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Linking Geography to ‘their’ world

As geographers we are so lucky that our subject is our world; past, present and future. I teach at the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk, set in the most beautiful rural environment where so much geography sits just a few metres outside our classroom windows. But so often, even salt marshes, rivers and sustainability studies around the site fail to set our students alight.

So, this year I challenged myself to connect geography to the world our students care the most about, see themselves being part of in their future lives and to understand its connections to other subjects.

The road close to school is currently closed by Anglian Water for major infrastructure works and this has had a big impact on the journey times students have had to make to school. Many are disgruntled about the increasingly early start this road closure is having on their day. I teamed up with Anglian Water’s Outreach programme to come into school and show students the challenges faced planning and maintaining water networks in communities such as ours.

50 Year 7-9 students piled into our library after school. In small teams they were initially tasked with drawing up plans to connect their fictional town with water, deciding if some areas (such as hospitals, schools, farms) were a priority over others. They could only cross certain infrastructure at designated areas e.g. roads and railways and had to avoid areas of SSSI.

Once plans were approved, they needed to calculate the cost of their project and materials used to connect their town before finally setting to work and building their project onto their base map. Once connected students could release the water from their source and watch to see if each area on the map received a reliable and consistent level of water. They then had the chance to review and adjust their projects once before judging commenced.

Not only did students need to create a well-planned and well connected water network, they also needed to demonstrate skills in network efficiency- designing the most effective shaped network in case of leaks or pipelines bursting and disrupting multiple areas, as well as pitch their project’s cost and design- not necessarily the cheapest, but best value for money.

Students really engaged with this project and the multiple subject connections they could draw from it. It allowed all students to be involved and showcase a range of skills. The event was supported by our STEM department in school linking geography with DT, maths and physics as well as challenging students to think about the real-life projects happening just outside their classroom doors.

Written by Harriet Izod-Miller of the Royal Hospital School, Suffolk.