through some conversation that the improvements did nothing to improve their lives with one or two commenting that lower income jobs were now harder to find in the area (especially part time jobs for teenagers) and council housing was in short supply as many tower blocks were being shut down and demolished to make way for new developments. Simply put, many of the poorer residents of Stratford are being marginalised, losing work and having to leave the area.

Clearly this example is more complex than I could ever outline in a blog post and this serves as just a simple outline of what is taking place there. Hopefully this will help some people feel a little more informed when teaching this case study or simply debating the concept of redevelopment or gentrification. If anybody would like any of the resources I use for teaching this at A-Level or GCSE please feel free to email me at

As ever thankyou for reading.


Posted by: markhowell101 | August 6, 2011

Visit to London sports stadiums

On 22nd July 2011 we visited Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon and the new Olympic site. In the coming days I will blog about my thoughts on how the Olympic Park might change Stratford (geography case study style) but for now I thought I would just post a few photos from the trip.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 461 other followers