This post began as a contribution to a special issue of the journal ACME on the new ‘impact’ agenda in British Higher Education. Our shopping bags and ‘ladybugging’ activities seemed to fit this bill, although their ‘impact’ wasn’t measurable (and that was the point). In the end, another short piece on impact was written for the journal. We have revised that original paper to post here, and hope it may be interesting for readers who are keen to use our site and/or bags in their teaching and wider ‘shopping’ activities.
Update September 2016: sorry, we have no bags left to give away. They’ve all gone. If you have one, it’s a priceless collector’s item. If you see someone carrying one, please say hi.
“We need to develop forms of critique that inspire hauntings, feed feelings, come alive, leap out and grab us, … that are not just about vital materiality but are themselves vitally material” (Cook & Woodyer 2012 p.238).
We’ve been working with a group of trainee high school teachers at the University of Nottingham this year. We’ve talked in detail with them about how followthethings.com could help them engage their students in a variety of complex and sometimes controversial geographical issues.
We enjoyed working together so much that, after hosting together a ‘Teaching with followthethings.com’ workshop at the 2013 Geographical Association conference, we decided to continue our work as they begin their careers as Geography teachers.
We decided to call what we were doing the ‘follow the teachers’ project. This would a) follow the use, adaptation and creation of followthethings.com resources to teach geography and related subjects, and b) share these experiences and resources online for others to use. Over the next few months, we’ll be hearing from seven teachers involved in this project.
We begin with Oprah Whipp’s use of our page on a Simpson’s couch gag to teach her students about globalisation and geographical thought.
I had a class of 30 year 7 pupils, mixed ability who had never studied the concept of globalisation, however this is a topic covered in detail in year 9, and again at GCSE and A Level. What could I do to put a spin on this topic, that wouldn’t become repetitive?
I began looking through the followthethings.com web page, which I was introduced to during my PGCE course at the University of Nottingham and came across the video clip directed by Banksy, and the opening sequence he created for an episode of the cartoon series ‘The Simpsons’. This was something I felt that my class would relate to, and capture their imagination.
In the lessons prior to this, I had introduced key terms, and completed followthethings.com shopping bag missions 1-3 on the Mission:Explore website. I adapted mission 3 – ‘Who made it?’ – by splitting the class into two groups, and asking one what they would say to a person who had made their bags, and the other what they thought those workers would say to them. This allowed pupils to gain a brief understanding of the concept of globalisation, focusing on worker’s rights.
This lesson began with me recapping the term globalisation, and then introducing Banksy by showing the pupils a picture of one of his guerrilla artworks (download my powerpoint slides). I asked them to think geographically, and about the topic we had been looking at over the past two weeks to help them do so. The class coped really well with this, and a couple of the higher levelled pupils even knew the artist and were able to inform their peers on his background.
The detailed walk through of the clip provided on its followthethings.com page enabled the gifted and talented pupils to read out loud to the rest of the group, which ensured the initial material (the video clip) was accessible to each member of the class and they understood Banksy’s reasoning behind it.
My main task was for the pupils to create their own piece of guerrilla art. Here is where differentiation became apparent. The lower levelled pupils interpreted Banksy’s work, and wrote a vague description and reasoning behind their work, whereas the higher achieving pupils really came to life, incorporating ideas from the previous lessons (the postcards and the meaning of the word globalisation).
I really enjoyed this lesson, teaching it was a highlight of my teaching practice, especially because of the positive feedback I received from my pupils.
Update: twitter feedback
— Oprah Jade (@OprahJade) July 22, 2013
@OprahJade Write for us next!!:)
— Protocol Education (@ProtocolEd) July 22, 2013
We have recently started working with the Scottish Development Educational Council (SCOTDEC) who have invited us to run a followthethings.com workshop at a ‘development education’ conference in Krakow this week. This is the first teacher conference in the ‘Changing habits for good’ project which brings together school teachers from Scotland, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria (for more, see the project outline below). We’re taking part via a videolink, and this is the blog post that will hopefull organise what happens. We’ve been asked to introduce our website and the wider project, including our ongoing ‘classroom’ project, and then to talk through some of the shopping bag activities we’ve posted on the Guerrilla Geography education website Mission:Explore.
This is followthethings.com
What is followthethings.com?
- It’s an online shopping website, if you understand ‘shopping’ to involve betraying the origins of things, like you might ‘shop’ a person to the police.
- It’s designed to have the look, feel and architecture of familiar online stores.
- It’s stocked with examples of art work, documentary film, journalism, activism, academic, student and other work revealing the lives of everyday things, i.e. the relations between their producers and consumers hidden by commodity fetishism.
- It shows how their makers tried to make these relations apparent, visible, tangible in ways that might move their audiences to act by trying to make them feel guilty, shocked, appreciative, awkward and/or involved in other people’s lives and work.
- It researches what its makers and viewers have said online about each example: what it aimed to do, how it was made, what discussions it provoked, and what impacts it had.
- It’s full of quotations that are arranged so that they read like a conversation, a conversation that can move from the computer screen into the classroom as teachers create lesson plans and schemes of work with its contents.
- It aims to inform and inspire new ‘follow the things’ work (by teachers, their students, as well as artists, filmmakers, journalists and others), which we hope to publish on the site too. Some examples of new work have already been published.
- It has become a popular website for teachers looking to engage their students in North-South relations via the geographies of commodities. So, we’re working on a new ‘classroom page’ to bright together materials and ideas already developed for this purpose.
First: let’s browse!
Click the homepage image above and you’ll get to the store. Get a sense of what’s available by browsing its departments. Where do you want to look? I’ll talk about any page you choose!
Second: a preview of our classroom page
Our site isn’t intended for any particular group of people.But we know that school teachers and their students are keen to use it. This is a page whose contents we’ve been working on for the past couple of months, with a teacher trainer, student teachers, an educational consultant, and undergraduate students. It’s not published yet, but will be by the end of this month.
Third: workshop activities
To get a sense of the educational materials and activities on this page that could imaginatively engage students in ‘development’ issues, we were hoping to give out some of our shopping bags (they didn’t arrive on time, unfortunately). We had these made in a factory in China that makes them for UK supermarkets. They are made by the same people, in the same way, to the same specifications. And we have produced a series of missions based on their lives and travels on the Guerrilla Geography education site Mission:Explore.
To get a vivid sense of Guerrilla Geography and Mission:Explore are all about, this video is excellent ( you don’t have to be a geographer to find this interesting!)
There are six shopping bag missions, starting with ‘get the bag’, and ending with ‘go ladybugging’! You can complete the series to win the ‘followthethings.com champion shopper’ badge, and you can borrow and adapt these missions for classroom, fieldwork or homework activities for your students.
We’ll go through the missions this afternoon, and then try one or two now (perhaps even setting one as homework). These aren’t impossible if you don’t have the bags. We will have to improvise! And feed back tomorrow morning…?
If you want to find out more, please comment on this post or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!
PS: ‘Changing habits for good’
This is a 3 year project funded through the European Commission’s programme for ‘Raising public awareness of development issues and promoting development education in the European Union’ (details here). It brings together a organizations in Scotland (SCOTDEC), Poland (Polish Green Network), Bulgaria (Creative Effective Grassroots Alternatives) and Slovenia (Institute for African Studies).
In this post, I want to briefly set out ways in which High School Geography teachers in the USA (and elsewhere) could use our site with their students. Why? Totally by coincidence. We’re visiting the Watson Institute at Brown University this week. Across the hall, a conference for High School Geography teachers is taking place that’s organised via Brown’s Choices program. When they found out that we were here and have been working this year on our classroom project – creating resources for UK school Geography teachers – I was asked to talk about this just before dinner today (for 10 minutes). This is the blog post that I’ll be showing on screen, combining what we’ve already done and what’s coming next in the followthethings.com project.
1. the main idea
This is explained in the short paper circulated at the conference. This was published in a journal produced by the Geographical Association – the professional association of Geography teachers in the UK – for High School Geography students and their teachers. The paper begins:
Many of us pay little or no attention to where the things in our lives come from. We may be concerned about factory conditions in other parts of the world, but not feel any direct sense of connec- tion with the people working there. ‘Made in…’ labels and ingredient infor- mation don’t tell us much about these connections and relationships. But they can be starting points for ‘geographi- cal detective work’ (Hartwick, 2000). This can allow teachers and students to piece together their understanding of commodities and their complex geographies, and provoke classroom discussion about the impacts of con- sumers’ decisions, which inevitably draw upon the key geographical concepts including:
globalisation – uneven development – interdependence – scale and connection –
proximity and distance – relational thinking – identity responsibility
This paper includes examples of student ‘follow it yourself’ research on socks, chewing gum and an iPod. You can download it here.
2. the website
This is the spoof online shopping site that opened in 2011. It contains over 60 examples of films, art work, and activism that aims to show consumers who makes our stuff, and to encourage us to discuss the rights and wrongs of globalisation and international trade. Each example has been thoroughly researched, and that research is showcased here. There are also examples of original student work, including the 3 examples in the paper quoted above. Please click the image to get to the site and browse…
3. the missions
The site isn’t made for teachers and their students. It’s made for anyone and everyone who makes this kind of work, or wants to teach with this kind of work. But its core ideas and content fits into the UK High School Geography curriculum in many ways. So we’re now working with Geography teachers and teacher-educators to develop and publish ideas and teaching resources for schools. The first of these was a series of missions on the Guerilla Geography site Mission:Explore. Its Explorers do missions, earn points and can win badges.
We have a series of six missions focused on the reusable followthethings.com shopping bags that we had made in China and are now giving away free to anyone who wants one (see our site’s Shopping Bag page here). The links for the missions are here (you don’t have to do the missions, some teachers just borrow and adapt the ideas):
These are the postcards that one trainee teacher asked her students to write based on Mission 3:
— followthethings.com (@followthethings) April 3, 2013
4. our classroom page
This is what we’re working in at the moment with educational consultant and soon-to-be-a-Geography-Teacher-again Alan Parkinson (see his excellent Living Geography blog here). We’re pooling resources in a soon-to-be published ‘classroom page’, which includes this searchable map (draft copy below).
5. get in touch!
This is the ship that brought our shopping bags from China (where they were made) to the UK (where we are located, and from where we send them to you!) in 2011.
The idea is that ‘shoppers’ do this over a period of weeks or months and send us the location (if you want to do this now, just paste its latitude and longitude into a comment on this post). We then pin – with a followthethings.com ladybird – each spotting on the map below and add your name as the spotter. Ian has started this off with a ladybird that shows the ship leaving the southern end of the Suez Canal.
Together, we can map it’s travels. What route does it use to get from here to there and back? Please check back…
You will notice that we have added an extra icon to the map: a ghostly sunken ladybird. These mark the locations of some container ships that have caught fire or sunk during the course of this followthethings.com project. Click these icons, see the wrecks and find out more about the dangers of container shipping.
Our shopping bags are the conference bags for this week’s Geographical Association conference in Manchester. They have many uses:
– You can use them like normal conference or shopping bags;
– You can photograph them full, research their contents, and upload the results to our Flickr group like this;
– You can cut a ladybird out of your bag (patch up the hole) and do some ‘ladybugging’ (e.g. 1 2);
– You can try our 3 (soon to be 6) shopping-bag missions on Mission:Explore;
– You can submit a lesson plan in which your students use our site (like this one), and we’ll send you enough bags for your whole class.