• Anabel Reis

Getting from point A to G

Connecting what students are learning to their community and applying what they are learning to real contexts, much like we do in projects, makes a huge difference for all students, no matter their learning style or age.

Let's take the case of Geography – it's one thing to look at glossy pictures with written information in a book and try to comprehend the intricate details, but another to actually use, touch, make and manipulate the content.

In their initial encounter with Geography, students are introduced to the definition of what the subject encompasses and they learn about maps, as these present information about the world in a simple, visual manner. Sure, students may have a notion of maps through digital formats, but their experience may end there, especially since paper maps are not very commonplace nowadays. So, how can we motivate our students to manipulate a real map and understand that they are not all the same?

Create a need

Creating a need or posing an interesting question encourages students to find out more via their innate curiosity. This can be done by introducing Geocaching – basically, a scavenger hunt style game using a GPS receiver (your phone). In short Geo, stands for geography and coordinate locations and the cache is the hidden treasure. A real-life introduction to maps and coordinates (compass rose, intermediate directions and latitude and longitude) without going too much into detail and which students can try out with their parents during the weekend in their local community.

Put it into practice – personalise – make it their own

This progresses naturally to groups creating their own treasure island maps with directions, covering the curriculum content. As learners acquire new knowledge, it is vital to put that knowledge into practice to help build competences. This may be done in various manners including physicality.

Here are some examples.

However, one thing is knowing how to identify a scale on a map, another is understanding its purpose and the relationship between distances on a map and the actual distance on Earth.

Students learn that scales differ depending on whether the area covers an island and surrounding sea, a school's playground or your backyard. So, 1 centimetre on a ruler can represent any distance and pupils understand the notion of representation and learn how to use a ruler to calculate distances between cities.

Games can be used, too. Longitude-latitude battleship helps students understand that together these invisible intersecting lines provide us with coordinates allowing us to identify the exact location of a place. This takes them back to the Geocaching and the use of a compass to navigate the world. To reinforce this, who wouldn't enjoy an orienteering activity on the school grounds or even in the surrounding community?

Get students feedback and a voice

Following the different activities or stages, students should be asked to provide feedback on the activity and on learning. You may be surprised with the comments. Not only do students mention the learning of content (both from Geography and other subjects) but also competences. By providing them with the opportunity, they not only reflect on their learning but also acquire a voice. What they have to share is important and it matters.

Throughout the various activities where students manipulate or create content, they are also being provided with choices – something that is rather new to them as oftentimes they are spoon fed – they typically do what the teachers tell them to do, leaving no room for imagination and numbing creativity.

The key is to look at the big picture and then divide it into manageable parts – seeking to find simple yet effective ways for students to manipulate and/or create their own content, thus learning by doing and providing them with a choice as well as a voice.

By Anabel Reis Alves

Bio: Anabel has more than twenty-five years of experience and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and has been the DoS of a language school in northern Portugal for over twelve years and is a regular speaker on CLIL at conferences both in Portugal and Spain.