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Using ICT to Support the Teaching of "Place" in Geography

Colin Storey

Deputy Head
Sherington CE First School
Sherington, Bucks MK16 9NE

This summary first appeared on the TTA Research web pages and copyright is held by the TTA

Permission to reproduce the article below from  has been given by both the TTA and the author.

Abstract: An account of the daily use of digital photography to teach geography and literacy to 5-6 year olds Interaction with ICT using email further developed confidence .The whole exercise resulted in achievement of expectations for Geography, literacy and ICT.


To use a year's teaching of Geography for a Year 1 cohort to seek opportunities to employ ICT to support learning.

Dimensions of this case study

The progress of a cohort of 11 Year 1 children in a mixed-age class was followed throughout one academic year for their learning of concepts of 'Place' in Geography.

Summary of findings for this case study


Sherington CE First School is a small (NOR=50) two-class village school near Milton Keynes, North Bucks. Children enter at four years of age and complete Reception and Year 1 in one class and Years 2 and 3 in the second. Parental and Governor support is high. The village environment provides a focus for learning across the curriculum. The focus for this study built upon the provision of a Laptop computer from the BECTA Portables '98 scheme in which an e-mail link with a sister school in Dover had been used to promote learning in English and geography.


The cohort of pupils that took part in the study had (depending on point of entry the previous year) shared the classroom with the previous Year 1 children and had therefore some expectation of the year’s work. All had had an 'e-pal' the year before and had met their pal at a joint trip to London Zoo.

Semi-structured interviews, using concrete materials such as photos and e-mails as a focus, alongside practical tasks were found to be efficient and effective ways to gather information while continuing to teach.

The figures and tables following on the pages facing and within the text have kindly been made available by Colin Storey as part of dissemination of techniques possible whilst maintaining teaching activities with young children. The figures and tables formed part of the full report which resides with the Teacher Training Agency who have kindly allowed this dissemination of information.

Fig 1 The research protocol for Photo recognition


Colin Storey Sherington CE First School Bucks

Part of a TTA research exercise concerned with using ICT to support teaching and learning in geography: the study of place at KS1.

Recognition of key locations in village pictures


In the two weeks following the walk and the work on mapping the children were interviewed individually and shown the 18 laminated digital photos of selected locations again. They were asked two questions:


The children’s points of recognition of each photographed location are tabulated below.

As in the classroom mapping activity there was individual variation in the exact features used for recognition. The number of pictures (18) was large. One child named all correctly and was able to place them all in the correct order as we normally walk around the established circular walk. Others found it difficult to find a name for a particular location (X) but could often name a feature within the picture. This latter of course does not indicate recognition of a location, merely of that particular feature.


The results broadly conform to those of the classroom study. While the number of photographs was much larger and therefore harder to recall and name one child did so (the same child who drew the most sophisticated map of the area) and the remainder made acceptable efforts for these earliest attempts. The classroom views also offered much more ‘exposure’ as to the locations since these were available daily and more likely to be interacted with. Children in this larger activity showed less variation in the features they chose as points of recognition. These still varied largely from those I had pointed out as we walked around in order to give access to various elements of the curriculum (places of work and leisure – geography and PSE, different ages of houses – history, different designs and structures – design technology). In the classroom no indication had been made as to salient features since this consideration did not arise

Baseline assessment on entry in the previous year put all the children within the normal range of achievement though three (of eleven) were identified as having need of support for language and literacy learning. All activities were structured as part of the long-term curriculum plan for the year group. Special care was taken to look for links and opportunities to support cross-curricula learning, those between ICT and geography being highlighted here. Assessment of learning gain was carried out alongside QCA expectations for the work planned.

'Place' in geography

The setting of 'Early Learning Goals' pushes the formalised development of the teaching of geography into the pre-statutory (under 5) setting as stepping stones for the subsequent National Curriculum which specifies content in both geography and ICT. Exemplar schemes of work put this content into workable contexts adaptable to classroom settings for different year groups.

Knowledge and understanding of places is one of the four strands of geography in the National Curriculum and requires that:

"3. Pupils should be taught to;

a) identify and describe what places are like;

b) identify and describe where places are;

c) recognise how places have become the way they are and how they are changing;

d) recognise how places compare with other places; and

e) recognise how places are linked to other places in the world".

The findings

All the children were able to achieve within the 'Expectations' set by the QCA Exemplars used as units of medium-term planning. No attempt was made to correlate learning with gender or chronological age or identified Special Educational Needs as the sample size was too small. The children made good progress in ease of use of geographical language, as observed throughout the study and seen in the final e-mail / postcard activities. Good progress in language was also recorded in routine literacy tests. Classroom observation showed high levels of confidence and engagement in the pupils.


Mapping through the physical handling of photographs was carried out in the classroom and the village. In both cases children's successes in creating an array of photos to simulate a 'map' with the photographs varied. This paralleled their ability to draw a more conventional map-like representation suggesting an underlying spatial/visual appraisal at work though this must remain speculative. Within this variation there was deeper, and potentially more interesting, variation in how children had used the pictures, particularly which features of each picture they used for recognition and alignment with the others, as in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Children’s use of features in photographs.

More, detailed, work needs to be done to relate the complexity of the children's maps to their use/conception of the photographs. This could be achieved perhaps by more clearly controlling and separating the different elements here combined in this series of 'embedded' classroom and field activities.

School Walk table Available in Occasional Paper 2

Fig 2 Protocol for Use of Email



A number of e-mail correspondents were prepared from various sources (see e-mail table) and the children 'primed' to construct a questionnaire as part of a Literacy lesson on questioning. The questionnaires were sent as e-mail attachments and the responses received in a similar way. This study was running parallel to the collection of postcards 'sent' by a classroom collection of soft toys as they were taken on holiday by the children, and other, associates of the school. A variety of places were thus accumulated over the two years of their time in my class (see postcard list). Postcards were also sent by the e-mail correspondents to supplement to their questionnaire responses.

With respect to the e-mails children were assigned to a particular correspondent for the study but were given a free choice of which postcards to look at from the collection sent by the travelling toys. Postcard messages were read to all the children since some could read them anyway as were the e-mail answers to the original guided and class-planned questionnaire.

Questioning in both instances took no more than ten minutes and was carried out in two phases; an initial open question "What can you tell me about this place?" and a more structured checklist of questions to cover the Geographical requirements of the Year 1 programme of the National Curriculum.

All children were spoken with individually during the period 1-5-00 to 19-5-00.

Table of e-mail correspondents




supplementary materials

children assigned

Sally (Thomas)

Lawrenny, South Wales



Angela, Amy

Jane Foster

Goodrich, Ross-on-Wye



Lloyd, James

Paul Giller

Cork, Ireland



Steven, Anna

David Godfrey

Barnet, London

'portables' project


Shanice, Todd

Vickie Storey

Brookville, Penn. USA

'ICQ' name search


Freddie, Emma

Paul Inker

Fujisawa, Japan

open e-mail request




List of places represented by postcards


features shown

chosen by;


features shown

chosen by;


Koala bears






Victoria falls






map of Dartmoor



Dordogne valley



night townscape



spires in landscape



frozen canal – skating



Medicine Lake, Alberta



St Mawes' beach



Email table Available in Occasional Paper 2

A second use of digital photography was the 'challenging' of field sketches on return to the classroom. A printed picture or OHP transparency was made of a scene chosen for sketching and viewed by the children on returning to the classroom. They were then able to reconsider their first efforts and mark, correct and self-assess their work. Projects, topics, visitors and trips were routinely photographed and combined with children's own work this interaction.

E-mail correspondents sent us photographs of views from their classroom windows as attachments. These allowed the children to make comparisons between these views and the familiar from their own window. The thought that other children were looking at our view as we were looking at theirs was a motivating factor.

In all these photographic activities the same ends could have been accomplished with conventional photography but its digital counterpart, being cheaper, quicker and more flexible, allowed it to be an everyday aspect of teaching and learning.

People and place

The comparison of our local environment was pursued through an enquiry-led correspondence with six people around the world: Barnet, London; Gloucestershire, England; Pembrokeshire, Wales; Cork, Eire; Pennsylvania, USA; and Fujisawa, Japan. It was unfortunate that the teacher-correspondents potentially able to allow their pupils to communicate with my class could not sustain this due to work pressures. Nevertheless the use of these adult correspondents’ responses to our enquiries allowed the children to take a different perspective on aspects of the wider world beyond Sherington.

This perspective was widened by a second collection of postcards, made as part of the QCA study unit ‘Where in the world is Barnaby Bear?’. In this the children took soft toys on their holidays and then sent postcards back to the class from various destinations.

"...It's my postcard and Tom's, I've been to France and its a long way away on the ferry and its nice and there's a crazy golf..."

They continued to make comparisons from between places and the characteristics of places. However viewing postcards alone tended to produce a distanced, 'tourist' impression of a place as somewhere to visit.

"'s nice and sunny, along way away, its summer and there are old buildings and some houses..."

In contrast the postcards viewed alongside the correspondents e-mails tended to produce an appreciation of a place to live in.

"'s a place in Ireland that's 450 miles away and a lot of people live there, your friend is called Paul...he looks for water-boatmen...there's farms and countryside and a big hospital...people work in the University and on the farms and in the shops..."

In fact the personalities of the people were often as interesting as the places themselves.

"… it's where your friend Jane lives and she used to work with you and look after baby mice...'s beautiful, there are lots of fields and a great big river and a big hill, I can see the church from my house...people would have to look after the sheep and they would work in the shops like my mum works at Tesco''s nice and sunny and the sky is blue we would go by car because the train doesn't go there"

Although this could have been accomplished by conventional mail, the use of e-mail allowed not only more rapid and synchronous communication but also its subsequent manipulation as a resource. Post card Table Available in Occasional Paper 2

Links with literacy

The use of picture books to elicit geographical vocabulary and discussion became routine and often part of textual comprehension lessons in the Literacy hour. Those with aerial perspectives lent themselves to developing concepts of mapping, land use and physical features. Furthermore the idea of 'maps' as texts began to gain credence with the children thus supporting non-chronological and non-fiction reading skills.

Uses of ICT

In one series of activities the use of the photocopier as an adjunct of IT enabled children to explore the concept of 'nested hierarchies' and so locate places within places, as occurs in the successive lines of a postal address.

Digital photography had many advantages over conventional film:

When the processes of using ICT were made transparent to the pupils they readily accepted them. For example, whilst interviewing the children I typed their words straight onto a laptop computer. They spoke more slowly to accommodate this and followed the words on the screen.

Teachers and ICT

Future aspects of children's learning supported by ICT will involve a re-appraisal of some aspects of this work. It is hoped to enhance staff, parental and Governor involvement through the formation of a local CLUTCH Club. In addition the research may usefully be extended to include children's more subjective responses to place.

Further reading

Catling, S. (1999) Developing research in primary geography. Primary Geographer 38; 18-19.

QCA, (1998) Geography; A scheme of work for Key Stages 1 and 2.

QCA, (1998) Information Technology; A scheme of work for Key Stages 1 and 2.

Martin, F. (1995) Teaching Early Years Geography. Chris Kington Publishing, Cambridge, UK

Matthews, M.H. (1992) Making sense of place. Wheatsheaf, Hemel Hempstead, UK

Scoffham, S. (1998) Primary Sources: Research Findings in Primary Geography. Geographical Association, Sheffield, UK

White, R. & Gunstone, R. (1992) Probing Understanding. London: Falmer Press.

This document was added to the Education-Line database on 20 February 2006