Over the last couple of weeks, the Manly Observer has been recording the appearance and removal of an industrial tyre at Long Reef and the actions of mostly young people in the community to relocate it. They removed the sand that had built up inside it to try to make it easier to move, but each time they took out a layer of sand they found a variety of fish, rays and juvenile sharks. In all, around 80 marine creatures were removed from the inside of the tyre.
Read the full story here: How 80 dead creatures came to rest inside an industrial tyre on the Long Reef Shoreline
The reporters and community engaged in discussions about how so many marine creatures could have made their way inside the tyre. Some suggested that it was being used for shelter, and then as the tides went out animals became trapped.
Eventually the group managed to move the tyre away from the shoreline, and it drew enough attention that the local council became involved the remove it from the beach entirely.
Council reported that a local fishing trawler had let them know that they had unintentionally pulled up the tyre out of the water, but it was too weighty to bring aboard the ship, and they released it back into the water. The creatures inside the tyre were most likely to have been bycatch, caught in the trawlers net.
This is a great little story to use in the classroom.
It highlights the importance of active citizenship in the most practical way. It shows that how young people can have an impact on their environment, work collaboratively and achieve something tangible that initially seems beyond their capacity. It demonstrates how collective action can get the attention of media, government and the community and bring about more change than the individuals are capable of by themselves.
This story is a great way to talk to students about hypotheses, assumptions, using sources, and drawing conclusions. The teenagers began their own investigation of the tyre, found the dead creatures and assumed the tyre had caused the deaths. The tyre may have caused some of those deaths. The idea of fish getting caught on the low tide is entirely plausible, but doesn’t seem to account for the huge number of creatures found. Regardless, I love that some mostly incorrect assumptions resulted in these teenagers doing something great (removing rubbish from our oceans). Contacting additional sources – like the local council - led to the alternate and more plausible explanation of the involvement of the fishing trawler. Let’s hope these young people are now encouraged to find out more about trawling.
Problem Solving and Mystery
The way this story unfolded on social media was really interesting and engaging, and this could be replicated in a classroom by only providing some pieces of information at a time and allowing students to problem solve and eventually solve a mystery. Students could be presented with a range of scenarios to explore - the tyre in the water, the creatures in the tyre, the weight of the tyre, the encroaching tide, etc. Student could be asked to problem solve each step and be given roadblocks or positive outcomes dependent on the solution they come up with. Open ended questions could be provided to encourage deeper exploration of coastal environments, environmental issues and management strategies. The structure could almost be set up like a murder mystery, with clues along the way, and students trying to solve the crime.
It is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that environmental issues are too big for an individual to have an impact. I have only recently had some conversations with students who felt they couldn’t make any real impact because the world’s problems were just too big. This is a great, short story to engage students with geography and show the impact that individuals and groups can have their local environment, but also that once that first job is one, there’s more to do!
Students who have experienced significant difficulty completing the 7-10 Geography may consider completing the Life Skills course. For information about how to determine whether a student is suitable for a Life Skills course, and the processes that need to be followed (e.g. consultation with parents, etc), see the HSIE Life Skills course on the NESA website.
Preparing for a student completing the Life Skills Preliminary Geography course can be daunting. In many ways it will be like running two courses in the one classroom, but there are ways to make it a bit easier.
Here are a few hints and tips...
Running two courses at once
While Life Skills content and outcomes don't match the mainstream course, there are enough links between the two courses that they can run in parallel. Essentially you will running two courses at once in your classroom. You will run your mainstream course with the majority of your students, and then address the outcomes and content of the Life Skills course at the same time with the one (or couple of) Life Skills student/s.
Have a look at the Life Skills course and see where the content and outcomes match the mainstream course. Even if it means rearranging the order, design the delivery of the Life Skills course so that as much as possible you are delivering similar concepts and content at the same time. For example cover the Life Skills content related to recognising physical elements of environments at the same time as mainstream students address content related to biophysical environments at the beginning of the Biophysical Interactions topic. Or cover the Life Skills content on patterns of human activity, when the mainstream class is covering Population. This will mean that all students are part of the same conversations and discussions, but can be given different individual work. It may work out that the Life Skills student can also be involved in some aspects of class group activities, depending on the complexity of the tasks.
Make sure that you access any support that you can from the school. This might be the Learning and Support Teacher (LaST) or a Student Learning Support Officer (SLSO). Not everyone is comfortable having a support teacher in the classroom, and you need to work with the person and establish a bit of a routine to make it work well. You will need to get used to having another instructor that might talk when you're asking the students to be quiet, or that repeats instructions, but if this is what has to happen for the student to engage in the work, then you have to deal.Don't expect them to design the resources for the student. Support staff are unlikely to be Geography trained. They might be able to give you some lesson ideas to engage the student, but you will need to design the actual resources.
Modifying class activities might be as simple as giving a few extra clues. For example, you might include a cloze passage in a lesson to help build student literacy skills and provide a quick recap of information. A Life Skills student may require the following modification:
- extra time to complete the task (mainstream students might take 5-10 minutes, but Life Skills students may need considerably longer).
- some extra clues (e.g. providing the first letter of the answer)
- larger text and simplified layout to make it less daunting
- one-on-one assistance from the classroom teacher or SLSO.
Below is an example of a cloze passage that has been modified, including the downloadable files.
It is possible to lead a Life Skills student through the same fieldwork skills and tools as the rest of your class. If you do activities outside with your class practicing soil testing, water testing, field sketches, etc, the student can still participate in much of this, but may not be able to analyse the results in the same way as the mainstream students. These activities also provide a great way of providing some mentoring and leadership opportunities for your mainstream students. They could take turns in being paired with the Life Skills student to model fieldwork techniques or assist in conducting tests. This is also a nice way to help your students to bond and teaches them some responsibility and understanding.
Senior Geography Project and Fieldwork
The SGP will need to be scaffolded heavily. You might choose to provide the student with some picture books or geographically themed magazine to help them identify topics they are interested in. Depending on the student's capabilities, it may be the case that the teacher ends up identifying a topic for the student. Unless the Life Skill student's parents are very engaged, it is likely to be easier to develop the SGP project around the school playground so that they can be guided through different parts of the project at school.
It might be worth providing the student with a separate exercise book that they keep all their SGP notes, fieldwork, articles, etc in. The teacher or SLSO might find a couple of relevant websites and print them for the student. The SLSO could spend some time in class underlining key points and concepts and helping the student to write a couple of sentences about the topic.
The completed assignment for a Life Skills student would include the student's SGP exercise book, as well as a short description on the project. The teacher would need to make a judgement based on the student's abilities regarding the length and depth required.
Below: Excerpt from SGP program. Downloadable file below.
It may be useful to look at resources for lower ages groups/stages. For example, if you are studying Biophysical Interactions you might choose to supplement your resources with activities from Stage 3 Water In the World and Landscapes and Landforms. You may also look at picture books and non-fiction books designed for late primary or early high school. Have a chat with your school librarian about the topics for Year 11 and ask them to find some suitable texts.
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the Geoactive text book series.