|Peter G Knight|
|1. The "What is Geography?" (musical) icebreaker exercise.|
Gets students talking to each other, gives them confidence by letting them talk about Geography indirectly through a subject they already feel confident in, opens the way to a discussion of alternative ways of seeing Geography, helps tutor to get to know something about students' non-Geography interests...
Do this in class or as an online chat. Do it in ten minutes or spread it over a whole term. If you just launch right in at the first tutorial and expect new students who don't know much about you, each other, or Geography to have a lively open discussion on the theme of "what is Geography" you might be disappointed. But that's an important discussion to have early on in the course, so this exercise gets students who lack confidence to come at it from an angle where they may feel more comfortable and more self-confident, thinking that they are talking about something they know: their favourite music. Instead of asking them to tell you what they think Geography is, ask them to talk to each other about what music they think best represents Geography: if Geography were music, what music would it be?
If Geography was music, what music would it be? I use this as a first-tutorial ice breaker, putting the students into buzz groups of three or four and telling them they have just 5 minutes to introduce each other, to each put forward an idea for music that would do the job, and to argue within their buzz group to identify their "best" suggestion. Normally I then walk out of the room while they start, or busy myself with some task that seems to take my attention, as they're not going to strike up conversation while I'm watching. Being thrown such an unexpected question gives them a starting point to talk to each other while they think you aren't listening: "What's he on? This is weird. What do you think?"
When the five minutes is up (or sooner if things go quiet!) it's normally enough to say "so, who's got some good music?" and volunteers will pipe up. If not, then "OK Jack/Jill, what was your group's favourite idea?" should get something started. Usually what comes out is a list of the students' favourite music, not necessarily tied in any clear way to Geography, but that's just the start of the conversation. It's easy to start focusing the students with discussion-steers such as:
...and from there, in my experience, it's always been easy to steer the conversation in a direction that leaves students needing to think more clearly about what geography is so that they can convince each other that their particular type of music is the best Geography music! Putting students in a position where they think they need to think clearly about Geography is always a good thing.
If things go slowly, try suggesting your own choice and make sure it's something they'll hate. I always use Mahler, and suggest that the classical symphony, which draws together many elements into a whole, is a really good analogy for Geography. If things get really bad, play them Mahler.
You can extend the class discussion into a first exploration of WebCT discussion boards by asking them to post onto the discussion boards links to YouTube videos of their favourite artists performing their most Geographically inspiring tracks... such as these:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqL2MZaor4k from The Geography of Light.
...and to link the whole discussion into their other modules you can start by mentioning that the highest mark so far awarded for a piece of geg-30014 coursework was for a student's sense-of-place music video set around Keele!
Some Geography references to throw into the discussion:
W.G.Hoskins (1955) wrote in “The Making of the English Landscape” that:
Austin Miller (1955), in his book “The Skin of the Earth” wrote:
The composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) wrote:
What some 1st-year students have written on the Discussion Boards
OK... take the discussion from there...