Geography field trips designed for teachers, by teachers
Discover the World’s Nick and Jan accompanied 12 teachers and a consultant from the Geography Association to Norway in October, on a first-of-its-kind focus group trip.
The basic premise for Discover the World’s first ever focus group trip was to take a group of experienced geography teachers to one of our destinations in order to show them the wide variety of scenery, activities and excursions available which might be of interest on a geography field trip, then collate their feedback via a series of focus groups to help us better plan our programme and itinerary. After all, who better to tell us what a geography teacher looks for in a school field trip than a geography teacher? Well, maybe a dozen or more of them.
So it was with slight trepidation that I made my way to Heathrow airport at 4.00am to meet my companions to travel to Norway’s Hardangerfjord region. I’ve hosted group tours, been up before dawn more times than is probably good for my health and was thoroughly excited about visiting some of Europe’s most fabulous scenery during the week, but the thought of standing in front of 13 teachers to run a series of focus groups during the tour kept creeping into my mind and made me feel a bit like a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, about to perform to the panel of expert professionals.
My concern was ill-founded, as I learned midway through the first evening session when trying to get the various groups to wrap up their discussions so we could move on and not over-shoot our schedule. “Don’t worry about the time,” I was told. “All we’ll be doing when the session stops is going next door and talking about this stuff anyway – geography teachers love talking about geography!” And so it proved, as we witnessed keen ‘geographising’ at all times of the day and night.
The success of the trip depended on the quality and quantity of feedback we received from the group, and we returned overwhelmed with knowledge, tips, advice and opinions on all manner of aspects of the trips. If we learned anything during the week, it was that every teacher, school and group has their own unique needs and requirements from a tour.
Over the course of the week we visited a host of sites, met some truly wonderful people and saw some of the most spectacular scenery any of us had seen – no small boast when comparing the extensive and varied travel CVs on offer.
I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the 13 brave souls who gave up their much-needed half-term to join Discover the World on a pioneering trip to Hardangerfjord – I know they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but more importantly the legacy of the time and effort they contributed will help us to provide schools with ever-improving programmes of study and teaching resources to inspire the next generation of geographers.
We’re currently working on our next focus trip destination – if you fancy the prospect of joining us in the field next year as a Discover the World advisor, it’s not too late to submit your application.
Meanwhile, we’ll be implementing some of the recommendations and ideas into our Norway itineraries over the winter, whilst we are working closely with the GA to launch our range of teaching resources sometime in Spring 2014. Keep your eyes on our homepage or enewsletter for updates.
I had never been to Norway before but remember being told in GCSE geography how fjords were created, so to finally go and see the landforms first hand was amazing. The trip with Discover the World gave us an excellent overview of Norway and the possibilities that it could offer to our geography studies, both at GCSE & A Level, and to a lesser extent Key Stage 3.
We began our tour in the tourist city of Bergen. Bergen could offer many opportunities for geography studies, in particular the impact that tourism has had on the city, and influenced the development of Bergen.
The Norway in a Nutshell tour involved a cruise along a fjord, and then another train along the Flam railway, described quite rightly as one of the most beautiful railways in the world, even in October! The cruise was a dream as a geography teacher, as glacial features were aplenty: hanging valleys, truncated spurs and U-shaped valleys to name a few. Students would be in awe of the landscape, and there is plenty to field sketch and annotate.
Energy plays an important role in GCSE and A Level specifications as well as our day-to-day lives, so to be able to visit a HEP plant deep inside a mountain was amazing. The Sima Power Plant is well worth a visit, with the visitor centre offering an excellent video that explains the role of the company within the local community as well as the theory behind HEP power, and the tour inside the HEP plant where you can see and hear the generators in action was most impressive.
Overall I was very impressed with Norway as a study destination for GCSE and A Level geography, and can’t wait to organise a study group there in the very near future.
Discover the World put together an excellent itinerary which was varied and interesting. The trip ran exceptionally smoothly and packed a lot into a short space of time.
My focus group experience was a lot of fun. The trip was well organised, the company was excellent and we had a wonderful time geographising our way around the Hardangerfjord region.
Jan and Nick took wonderful care of us and I would highly recommend submersing yourself back into the world of real geography by getting to experience first-hand another wonderful destination.
Discover The World are an educational travel company that offer high quality field trips to unique destinations around the world. They place great value on inspiring and developing student’s knowledge of the world through individually designed itineraries specific to the needs of the group.
Going to Norway with Discover the World was a fantastic experience. Not only was the scenery spectacular, but the people were friendly and the food unexpectedly great. I feel this would be a great place for a school trip, not only for the geographical beauty but also care and respect the people show for your every need.
Natural beauty at its best. We experienced awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping scenery – mountains, waterfalls, fjords, glaciers and jumping fish! Geography heaven!
Wildlife watching and white-water rafting in Costa Rica with Discover the World
Megan tells us about her once-in-a-lifetime experience with a Discover the World group in Costa Rica
Following my recent trip to Costa Rica it’s very hard to tell you everything I loved about it. I was there for just over two weeks and so I saw so many awe inspiring sights during my time there. I could quite easily go through every single highlight of my trip however you would be reading for a really long time.
Costa Rica – its name translates into “Rich Coast” This isn’t actually an indication of their economic position; it is in fact to do with the richness of the land. Costa Rica is filled with greenery; during my time there I didn’t see one bare area. You are surrounded by rainforests, cloud forests and lush greenery wherever you go. This in turn offers the perfect home for an array of wildlife. During my time there I was lucky enough to see rare birds, frogs and mammals. Costa Rica gave me my very first encounter of a Sloth, a medium sized mammal that lives in the top of the trees. They are very slow moving and although Costa Rica is home to many sloths they are quite difficult to spot. We were extremely lucky to see three wild sloths whilst we were exploring the rainforests. This was a major highlight for me. We were also given the opportunity to visit the Sloth Sanctuary on the Caribbean Coast. This is the only sloth sanctuary in the world. This gave us an opportunity to see the creatures up close and learn about the troubles they encounter when trying to move around the rainforest. It was such a unique experience and one I will certainly not forget.
Costa Rica offers so many opportunities for the adrenaline junkies out there. You can take part in anything from zip-lining to kayaking, and even Tarzan swings. We decided to white-water raft into our overnight camp on one of the days. This was such an amazing experience. Before you get started you are given a safety talk. You are also taught all of the commands you need to know... it turns out white-water rafting is quite a skill and takes a lot of concentration. Before we departed I noted everyone’s faces were slightly pale and everyone seemed a little bit anxious (me included) but as soon as we set off and hit our first rapid all our fears went away. What fun! We listened to the commands and used our paddles accordingly. One minute you’re gliding on top of the water and the next minute you’re surrounded by white water and not really sure which direction you are going or where you are going to end up. We certainly got soaked but by the end of our rafting experience everyone was so sad that we couldn’t do more. White-water rafting is a fun, fast paced experience that is sure to raise your adrenaline. It’s definitely on my list to do again.
Once we had finished white-water rafting we made our way into our overnight camp (El Nido del Tigre) We enjoyed a fantastic homemade lunch cooked by the guides before spending an afternoon relaxing and looking out over the river and rainforest. After another amazing home cooked meal in the evening it was time for me to make my way to my riverside tent. The tent was surprisingly comfortable with a proper mattress and full bedding. I fell asleep to the sound of the river and the rainforest noises and awoke to the same. How many people get to white-water raft into a secluded camp and then sleep right in the middle of the rainforest? This was definitely a highlight for me.
A couple of days later we made our way to the Pacuare Reserve. This reserve is perched on the coastline and the volunteers there research the turtles and their hatchlings during the nesting season. You need to take a river boat to get to the reserve. This was supposedly a transfer however we saw so many birds and even a giant crocodile on our way to the reserve it felt like a wildlife tour. Upon arrival we were served lunch and the volunteers then explained that they needed to check a turtle nest which hatched two days ago. They check the hatched nests to see if any turtles are stuck and they also examine the eggs which didn’t hatch. Once we reached the nest we were advised that one of the volunteers had found a hatchling that had become stuck, but was still alive. Sadly she seemed very lethargic and we didn’t think she would make it but two hours later and after a lot of TLC she made her way down to the water and swam away. This was probably one of the most touching and unique experiences I have ever had. We had successfully released a baby turtle. That evening we had our evening meal and headed out on turtle patrol for the night. Sadly there was no more activity that night but none of us minded given our afternoon experience. Pacuare has no electricity so on our return we went back to our rooms and lit our candles for light. It was surprisingly basic but everyone seemed to love the simplicity of life at the Pacuare Reserve.
I could certainly talk further about the all the other highlights I experienced during my time in Costa Rica but there are just so many. Costa Rica is a beautiful, interesting and friendly country that I would recommend anyone to visit. They will welcome anyone of any age with open arms and make you feel welcome. You can really become one with the nature in Costa Rica like no other place in the world.
Travel China's mighty Yangtze River with Discover the World
Discover the World's Nick experienced our brand new Education tour - the highlight of which is a four night cruise through the Three Gorges:
Shanghai is not only one of the great cities of the modern era, but a truly inspiring place to study urban geography. Shanghai was once one of the most important trading ports in the world and the historic colonial riverside area of the Bund was the old financial centre of the city, but is now overshadowed by the gleaming skyscrapers of the Lujiazui banking district on the east bank of the Huangpu river, a powerful contrast in development over the last century.
Our trip to the excellent Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre highlighted the carefully planned development of the city in all aspects over this period, converting the old docklands and traditional wooden neighbourhoods into a model modern city with fully-integrated and sustainable transport systems, redeveloped suburbs and new purpose-built entertainment and leisure complexes.
For a sense of the old history of Shanghai we visited Zhujiajiao water village, an ancient town dating back 1,700 years and a kind of Chinese Venice, with narrow waterways threading their way through the village and stone bridges linking the various islands. Craftspeople ply their trade in the stalls and shops whilst traditional boats serve as local taxis. The contrast with the vibrant city centre, just 30 miles away, has to be seen to be believed!
Although Shanghai sits at the mouth of the Yangtze, our first glimpse of the Yangtze proper was as our plane descended through the mist revealing a landscape of heavily-forested mountains. As I craned my neck for a better view the city of Yichang, the starting point of our 4 night cruise came into view, flanked by the widest river I have ever seen. I knew that this was one of the world’s great rivers by length and importance, but the scale was still something of a surprise.
I rose before breakfast the next morning, having slept soundly aboard our ship, and joined a few other hardy early risers on deck as the boat began its long journey west to Chongqing. The first two days would be spent travelling 120 miles along the famous Three Gorges, and we entered the first, Xiling Gorge, before breakfast. As we gazed awe-struck at the towering cliffs rising vertically from the muddy waters of the river, our guide pointed out features in the rocks and highlighted photo opportunities.
After a hearty breakfast we disembarked for our visit to the Three Gorges Dam Project – it seemed incredible that I was about to see something which I’d first learned about in school 25 years previously, back when it was in the planning stages and was located somewhere I’d never heard of on the opposite side of the world!
The sheer scale of the project was staggering. I wasn’t expecting the largest hydropower dam in the world to be small, but at over a mile and a half long it dominated the horizon long before we even drew close. Our guided visit included a climb to the top of an artificial island for panoramic views of the dam and the ship-lock system alongside, which transports freight and passenger boats up approximately 100m through a series of 5 locks, and entry to the visitors centre for further information on the scale and construction of the dam.
The highlight however, was saved for the evening when, after an afternoon exploring a traditional mountain village, we entered the colossal locks to be elevated to the reservoir level for our onward journey upstream. Our boat was absolutely dwarfed by the 30m+ walls and immense metal gates which slowly entombed us as they swung shut to a cacophony of wailing and thunderous noise, echoing in the deep pit. Transfixed, I remained on deck throughout all four locks (the seasonal low water level meant we didn’t have to use all five) to experience a truly unique journey.
The following morning we transferred to smaller boats for a half-day excursion up the Daning River, a tributary of the Yangtze. We left our ship near Wushan, a medium-sized city which had to be entirely rebuilt due to the rising waters of the river caused by the dam. Our local guides explained how they and their families had been relocated, and the impact this had on their lives – truly the cost of building the dam was more than simply financial.
The Daning River was much narrower than the Yangtze and the cliffs seemed higher and somehow even more vertical – they were certainly more photogenic, with temples and thick forests clinging to precipices, and at one stage a long veranda impossibly snaked its way along a sheer cliffside, allowing local people an alternate mode of transport other than by boat. At times the landscape flattened and we saw signs of habitation – villages and agricultural land, plus the occasional small boat. Eventually we transferred to sampans, small traditional boats, to allow us even further into the narrow waterways which, despite being less than 10m wide, were hundreds of metres deep.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the cruise was our arrival in Chongqing two days later, a mega-city with a population of 33million in the greater metropolitan area and a contender for the largest city on the planet. Despite having travelled around 350 miles on the Yangtze, the river had shown no signs of diminishing in size or importance – indeed Chongqing’s success was built on its location midway along the river, making it one of the most important trading cities in China.
Our final stop was Beijing, a city I found to be almost the polar opposite of Shanghai. Situated inland it is an ancient and very traditional city, and remained protected from and uninfluenced by the outside world for centuries. The traditional seat of power of numerous Chinese dynasties, it’s the cultural and educational centre of China and has been the permanent capital since Mao Zedong took power of the country in 1949.
At its heart lies the Forbidden City, a vast palace compound which was the home of the Emperor for almost 500 years, and so-called because no-one could leave or enter without the Emperor’s express permission. Outside the walls is Tiananmen Square, the 3rd largest city square in the world and home to the Chinese parliament in the Great Hall of the People.
Whilst there are modern parts of Beijing, it lacks the wide-scale high-rise buildings which typify Shanghai, and has a much-more relaxed pace. We watched local people practise Tai Chi and calligraphy in the parks, and wandered through the great walled complexes of the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, both former Imperial sites.
The local people were so friendly, keen to stop and chat, find out who we were and where we were from and pose for endless photographs!
The first of my personal highlights in Beijing was our visit to the Great Wall of China, another place I had learned about as a child which at the time I never thought I’d see. Whilst we only saw a glimpse of the 5,500 mile walls, it was moving to see it draped delicately over the mountains, yet simultaneously so formidably strong and impregnable.
The second, a traditional Kung Fu performance by trained Shaolin monks, was simply breath-taking. Set to music, the story followed a young monk through his training in the martial arts and featured formidable demonstrations of agility and precision, not to mention almost magical strength!
Our final stop, to see the Bird’s Nest Stadium of the 2008 Olympic Games, remains to me a fitting final statement about current-day China – a country incredibly proud of its long, rich history and unique culture, yet one firmly embracing the future, keen to develop and lead the way in a modern world.