Woods in Ealing by the Grand Union Canal. The view from Alexandra Palace, looking south across #London.

Get ready for Mission:Explore Water

Rain stencil 2.1

I am currently working with the Mission:Explore team on a new Mission:Explore Water eBook. The free download follows our series of outdoor activity books Mission:Explore, Mission:Explore Camping, Mission:Explore on the Road and Mission:Explore Food and numerous free publications including Mission:Explore John Muir (which is available in English, Welsh and Gaelic) and Mission:Explore RSPB Big Wild Sleepout.   The water book includes over 50 illustrated missions that playfully challenge children to think about water in curious, creative and critical ways. Alan Parkinson has been working on a set of supporting resources for schools, Helen Steer has been producing the book and the illustrations are by Tom Morgan-Jones. Made in partnership with some fantastic organisations, we’ll be making full announcements about how to download the book soon(ish).

I love this mission illustration as it gives you a great idea of what guerrilla geography and the book is all about. It’s also a great and affordable mission to do on your own, with children or with friends. Do you recognise the artist that we are giving a nod to?

Tech Time vs. Wild Time for Kids

I have just returned from an 18-day trip with my 10 year old son in which we completed nearly 30 adventures. From Cumbria to the Shetland Islands, we have climbed mountains, jumped down gorges, slept on wild beaches and rescued a stranded sheep by sea kayak – all part of our Route 125 project with National Geographic and Toyota. Despite the wild nature of our explorations technology played a significant role in shaping our experiences – for both good and bad.

Tent iPad

As a parent and educator (I make the distinction, but all parents are educators) I always struggled with finding the right balance between my son’s screen time vs other activities. While some children are deprived of ‘wild time’ connected to nature, so too are some children deprived of important ‘screen time’ to technology. Wild and screen time are often pitched against each other in a simplistic and dichotomised way, but the reality is far more complex.


Nature and technology can conflict, complement, supplement and/or converge in a multitude of different ways. During our micro-expedition, Minecraft on our iPad definitely distracted Seb to his detriment on a number of occasions. He had to be asked not to play while on ferries between Scottish islands in order to be forced to notice castles and wildlife, something he enjoyed but needed help to experience. While I am a great supporter of Minecraft and can see a wide range of creative possibilities for its use in the wild, my experience was that it often conflicted with the many alternative opportunities around us.

On Slieve Donnard

We also took a laptop with us that included a range of software. Seb used it to write stories, many of which were influenced by the people we met and places we visited. When we climbed Slieve Donnard (the highest mountain in Northern Ireland) we loaded up GarageBand, a piece of software for composing music. Inspired by the cold winds, menacing clouds and deep quarries we collaboratively created a piece of dark dance music. Both storytelling and musical composition have helped Seb to tune into places in a deeper way, helping him to think through, sense and make sense of the places we have explored. Without a doubt, these complimentary uses of technology have been highly rewarding.

We have also used technology to supplement our time in the wild. WhatsApp is an application for sending messages, holding group conversations, sharing locations, photos and videos. Being able to communicate with friends and family may not be essential to have a ‘wild time’ but being connected helped us to feel secure and grounded in place, helping us take comfort from knowing we could reach out to those close to us. Enjoying nature does not have to mean feeling emotionally remote, even if we are physically remote. SMS and phone calls fit into this category too.


Finally, we have used technologies that converge with the wild, dovetailing into what I call a kind ‘wildware’ that has inspired or supported our enjoyment of nature and wild places.  GeoCaching, Mission:Explore and Wild Time are just three examples of applications, services and games that not only inspire ways to engage with nature, but also link us to a wider network of users that can offer a sense of community even when we are remote from or do not even know each other. In some cases these technologies can even record data such as wildlife sightings that can help conservation programmes and so nature itself.

Exploring is often boring and gruelling. Waiting for ferries or even climbing a mountain for hours can become dull especially for an active and youthful mind. When Seb and I climbed Ben Nevis we were taking breaks every 20 minutes until we started playing word ‘association’ and ‘listing’ games. Once these games started we walked for 90 minutes uphill without a break. The game may not have been ‘screen time’ but it was definitely a distraction from our surroundings and a myriad of learning opportunities. Playing Minecraft while waiting for a ferry may also have had a distracting effect, but Seb’s overall experience was improved because his boredom had been dealt with.

Going up Ben Nevis

Some of the moments I struggled with most were when camping. Some nights we played cards (traditional use of time when sheltering from rain and wind) and some of the time we played JetPack (a game on the iPhone that involves JetPacking through a maze of mean things that want to hurt you). While the traditionalist in me wanted us to play more cards, feeling that the JetPack screen time was somehow ‘wrong’, we were still engaged in collaborative and shared game-play even if the interface and skills were different.

As a geographer all of these issues fascinate me. How we use technology not only changes how we make sense of and record places but also how we create them, experience them and construct them in our minds. When we pick the technologies to research, navigate and share places this inevitably shapes and filters how we sense and process the places we are discovering. Just like people, places have much to offer us. By thinking about what we want from our relationships with places before we visit them and considering the technologies best suited to facilitate these, we are far more likely to have positive experiences that meet our expectations.


While nature and technology often compete for attention, the reality is that they can complement, supplement and converge in extremely positive ways. Like sweets though, its the responsibility of adults to moderate how much of different kinds of screen time that children get (until they have learnt do this for themselves). We give Seb 30 minutes screen time a day (if he has done his ‘homework’) unless he earns more (by doing good things) or is doing something creative. In my mind the answer in the wild time vs. screen time debate is clear; it’s all about picking appropriate technologies and using them in moderation. What is appropriate and moderate will be different for every person, place and situation, something I need to continue to remember as we keep exploring as a family.

Follow us on #Route125 here.

Say hello to #GeoEdChat


A short time ago I set GeoEdChat.com live. It’s a new effort from a group of us in The Geography Collective that we hope will bring about new relationships, thinking, practices and initiatives that will improve geography education. The idea follows #UKedChat and other hashtag based Twitter conversations that bring together educators to talk on a specific theme. #GeoEdChat is especially for anyone interested in geography education and will take place every Wednesday. It does not matter what your specialism is or the age of the people you work with, if you have something to say or want to learn more about geography education then this new site should be useful for you.

All educators clearly have different experiences of geography. We all work in different settings and situations, often with different aims and objectives. That said, the world we occupy and the internet that reaches around it are shared between us and together we can use one to influence the other. #GeoEdChat is an international, new and focussed opportunity to develop and share ideas and practices in geography education. I do hope that you’ll join us.


Science v Art & History v Geography

When it comes to exploring and making sense of the world there are some good old rivalries in many education systems. Science v Art is one, with science winning in the vast majority of schools. STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths) Education is all the rage, with some artists arguing that STEAM education would be more appropriate. I personally fear a society that neglects the arts and fails to recognise its importance… or the beauty in science itself.

History v Geography is another curious professional and educational face off. In the English education system the two subjects are often pitted against each other, fighting to recruit students at option time. As a geography educator I’ve had many challenging conversations with history teachers who argue their subject to be a superior lens for interpreting the world. In the United States geography is mainly taught through other subjects and mainly in history lessons. A situation that I feel is disgraceful and am so pleased that National Geographic Education is working on so hard to change.

In reality these cockfights are, in many ways, ridiculous.

Shakespeare’s Restless World, a new radio series by the BBC with The British Museum, begins with Neil MacGregor examining Drake’s Circumnavigation Medal.

In the first episode MacGregor explores how “England goes global” and “how one man’s voyage changed a nation’s horizons forever”. To the English in 1580 the world was just being discovered and maps created. These maps were not (just) scientific however, but artistic tools of propaganda that created (imaginary) histories and geographies of their own. A practice that continues to this day.

As the programme points out, the influence of privateering voyages not only influenced economic wealth but also the arts.

In The Comedy of Errors, written about 1592, Dromio, the quick-witted servant, outrageously compares a plump kitchen maid to a globe as he sets off on a raunchy geography lesson looking for treasure all over her:

Dromio: She is spherical, like a globe. I could find out countries in her.

Antipholus: In what part of her body stands Ireland?

Dromio: Marry, sir, in her buttocks. I found it out by the bogs.

Antipholus: Where Scotland?

Dromio: I found it by the barrenness, hard in the palm of the hand…”

Discovery and exploration is not just for pirates and conquers of the past. Nor is it just for a rich elite of exotic adventuring risk takers. And for that matter I would like Shakespeare to have reflected on how the female maid may have liked to have explored the landscapes of either of these men or the worlds in which they inhabited too. Exploration, like education, is for all of us as we grow, learn and experience the world and each other.. just like Dromio finding Scotland. Discovery and exploration is not just for scientists, artists, historians or geographers either. They are inevitably for us all. These subjects offer unexclusive tools and skills  that are useful for questioning, thinking and representing our world that can and should be shared.
In the next post I’ll be proposing a simple and universal curriculum for  explorers.


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