Thursday, 15 November 2012

CO2 emissions by Local Authority area. 2005-2010

I've blogged previously about the Google Motion Charts I created as part of my previous job to display Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions for various Local Authorities 

I've finally got round to inputting the latest DECC CO2 data for UK Local Authorities from 2005 to 2010. These data were formerly referred to as National Indicator 186, DECC have revised them so that the 5 years are comparable for the first time. You should (hopefully) be able to see the full dataset below, if not it can be accessed in a new window here

The X and Y data sets can be changed by clicking on the drop down boxes and individual authorities monitored by clicking on the bubbles. It's best changing the scale to Log and then click the play button. Bubble size indicates total CO2 emissions.

It's interesting to note the decrease in Industrial and Commercial emissions that takes place for the majority of authorities between 2007-2009, before stablising and then reversing back to growth in 2010.
This links in with a Google Fusion map that the Guardian Data team have produced on CO2 per capita emssions for UK Local Authorities between 2009-2010, which shows a 2.7% increase nationally.

Change in per Capita CO2 emissions for UK, 2009-2010. Source: Guardian Data blog:

Looks as though we still have quite a way to go in terms of reducing emissions in industry and at home in the long term. 

Happy analysing!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Geography....... Never boring

A hurricane tracking up the Eastern sea board, followed by a national election with global implications.

Relevant, engaging and interesting lesson topics. The Guardian's Election 2012 site is worth checking out for the data on voting, along with this Time article on the effort and focus on raising cash and spreading the campaign message.

I also used this short snippet with my geography classes this week of Obama's speech in Chicago following the announcement of his re-election. It's a great example of Obama's superb oratory combined with a great set of messages about hope and equality.

Photo source

Geography is never boring!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

An Olympic Revelation from 2003

Heather Stanning and Helen Glover's Gold medal in the Women's Pairs demonstrates what can be achieved with dedication, training and a will to win. 

But our Gordonstoun School leaving book from 2003 was well ahead of all the pundits and journalists with this prediction of Heather's future Olympic glory.

Not a bad prediction (even if the spelling was pretty poor...!)

Captain of the Hockey team and Head Girl amongst other things, it's pretty clear that great things come to those who give it their all and are supported and encouraged along the way. Quite an inspiration for the next generation!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Iceland: a round up

Iceland. Photo: John Stevenson, 2012

I flew back from Iceland (24hr sun, clear blue skies, no rain) to the UK (dark, rain, floods) last Thursday. Apart from readjusting to a life that doesn't invole living in a campervan and searching for tephra layers in Iceland's soil, I've been thinking that a sign posting summary of the trip would be useful for finding bits and pieces and highlighting the blogs and websites I have found particularly useful whilst in Iceland.

 Where to start:

It's best to begin with my post on an introduction to Iceland and the research I was assisting John with: sampling ash that was erupted from Hekla from two eruptions - Hekla 3 and Hekla 4. This post also explains why we were sampling ash and how this could assist with estimating the impact from future volcanic eruptions. 

To understand exactly how we were identifying and measuring the ash, read this post on the sampling process. It's not just a case of digging a hole in a ground and sifting through soil though, as this post explains. The ash layers from the Hekla 3 and 4 eruptions can be found across Iceland, including the impressive eastern fjords area and the mountains north of the Vatnajökull ice cap, which are stacked full of interesting human and physical geography, as well as Iceland's highest mountain (climbed by the intrepid ash samplers, of course.)

Finally, there is a post on how the Hekla 3 and 4 eruptions compared to the more recent Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010particularly in terms of the amount of tephra that was erupted.

Useful information sites for Iceland:

For getting information and news from Iceland
  • A separate section of the above website shows you recent tectonic activity across Iceland. It's quite interesting to monitor the eruptions around Katla (Mýrdalsjökull  area)
  • The Iceland Review website is useful for catching up on a range of news stories
  • The Grapevine is another great website for catching up on news and comment from Iceland.

Geology blogs:

I've found the following blogs very useful for reading up on volcano and general geology information:

  • Volcan01010 - John's website provides lots of information on volcanoes generally as well as vulcanology specific to Iceland.
  • Highly  allochthonous  - Lots of useful information on all things geology as well as a very useful weekly twitter link to geology/environment related news and stories.
  • Metageologist. - Great website on the geology of mountains written in a very easy to understand way.

Hopefully those links will be of interest. Enjoy!

Enjoying the light. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Eyjafjallajökull VS Hekla.

Ask someone to name an Icelandic volcano and most of the time they'll make a good attempt at tryingto pronounce Eyjafjallajökull. After all, this is the volcano which 2 years ago brought chaos to flights across Europe and is estimated to have cost airlines around $1.7 billion dollars in cancelled flights. On top of this, the photos and impressive film-footage of the eruption and ash cloud made headline news stories for several days. I always find it interesting when talking to pupils at school to hear how the eruption affected their lives; trips to Florida and Australia were disrupted through cancelled flights and delays. A truly global event!

How much ash did each eruption produce?

The Eyjafjallajökull eruption was fairly small by Icelandic standards chucking out around 500 tonnes of tephra per second. Although this sounds a significant amount, it is worth bearing in mind that the Grímsvötn eruption of 2011 threw out around 10,000 tonnes of tephra per second. Quite a bit more. John wrote a good comparison on the two eruptions on his blog last year.

What has become apparent to me over the last three weeks whilst digging sample pits and looking at ash samples from across Iceland, is really how little ash and tephra Eyjafjallajökull put out in comparison to other eruptions, most noticeably the Hekla 3 (1000 BC) and Hekla 4 (2300BC) eruptions that we have been focusing on during the trip.

For example, the photo below is taken on the main road just outside of the Þorvaldseyri farm, approximately 10km from Eyjafjallajökull. You can see the Eyjafjallajökull 2010 eruption ash around 1cm down in the soil profile. It's a black grey fine ash that is approximately 1.5 cm in thickness. The ash colour comes from the composition of the magma that was thrown out in the eruption which was an andesite-like composition. The Hekla ash is of a rhyolitic composition so is white in colour.

Cut away of the soil outside of Þorvaldseyri farm, 9 km south of Eyjafjallajökull. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Now, compare the photo above with the photo below. This sample pit was dug close to a towncalled Egilsstadir in Iceland's eastern fjords. You can see the layer of white ash from a Hekla eruption that is, again, approximately 1.5 cm in height. As the Hekla 3 eruption took place around 3000 years ago there has been time for soil and organic matter to accumulate on top of it.

Suspected Hekla 3 ash (in white) from a sample pit near Egilsstadir. Similar thickness, but what about the distance? Photo: John Stevenson, 2012

This photograph was taken 300 km from Hekla!

Hekla: a much bigger eruption

Weather patterns, type of eruption and magma composition (amongst other things) will obviously effect how far tephra travels from the sourceof eruption. But the comparison of the two samples gives you an ideaof how big the Hekla eruptions must have been. Hekla 3, for example, resulted in cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere for a few years afterwards and has even been held as a cause of famines during Ramasses III's reign in Egypt.

So, how much tephra is there from the Hekla 3 eruption 9km from Hekla? The photo below says it all really! Except this time it's a mix of white to pink pumice. The sample site is a similar distance to the one below Eyjafjallajökull, both sites were downwind of the original eruptions.


Anyone order two metres of Hekla 3 tephra? Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Pumice, 2-3cm in size, deposited 9km from Hekla. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012
So, although Eyjafjallajökull 2010 caused a considerable amount of disruption, it's effects could be shadowed by future Icelandic eruptions, particularly those on a scale with Hekla 3 or the Laki fissure eruptions of 1783-84.


Following the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010, the UK government updated the country's risk register to include the dangers from explosive eruptions- such as Eyjafjallajökull 2010, and effusive eruptions - such as the Laki fissure eruptions of 1783-84. You can view the 2012 register here, the section on volcanoes starts on page 17.


Monday, 9 July 2012

R+R Iceland style

Pit digging, tephra collection and driving around Iceland have been on hold for the last few days as we enjoy the best Iceland has to offer in climbing and mountaineering. The van's crew increased by 2 on Thursday night when Gemma and Dave, expert field assistants and climbers, arrived from the UK to join the fun.

Time for some climbing

With mild weather and sunny skies forecast for the weekend we headed to Hnappavellir, Iceland's premier sport and trad climbing venue on the south coast of the island, 4-5 hours drive from Reykjavík. Despite an abundance of very impressive volcanic rock around the island the way in which much of the basalt lava cooled in contact with water or ice means a lot of the rock is very broken, loose and isn't that great for climbing. Hnappavellir is a basalt lava flow that has bucked the loose and chossy trend; the rock is pretty compact with great friction and an abundance of fantastic routes. A very keen and dedicated group of local climbers continue to put up both trad and sport climbs and have set up a little campsite at the foot of the crag which provides a great base to access the crag from. It's a very friendly and enjoyable location!

Bolt clipping in the sun. Photo: Gemma Stevenson, 2012

Iceland's highest mountain

Hnappavellir is also below Oraefajokull on the Vatnajokul Ice cap. It is Iceland's highest mountain (and volcano) with a nunatack peak called Hvannadalshnúkur. At 2,100 metres (1.5 Ben Nevis') it's a reasonable climb to the top, made more interesting by glaciers which guard it on all sides. The guide book times for completing the walk are between 9-16 hrs depending on the weather and state of the snow. We opted for a liesurely and not to alpine start of 8.00AM from the car park as catching the snow before it was too soft and tedious to walk through was more important than being benighted – not a problem you really suffer from in a country where it doesn't get truly dark at this time of year. We took the popular Sandfellsleið path up that wasn't too eroded considering it is the easiest route to the top and used by guided parties on an almost daily basis. It makes makes walking routes in the Lake District and Scotland look like motorways.

The crevasses (large cracks in the ice) close to the summit were particularly impressive and the natural snow bridges that enable you to cross them won't last long if the current hot weather continues. The surrounding ice cap is covered in a thin dark ash layer from the Grímsvötn eruption of 2011, which is located further north and west under the Vatnajokull Ice cap. In certain places on the ice the ash is several centimetres thick and has insulated the underlying snow from the heat of the sun, this leads to some interesting hummocky mounds that can be seen below. John has an interesting post about these ash cones and the Grímsvötn eruption on his blog 

Ash cones on the ice. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

From Oraefajokull you get an impressive site of the Skeiðarársandur area, from which we get the word sandur plain. This is the sediment that is washed out of a glacier and accumulates in the outwash plain below, slowly building land into the sea and helping increase the size of Iceland. A jökulhlaup, or glacier flood occured here in 1996 due to the sub glacial eruption of Grímsvötn that destroyed an ice dam and sent 3.2 km3 of water, ice and rock down onto the plain, destroying a bridge on the main road amongst other things.

Lunch stop, with the great expanse of the Skeiðarársandur plain below. Photo: John Stevenson, 2012

From start to finish took 10.5 hours; not bad considering the snow was pretty slushy although the high cloud did a superb job of shadowing us from the full strength of the sun. The summit rewarded us with some great 360 degree views.

View from the summit. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Happy team at the end. Photo: John Stevenson, 2012
We're now back on the road and from tomorrow will be heading towards Hekla with the intention of sampling much closer to the volcano. It will be interesting to see how much tephra has acuumulated so close to the volcano. In the mean time don't forget to watch the BBC'sVolcano Live programme these next few days and follow the links on Twitter through #volcanolive 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

We've been rained on.....

....but only for a couple of hours on the 2nd July whilst we were in the mountains north east of the Vatnajökull ice cap above the Lagerfljot lake. 

The Kárahnjúkar Dam

Having toured through a few fjords on Sunday and camped in the beautiful countryside outside of a small village called Eider, we headed up to the mountains with the intention of getting a few samples near the base of a mountain called Laugerfell. The map had the route to the mountain down as a mountain track, similar to the tracks we took whilst in the Kjölur area. However, the construction of a dam at the top of the Kárahnjúkar valley that was completed in 2006 meant that a tarmac road now exists all the way to Kárahnjúkar, making travel - and sampling - far easier.  
Rockwall of the 200m Kárahnjúkar dam.Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012
One big gorge, but then the reservoir has a capacity of 2.1 cubic kilometers. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Kárahnjúkar generates around 4,600 GWh a year in electricity for an aluminium plant. The building of the dam raises a few interesting questions around sustainability and energy production as the dam sits in a large wilderness area and it's construction and will have had a significant impact on the environment both upstream and downstream. But when your economy is in recovery, you have access to cheap and relatively green energy, and aluminium makes up 37% of your exports, you can see the benefits from a  politicians point of view. Particularly if the alternative was aluminium plants powered by coal fired power stations.

Back in the fjords

Leaving the mountains (and rain) behind we headed across to the fjords area again and down into a small fishing and ferry town called Seydisfjordur. At this distance from Hekla the ash layers we're hunting become significantly thinner, harder to find and difficult to identify. Sampling conditions were hellish at times, as can be seen in the photo below of our lunch stop location. 

Just about acceptable as a lunch time stop ;-) Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

The long and winding road back to Reykjavik

Today (Wednesday 4th June) we set off on the long road back to Reykjavik to pick up a couple of friends/field assistants for the next sampling sessions and catch up on some well earned rest and climbing. The incredible geography of Iceland kept coming though as we passed the Jökulsárlón floating icebergs calved from glaciers descending from the Vatnajökull ice cap as can be seen in the video below.

We also drove through the Laki lava fields, vast areas of land covered by a prolonged eruption of the Laki fissure in 1783. The scale of the eruption is hard to picture, but the fact that it formed the second largest basaltic lava flow in historic times and produced tephra that covered 8000km², puts the likes of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 into perspective.

Looking across the eastern Laki lava field.  Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Monday, 2 July 2012

Moving East

Since leaving the Highlands and returning to Akureyri on Friday we've been travelling eastwards with the intention of sampling in the Eastern Fjords. The weather has remained settled and mild, quite the opposite to what seems to have hit the UK over the last few days. We've now been on the road since the 20th June and covered a fair distance along the North coast and down into the interior before heading East. The van and all her crew are doing very well!
Ash sampling through Iceland, the journey so far.... Red line marks our route, blue marks the van camp stops
After being amongst fairly young lavas and volcanoes whilst in the Highlands and north coast we've now entered an older area of Iceland with geology that is more similar to  the Alps or Scotland. 

The effects of frost action on a basalt rock.  Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Ridge above Bakkagerdi.  Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012
The route to Bakkagerdi, a small hamlet accessible by only one coastal road, was quite an experience. Faced with what would appear to be an insurmountable scree slope the Icelanders had simply ploughed a gravel track straight through the middle and are prepared to clear up whenever an avalanche or landslip takes it out. Tarmac is for whimps!

The Borgarfjördur scree/track towards Bakkagerdi.  Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

The ash layers, they are a'changing

The ash layers we've been finding in the sampling pits have also changed the further east we have come. Where as previously the Hekla 3 and 4 layers stood out quite prominently (not least because they are predominately rhyolite and so white), quite a few black and white layers have appeared which we think represent eruptions from  Hekla 1158 near the middle of the pits and Askja 1875 near the top of the pits. The 1875 layer included some quite impressive pumice lapilli when we sampled in the Mödrudalur area. As we are now east of many of Iceland's volcanoes this change in pit profile was to be expected, it certainly means that every sample pit is different and surprising!

Continuing down the fjords and east coast tomorrow before winding our way back to Reykjavik on

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The sample tour continues into the Highlands......

A well deserved chill out day on Sunday in Akureyri, Iceland's second largest settlement with a population of 16,000, involved hot tubs, swimming, more slide action, and a trip to the cinema to see Prometheus. Although the film is pretty awful it was interesting to see whether the parts of Iceland they filmed in made it into the final cut. Going by John's description of the site they filmed just north of Hekla, it looks as though the gravel tracks are the only thing of Iceland they kept in; the volcanoes and local environment were clearly not impressive enough!

Back on the road on Monday we headed West on Route 1 and then at Vatnsskard headed south down the mountain road towards the Kjölur region. This was my first outing into Iceland's interior and the van didn't disappoint in coping with the gravel roads and washboard ruts. A river crossing to access sites on Tuesday made me thankful we had four wheel drive.

Hot springs all the way

On the way down we stopped at Hveravollir which is a collection of hot springs similar to those we later visited at Geysir. The photos don't really do justice to the colours and smells you get from being up close to them. Being located in the middle of a mountain track means it doesn't suffer from an influx of tourists so it still feels fairly remote.  On the way back on Wednesday we managed a well deserved dip in Hveravollir's outdoor hot tub.

Hot spring at Geysir.

The weather has remained reasonable for the last few days although showers and cooler temperatures are far more regular as you would expect from a mountainous region. The two ice caps of Langjökull and Hofsjökull dominate the skyline as you head further west.

Langjökull ice cap with shield volcano on the right and and table volcano on left.

Ash galore

In terms of sampling, we originally found it difficult to find suitable sites to uncover the ash layers. With it being a far more hostile place there are no farms and associated ditches around and the soil is very thin due to constant high winds and lack of vegetation to consolidate it.  We hit hard permafrost in one sample pit whilst digging down. When we did fine a good site the changes in the profiles have been quite interesting with far more course tephra present particularly in the Hekla 3 layer we have been sampling (click here for reminder of the different layers). This isn't as surprising as we've been sampling much closer to Hekla than last week when we were on the north coast. John's colleague Thor Thordarson joined us on Tuesday and was an excellent guide providing really detailed and interesting explanations for a number of the harder to distinguish tephra/ash layers and material from other eruptions such as those from Katla.

A pit sample from the Kjölur region. You can see the black  ash layer from a Katla eruption mid way up the profile between the Hekla 3 (brown top white bottom) and Hekla 4 (light yellow) layers.

It's not all been sunshine and happy sampling though. The small black flies that inhabit the upland areas have been doing a fine impression of the classic midge swarms you often encounter in Scotland. Although these wee flies don't bite as much, their sheer numbers provide enough annoyance that when combined with Tuesday's mild and still conditions they were definitely pushing a category 5 on the Smidge forecast.

Fly survival suit
We're heading back across to Akureyri tomorrow (Thursday) with the intention of continuing the sampling down the East coast.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

How do we know what past volcanic eruptions were like?

John and I have been on the road for a couple of days now working our way up the north of Iceland passing places such as Hvammstagi and Blondous. We've seen some stunning views and encountered some pretty cool geography along our way including basalt dykes, roche moutanees and massive slope failures. We got to within a few miles of the arctic circle when we camped on the Vatnsnesvgar peninsula on Wednesday night. Its been wall-to-wall sunshine (literally, as it hasn't been dark yet) as the UK seems to be getting the worst of the weather whilst we bask in the high pressure.

Chasing the midnight sun at 66 degrees north.  Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Anyway, we're well underway with the pit digging in search of the ash layers from a number of Hekla eruptions that I described in a previous post. But how do we know we'll find ash when we dig? What does it look like? and how can we be sure which volcano it is from?

Past research has logged the extent of the Hekla eruptions ash coverage and the depth of the ash deposits in different sites across the whole of Iceland. We're moving around Iceland again measuring the depth of ash from the Hekla eruption but also collecting measured samples at each site to estimate the density of the ash and noting down the characteristics of the ash.

Finding a site

Whilst driving around the roads and tracks we're keeping our eyes out for drainage ditches and streams which have cut down into the ground and revealed the soil on either side. Each pit starts off a bit of mystery as we see if we can find the main layers of from the big Hekla eruptions.  These are numbered H1, H3 and H4 as you get deeper, and are roughly 1000, 3000 and 4000 years old.  There was once a layer called H2, but when closer investigation revealed that it was actually under H3, it had to get a new name.

With good sites you can spot the ash layers (in white in the photo below) from a fair distance away. This works well until you find a site which has been altered significantly by large scale flooding or other processes. The Hekla deposits are noticeable in this northern area of Iceland for their distinct colour; it will becoming much harder to identify them from other ash layers the further south and closer to the volcanic region we go.

Example of a sampling site. How many ash layers do you think you can find in this photo?  Photo: John Stevenson, 2012 
In the photo above  you can see the white ash that we think is Hekla 4 in the fat white layer, this is predominately rhyolite - think of the stuff the rocks in the Lake District at places such as Langdale are made of. The slightly grey marks on the top of it show where the volcano started throwing out ash which was made up more of Andesite and Dacite, ash of slightly different compositions to rhyolite, near the end of the eruption.

We spend a wee bit of time at each site checking out the soil wall before digging away excess grass and covering soil with spades and hopefully defining different layers in the process. With a lot of the sites we know to stop digging down when we hit boulder clay, the material deposited by glaciers at the end of the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago. From here upwards the ash layers emerge as white, creamy or grey.

The art of sampling!  Photo: John Stevenson, 2012

Once we're happy with a section we measure how thick the layers are and where they sit in relation to the surrounding soil and boulder clay. John gets to work logging the characteristics of the ash layers such as size of the ash grains, the colour, as well as sketching the soil profile in his notebook. Meanwhile, I use a variety of tools all mainly used for wallpapering and DIY at home to carefully extract a small section of each ash layer as uncontaminated from the soil as possible. I then measure the size of the sample and then bag it. Then tidy up the site an on to the next area!

It's been a cool couple of days as we meet various people along the way and experience Iceland's awesome environment and friendly culture. Whilst sampling in a stream on Thursday night, a guy who owned the surrounding farmland came and inquired what we were doing. It turned out he was a Principal of a local school and is subsequently going to teach the kids about the ash under their feet and show them how the volcanoes of the south affect them in the north.

We're off down to Akureyri tomorrow (second largest settlement in Iceland) then we either go cross country to the area around the Hekla volcano or continue around the East coast sampling as we go.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

First few days in Iceland

After flying over nothing but sea for the past couple of hours the first glimpse of Iceland had me thinking we'd taken a wrong turn over Ireland and ended up on the far side of the moon; brown pitted lava fields surround the approach to the airport at Keflavick. I was met by John at the bus terminal at Reykjavik and after a quick clean of the van we got our priorities sorted and headed to Iceland's premier climbing wall which has a plethora of very hard, crimpy routes with an equally impressive number of young, strong climbers. A visit to the Laugardal swimming pool swimming pools, was just the right antitdote to a days travelling and a bit of climbing. I learn't that 44C is very hot and that I still get a thrill going down water slides.


 The weather has been mild and sunny (11C) in the short time i've been here. I'm writing this first part at 23.30 and its still very bright outside so the whole day/night thing could take a while to get used to. 

12.00AM getting ready for bed in the van outside of Reykjavík University.  Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

The plan

We'll be setting off tomorrow (Wednesday) to start digging pits to collect tephra (that's the rock and ash erupted out of volcanoes) samples in the North of the island, and working our way around the whole of the island over the next couple of weeks.

The blue blobs give a (very) rough idea of where we´ll be heading over the next week or so
The ash that John is particularly interested in mapping and measuring comes from the Hekla 3 and 4 eruptions so called because when you start digging into the ground you come across the deposits from eruption 3 first and eruption 4 second. The Hekla 3 deposits are the result of an eruption that occurred 3,100 years ago and the Hekla 4 eruption from around 4,200 years ago, the later is estimated to have spewed out 5,600,000,000 cubic metres of tephra from an eruption similar in scale to Mount St. Helen's in 1982. As with the recent Icelandic eruptions you can find ash from the Hekla 4 eruption around Scotland.  By working out the amount of ash in a given volume and sticking the data in a few computer models, it should help piece together where the ash would go if such an eruption were to occur again. John has a more in-depth explanation of all of this on his blog, Volcan01010.

Apparently most of the island has pretty good 3G connection, blog posting may turn out to be an effective test of this!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Iceland T-minus 24 hrs

Just packing the last few things in preparation for the trip out to Iceland tomorrow where I will be helping Dr John Stevenson carry out ash sampling and mapping as part of his post doctoral work. I wrote a more detailed outline of the plan for the next 3-4 weeks here.

The weather forecast for the Monday and the following week looks fairly Scottish: cold, fairly wet and damp with the odd sunny spell!

I'll be updating our progress on blog posts and tweets as we tour around the island in the campervan.

Monday, 11 June 2012

A half term break character building.

I spent last week in the Cairngorms assisting Windermere School with their Gold Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. I met a few of the teams during their practice walk in March and it was good to see them out on the hills putting the skills and knowledge they learnt then into practice. Monday and Tuesday were training days and we looked at emergency procedures, navigation skills, personal and group kit and river crossings whilst surviving the best Scotland could throw at us weather wise; snow showers and persistent rain in June is certainly character building! We were lucky the deep area of low pressure which brought the storms and rain to the south of England and Wales didn't hang about in the NE of Scotland.

Snow and hoared up buttress on Coire an Lochain.
I also managed to sneak in a few Munro's during the week and spotted some great periglacial features.

Ploughing boulder and solifluction lobes on the East side of Brearich

My group was pretty easy to follow with their Sombrero's on.

The groups covered around 80km over four days from the north to south Cairngorms. They needed tenacity, team work, leadership and a range of mountain skills to get them through the expedition. Skills and experiences that I think are best learnt outdoors and which I'm sure will stay with them and help with many of life's challenges!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Confidence building

One of my aims over the last couple of weeks has been to get more pupils presenting their work to the class. I think it is important the young people develop the confidence to stand in front of an audience and present their ideas to peers whilst improving their speaking and listening skills and developing a good understanding of what makes an effective presentation. Confidence develops through many experiences, because of my background I think I always favour the Duke of Edinburgh character building style activities, but the classroom environment can certainly play its part. At the end of the day it is often these skills and confidence in your own ability that get you places in life and can be overlooked in the rush for good grades. I’ve certainly found that the confidence I developed at school has played an enormous part in getting me the jobs and opportunities that I’ve been lucky to experience. This article sums it up quite well.

One step at a time..... presenting at TED.

A key barrier with the presentation has been trying to encourage all members of the class to consider speaking. It usually turns out to be the same keen (but very articulate) pupils volunteering. So how to tackle this? One recommendation from a colleague is to get everyone to present in the class so there is no option involved. If you set the ground rules for how the presentations will be given and received e.g people need to listen quietly and be respectful, but also think about the feedback  they will give the speaker after each presentation. 

I’ve tried the bribery option with chocolate which encouraged a reasonable turnout. I would also like to start with group presentations and then work down to solo presentations to build up confidence gradually. All of this involves trying things out over time, hopefully something I can focus on next year.

A few ideas in preparing and presenting that I want to focus on:

  •          Develop peer review questioning: Provide a clear outline and success criteria of what questions pupils need to consider.
  •          Giving good examples of effective presentations and poor presentations and getting pupils to think of what works and what doesn’t work. This could help focus the effort on putting together the presentation and learning the topic as opposed to becoming bogged down with the tech. For example, quite a few of the year 9’s really got into using Prezi and although it was nice to see the interest and fascination I wondered if they spent too long on the tech to the detriment of the research they were doing on droughts. Perhaps use clips from TED talks or Youtube and get pupils to think about what the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation were.

      Keen to hear peoples suggestions/thoughts/ideas

*UPDATE: 24/5/2012*

The BBC published an article this morning about how the Labour Party wants to increase public speaking opportunities in state schools. I'd like to think they got the ideas after reading the blog post last night, but i'm not convinced ;-)

The article can be found here