Primary Let’s Think through Geography

Written by Stuart Twiss

It’s a cold but sunny afternoon in February, I find myself standing in the school grounds of a Hampshire Junior school, pouring water on different surfaces and at different rates from a watering can.  Listening and watching intently are a small group of teachers and the core team of a new Let’s Think project.  Can small experiments with a watering can lead eventually to the reasoning pupils will need to inhabit our planet in a sustainable way?

The Primary Let’s Think through Geography (PLTtG)  project started up in earnest in February with four teachers from schools in Hampshire meeting up with a team of Let’s Think tutors, a school leader and an Associate Professor from University of the West of England. 

The project aims to develop a taxonomy of reasoning applicable to Geography and children at this age, in line with Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development.  From this taxonomy we have begun to develop lessons that are challenging for children to reason through the content of Geography. Michael Shayer is providing the guidance for this crucial aspect, especially how we develop a taxonomy that is relevant to teachers and appropriately challenging for children.

We also intend to have each lesson contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals as they provide an opportunity for a richer curriculum in which children have some agency and can make a difference to issues that will affect their future. This aim resonates with the original CASE development. Thinking about sustainability is complex – more complex than most Primary Geography curriculum journeys.  The question as to whether LTtPG renders this complexity accessible echoes the pioneering work of Shayer and Adey setting out to accelerate cognition rather than reduce the curriculum complexity.

A further goal for the team is to understand the experience of developing the lessons so that we would be be able to scale the project up into a larger intervention.  Many Let’s Think programmes are over two years with about 30 lessons. It is too early to say whether  we could do that.

The project scale is small at the moment with a trial of six or more lessons for Y5 and 6.  We are initially seeking evidence that Let’s Think pedagogy and approach is applicable in this subject and for this age of children.  The teacher researchers all have experience of using Let’s Think in their classrooms, albeit in a different subject, English, and it is their skill and experience that we will rely upon to bring the challenge to children and to gauge their response.  

Some readers may be familiar with David Leat and his publication Thinking Through Geography (1998).  David developed the resource for KS3 and we are delighted that he has agreed to be an associate to the team, offering critical advice on the lessons and approach. David has written extensively on cognitive acceleration and argues in a Geography Association paper for the importance of thinking through Geography.


So what is it with the watering can? 

Flooding is a consequence of the relationships between infiltration of water and run off which in turn are dependent upon rainfall frequency, duration and intensity and ground conditions.  Sustainable solutions to reduce flooding involve Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) that typically slow down run off to allow for infiltration. The complexity of modelling these systems requires deeper reasoning than Piaget would credit children with at this age and hence the challenge necessary in a Let’s Think lesson.

We expect to have some draft lessons for readers to look at in a few months and will keep you updated as we go down that road. Geography is a journey after all!