The Faculty of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London regularly undertakes outreach work in order to alert the local community and secondary school students about the opportunities within our subject, most notably through the annual Science Festival.
However, over the past two years, there has been an event which is far less known about, but arguably just as important, and has come about due to fusing the two component parts of my own working week. As well as studying on the MA Cultural Geography course part-time, I also work as a primary school teacher two and a half days a week. I wanted to see if it was possible to arrange a relationship between our Geography department at Royal Holloway, and my own primary school within the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.
Several discussions with department outreach officer Dr. Simon Blockley in the Autumn of 2014 were held in order to decide the viability of the plan, and what a day involving the Year Three class of my school (aged 7-8) would look like. As 2015 dawned, the jigsaw puzzle came together and the red tape cleared, and I boarded a train at Richmond Station complete with 27 children, three parents and a teaching colleague. Once the class got over the apparent hilarity of the name of the station at which they were disembarking (Egham – they’re only young, after all), they boarded the student bus (where conversation turned to how ‘grown up’ they suddenly felt). The initial high point for one and all was the first view of Founders Building. The children knew that I went to university on the days I was not with them, but they didn’t realise that university looked like this…
Upon arriving at the Queen’s Building, Simon Blockley had arranged to give the children a tour of the labs which involved meeting the incomparable Pierre who gave them the opportunity to examine incredible bones, skeletons and other objects which remained topics of constant conversation over the following months at school. One of the integral parts of the day for me (as a student of Geography and a teacher of children) was that the class should be able to spend an hour in a seminar room actually doing some Geography – so that they would get a taste of actually learning the subject at University. I devised a lesson relating to our class topic of Rivers, and with access to some of the department’s OS Maps, the children set about producing colour coded maps of land use around the River Thames in groups. By the end of our session we had produced maps which could then be joined together back at school to produce a huge display of the land use of the Thames from source to sea – it was an epic piece of work which was a major talking point for all who would see it in school over the coming weeks.
Packed lunch in the quadrangle of Founders followed, before we returned back to school. The value of this trip was absolutely immense – the parents made a point of thanking us for arranging this particular visit (something that had never happened before) and some seven months later when the children were composing their review of the year which would go in their end of year school reports, over three quarters of the children mentioned the ‘Royal Holloway Geography Trip’ as the best thing they had done in Year Three. They also referred to wanting to learn Geography at university in ten years time – but only if they could learn it at Royal Holloway!
When I discovered that I would remain in Year Three the following year (2015/16 academic year), I immediately wanted to see if we could reprise the day – and the Geography department were more than happy to oblige. In April 2016, my new batch of 26 seven and eight year olds made the journey to Royal Holloway. Initially they were keen if only “to see what you get up to when you’re not with us”. This time, the taught session focus that I delivered centred around the importance of the River Nile to Ancient Egyptians, and we covered areas such as flood defences, dams and land use once more. Pierre and Simon’s tour of the labs was another high point, and once more, the trip featured prominently in the children’s End of Year School Reports. Another year for me in Year Three in 2016/17 will provide hopes that I can expose a third group of children to the importance of Geography and give them the aspiration to love the subject and want to attend university when they become eighteen years-old – hopefully as Geographers!
MA Cultural Geography (Part-Time)