A couple of weeks ago, we attended the Geographical Association (GA) conference in Manchester. This is a conference for geography teachers, student geography teachers and the people who train them. We talked to many who taught their students the geographies of trade through researching their own clothes. We went to a talk where Hannah Campion, a newly qualified teacher, explained how she sparked her students’ curiosity about these geographies using some of our teaching resources. With the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse only a few days away, we are publishing what she said…
A £4 t-shirt
My name is Hannah Campion. I am an NQT at The National Church of England Academy, Nottinghamshire. My fascination around the Geography of my ‘stuff’ developed from undergraduate study of commodity chains, commodity fetishism and Cook’s (2004) ‘follow the thing’ approach at the University of Nottingham. An assignment during my teacher training course on ‘Fantastic Geographies’ gave me the opportunity to bring this controversial issue into the classroom, to enable pupils to investigate and to develop a curiosity around the lives of our everyday commodities. The initial scheme is a 5 lesson sequence unveiling and unpicking the life of a plain white £4 t-shirt from production through to consumption. In 2014, I was asked to display my work at the Geographical Association conference in Guildford as part of the Ideas Zone exhibition. Since then, I have written an article for Teaching Geography (Campion 2015) and presented a Teacher-to-Teacher session at this year’s GA conference entitled ‘Behind the seams: global connections in the classroom (KS3)’.
Where is the geography?
Geography is everywhere, and as teachers we need to raise the profile and enable pupils to be globally
aware that it is not just about places, maps and extreme hazards. Recent food scares, campaigns over labelling transparency and protests over the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013 demonstrate the social relevance of product traceability within society. Therefore, there is a need to critically engage in this at a school level to raise awareness and open pupils’ perspectives to become more informed and reflective global citizens.
Through using the ‘follow the thing’ approach, we can take pupils beyond their ‘lived experience’ (Young and Muller, 2010), and draw on their sociocultural experiences and their media awareness to reveal connections between themselves and others (Bruner,1961), ultimately bringing back the social relevance to school geography.
I admit it is hard to dig deeper and be creative within the classroom with the pressures of school accountability and ‘progress’. However, I argue that this approach answers the UK Department for Education Purpose of Study statement to ‘inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives’ (DfE 2013, 1). It also helps to develop the skills required of GCSE specifications such as developing informed judgements, and having an understanding of the interrelationship between geographical phenomena at different scales and in different contexts.
Engaging pupils’ curiosity
In order to engage pupils’ curiosity, I used media images of the Horse Meat scandal and Rana Plaza collapse to gauge prior knowledge and awareness of global issues. The scheme of work focused around an enquiry led approach (Roberts 2013) which followed a more dialogical ‘talk’ discussion-based lesson style, where the pupils took an active role in the classroom as ‘geographical detectives’, unveiling and tackling the multiple complexities of (in)humanity behind the t-shirt label. Pupils unveiled the chain through a series of enquiry tasks, for example:
How much should each person in the chain get paid out of the £4?
Who should be blamed for the Rana plaza collapse? and
What power do we have to change the chain?
The enquiry approach worked well to develop pupils’ sense of role within the global economy, opening their ideas to multiple perspectives and provided them with means to make informed judgments on controversial and complex issues. At times, pupils were frustrated when they discovered the complexity of social, economic and political conflicts that arise through commodity trading and that there isn’t always a right or wrong answer. This proved successful when pupils would return after lessons to argue their ideas and want to discuss the latest news seen at home relating to the issues studied in class.
A full outline and reflection of my scheme of work is detailed in the Teaching Geography article (Campion 2015). However two of the activities used were inspired directly from the followthethings.com website: a “What’s in my shopping bag?” activity and playing a version of the Ethical Trade Trump card game.
What’s in my shopping bag?
I filled my followthethings.com shopping bags with 5-10 fashion and food items, and handed these out to the class groups. Pupils then handled and traced the origin and connections as best they could from the information on the product labels. I also asked them to note what the labels didn’t tell them to develop the idea of the hidden stories and unanswered questions behind our everyday commodities. Pupils were really engaged with the practical element to the lesson, looking at products and their own possessions to trace the connections and map the spatial distribution on the class map. Having established the curiosity in the pupils, I set a homework task to get them to investigate the contents of their own shopping bags, showing that learning and geography goes beyond the classroom.
Ethical Trade Trumps
Having inspired the sense of curiosity about our commodities, the lessons went on to focus on the £4 plain t-shirt leading to lesson 4 on ethical trading. Pupils initially investigated the current ethical policies and campaigns of Primark and H&M, and then developed their own Trump Card trading game using fashion brand policy profiles that I had created.
I assigned a grading system for the pupils to use, but it was down to their judgement as to what grades they assigned for each category, for example: company policies, transparency, workers’ rights. I reproduced the cards for the pupils to play the game. This did require boundaries to be set to prevent pupils getting caught up in the playful nature and miss the geography, which was essentially brand analysis, looking into which brands were best to have and why. This too generated a lot of debate, especially around more premium brands, as pupils perceived these to be the best although, when analysed, their assumptions were altered by revelations about some of the less-than-ethical realities.
Having only touched on a few ways in which to make global connections engaging and creative within the classroom, I encourage you to look to followthethings.com for classroom resources and to look to Teaching Geography for my full account and downloadable resources to provide you with ideas to inspire your own ‘follow the thing’ investigations. We all have our own geographical specialism and passions to draw from to bring alive into the classroom. After all, Geography is everywhere. We just need to start using it.
Bruner, J. S (1961) The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review 31, 21-32.
Campion. H (2015) Behind the seams…the story of a £4 T-Shirt. Teaching geography Spring, p.26-28
Cook et al., I. (2011-) http://www.followthethings.com/
Cook et al., I. (2004) Follow the thing: papaya. Antipode 36, 642-664
DfE (2013) Geography programmes of study: key stage 3 (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239087/SECONDARY_national_curriculum_-_Geography.pdf last accessed 17 April 2015)
Roberts, M. (2010) Geographical enquiry. Teaching Geography Summer, 6-9
Roberts, M. (2013) The challenge of enquiry-based learning. Teaching Geography Summer 2013, 50-52
Young, M. & Muller, J. (2010) Three Educational Scenarios for the Future: lessons from the sociology of knowledge. European Journal of Education 45(1), Part I