Ever since the visit to London for the Oceans Project, I’ve been doing an appalling job of ‘secretly’ plotting my application for the Land Rover ‘Go Beyond’ bursary, which I feel is coming along very nicely now, particularly now I am over my tizz of the past week with regards to teaching geography and the kids freaking me out about taking exams after just a few months of study.
I have a cunning plan I think, for a way that I can try and put the ‘human back into the humanities’ and make my subject a little more digestible for my students at school. Its a long shot, I probably won’t be successful in my application for the bursary, but bugger it, I’m going to apply anyway, and even we don’t get it, I still plan to do the journey come hell or high water.
I’ve been feeling for sometime now, that modern teaching needs to step up a gear. When I was at school (as I keep telling my class), the internet had not been invented, and we didn’t really have revision books, at least, only very rich people had them, and we certainly didn’t have access to all the lovely things that the children of today had. I got a grade B in my GCSE Geography exam (over twenty years ago..eek!), but obviously, that is because it was much harder when I took it, and kids today have it really easy. We didn’t have Youtube, we couldn’t watch videos about volcanoes, people didn’t travel like they do today, and I didn’t really know anyone who had been to another country. I was totally reliant upon the quality of my teacher’s ability to teach us to a high standard.
Geography was actually one of the few subjects that I really enjoyed. Not at first, but towards the end I loved it, because I discovered quite late on, that it was the only subject in which we were actually allowed to colour in pictures. Now, as a student who had attended a Steiner school and then gone into a mainstream education, that had been quite a shock. I had also always wanted to take art, but my granny didn’t deem it to be a suitable subject for me, and so the decision was made that I should take something more useful, like French! So, I loved geography purely based on the fact that it was 3D and was fun and colourful. A little later on, when we took our mock exams, I found, rather by surprise than intent, that I was actually quite good at it! No one expected me to get a good grade in anything, and only the posh kids got grades like B, and only the swats got grades like A. We didn’t have such a thing as A star back in my day, they weren’t invented yet!
Later in life, I studied environmental science and outdoor studies and I loved working as an outdoor pursuits instructor with people who were disabled or disadvantaged. I loved it, because we got to take people in wheelchairs caving, climbing, and kayaking and we gotto be creative and think outside the box, and most of all, it was a job where you could be outdoors and in nature and rain, and have warm and fuzzy moments, adrenalin filled and pink cheeked after gyll scrambling, jumping off bridges or whatever on cold wintery days, before curling up with a nice warm, cup of tea and a ginger biscuit or hob nob. But I ended up following the path of the medic and neuropsychologist, and although the geography element was always there, it was always under the surface somehow. I wanted to be a doctor on expedition, but not to be a medic, but because I missed that connection with the world. So when I gave up medicine and came to teach in Georgia, it was fantastic to rediscover that inner geographer, and I’m really loving the overall challenge of teaching Geography, especially with the added element of teaching to a new culture, and in english as a second language. It is hard, and as regular blog followers know, I do from time to time really struggle and have days where I outwardly question what I am doing, but usually its based on my passion for teaching, for the kids I teach, and for my subject.
I’ve been struggling recently, because I want to move forward in my personal development as a teacher, as a geographer, and also with the Oceans Project, and in general. I’m still struggling with aspects of the teaching or the children and I get frustrated when I can’t do more or reach certain children who I know can achieve so much more. And what makes me really sad, is when I know that I should be doing something different to reach the kids, or when I realise that they don’t really even know where Georgia is in relation to other countries, and I hate that I still have these assumptions which I haven’t even questioned, because I take them as a given.
And that has really, really got me thinking of late. And I am sure that other teachers around the world have exactly the same problems as me, where they feel like they can’t reach the kids they teach. Its just not possible to take the children out into the world, and somehow I have to find a way to bring the outside world in, and I think I may have found a way. But it depends firstly on whether or not I can get the bursary, or some kind of funding, and secondly whether it will ok with school or not.
I have a team in mind, and we have spoken about it a lot, but we are still in the early stages, and the plan feels far better than the original one already. There are 4 of us, all teachers, three of us still very new in the teaching role. Not in terms of being ESL teachers, but as teachers of particular subjects in their own right. We are all in Georgia, and we are all facing the same feelings of failure, of wanting to be better at what we do, and of wanting to reach the kids in a different way. And we think that our plan could not only help us in going beyond our comfort zones as teachers, but could also help other teachers around the world, who are in the same position as us.
The idea is that between May and October next year we will take the Land Rover from London to Georgia and back. We will start in London, and then head to Wales, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Hebrides, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuanai, Belarus, Ukraine, ferry to Georgia, spend some time travelling around Georgia, and then on the way back to London visit Azerbiijan, Armenia, Turkey, and follow the River Danube across Europe, the south coast of England, and back to London in October.
The plan is to visit at least one school in every country, and to give them a lesson about Georgia which meets an element of the British National Curriculum for Geography, History, or English. Some of the schools we plan to visit only have 7 students and one teacher, but the idea is that we make one video with a history teacher, one with a geography teacher, and one with an English teacher, but based on something locally that is interesting and relates to the National Curriculum. That might be a lesson on Stalin based on our visit to the Georgian town of Gori, or a lesson about a ship that sank in the war with me diving on the shipwreck in the Scapa Flow off the Orkney Islands, or it might be a geography lesson about plate tectonics from Iceland with me standing between the gap of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, talking to a volcanologist next to a volcano, or visiting a war memorial to talk about World War 2.
My aim is to collect as much footage as possible for my geography classes here in Georgia, but which can also be used by any teacher in the world. But, because the children here know me, I hope that them seeing me on the video will really bring things home to them, and that I can also get them really active in the expedition. I would love to put a big map up on the wall at school, and to get them involved in the planning side of my expedition, then everyday to make a short video showing a map and telling them my plan for the day. I could give them the grid reference and then they can mark my journey every day on their map. If they know where I will go next, then they could even do research for me, whilst I am away and tell me the names of places that they want me to go, like a local museum, and if I can interview people too, that will really make it interesting for them, especially if it is someone who remembers what it was like in the war or whatever, or if it is a museum curator, historian or geographer. as a trainee teacher, it would be great to meet with different teachers on the journey and to find out how they are teaching the subject, what has worked for them and what not. I don’t have resources here really, and so I have to try and be really creative in my lessons, but it would be great to have a network of teachers on tap.
I’d really like to meet with the MET office in the UK and to get each school we meet to start up their own mini weather station and to upload data daily to a website, so that the kids can chat to each other and see how the weather is for each of them, post photos, or perhaps even set up a webcam of the weather at that school. This would really help to get that fieldwork element that we are missing right now. And I’d also like to work with the RSPB and to set up some webcams on local birds nest, to help with the topic and concept of migration and seasons.
It would be especially cool to link each school with two other schools so that you always have a connection between a UK school, European school, and one further afield such as Georgia, and to link them through the website and a forum. Perhaps to even design some activities they can do together, sending a letter to each other, skyping, or maybe even a teacher exchange programme? Perhaps we could make a journal, collecting things to add to it along the way, or sending a postcard to every school we have visited or will visit. Then, the kids can stick the postcard on their map on the wall along with our grid references and current location.
It would be so great to put videos and worksheets and materials together for each day, and for when school starts again after the holidays. then, when its possible, I could skype with my class and take questions that they want me to ask others. Somehow bringing Geography back to life and more tangiable. It is a long shot, but it would be a totally amazing experience and perfect for collecting materials for my geography classes, but also for becoming a better teacher too. I’m really ready for a challenge like this, and the beauty is that I can start this on our school trip to Austria, and again on the Earthwatch expeditions for Oceans Project, and eventually we could have videos from all over the world.
I’m really buzzing with excitement about this as an opportunity, and I know the kids would thoroughly enjoy and learn a lot from the planning stage, its just a question of doing it right, and that is what I have to figure out next!