Inspiration for learning outside the classroom

  • Published in Travel


As a Geography teacher and an ad-hoc expedition leader, I’m a fervent believer in opening young people’s eyes to Geographical wonders closer to home, whether within the UK or across the Channel.

Fieldtrips to Spain are an opportunity to spin familiar holiday destinations on their heads, by exploring visitor pressure and coastal processes in the Costa Brava, or travelling further afield to the volcanic islands of Lanzarote and Tenerife.

The tectonic power of the Canaries never ceases to amaze young Geographers – especially those who thought these islands were just about package holidays and suntans. Lanzarote’s lunar landscapes were created by the longest and most powerful period of volcanic activity known to man, and neighbouring Tenerife is home to Spain’s highest peak – an active volcano that last erupted in 1909.

Back on mainland Spain, I find that Barcelona is an easy city to get my students excited about, with its Mediterranean shoreline and colourful culture. Host to the 2001 Games, Barcelona was the first Olympic city to use the Games as a catalyst to kick-start a legacy of social change – a plan so inspirational, it was used as a guide for London 2012.

From experience, I can safely say that Spain is packed with opportunities for hands-on Geography and, for an accessible and affordable option that’s easily reached from the UK, I think it’s up there with the best.


Geography Case Study: Mount Etna, Sicily

Location: NE Sicily, Italy

More than 25% of Sicily’s population live on Etna’s slopes, with Catania city at its base.

The Volcano: Active, composite (stratovolcano), formed by the Eurasian plate subducting beneath the African. 3350m in height and growing.

Key characteristics: Regular violent explosions and lava flows. Multiple active chambers, several craters, 300+ vents – Etna erupts from both summit & side vents.

Local Economy: Rich volcanic soils make the land fertile for olive groves, vineyards, citrus fruits and orchards. Piano Provenzano ski resort is on Etna.

July 2001... One of Etna’s largest recorded eruptions to date. Magma caused the volcano to bulge, resulting in earthquakes, followed by Strombolianstyle eruptions with ash, lava and volcanic bombs. Eruptions lasted for 24 days.

Impacts: Holiday villas, roads & buildings damaged (SOCIAL); Local vegetation & habitats destroyed (ENVIRONMENTAL); Catania airport closed due to ash; Orange groves & vineyards destroyed; farmland covered in ash; chairlift at ski resort damaged; ash fell in Catania (ECONOMIC). No deaths.

Response: Evacuation; US army dropped concrete to stop lava flow; cancelled holidays damaged the tourist industry; mass clean-up operation in Catania & surroundings; £5.6m aid from Italian government (SHORT TERM). Improved monitoring systems; better emergency planning; tourism used to boost economy; tax breaks given to locals to assist rebuilding; raised awareness of Sicily as a tourist destination (LONG TERM).

Post-2001: Etna has erupted annually but is well monitored and actively managed.

  • Published in Travel


Hear glaciers calving, walk through a rift valley and see a volcano let off steam, then experience the potential of geothermal energy and watch the Northern Lights, all in the same trip.

One of the world’s most volcanically active landscapes, and home to Europe’s largest glacier, Iceland sits just outside the Arctic Circle. The settlements along its fjord-indented coastline rely almost entirely on renewable energy, while the uninhabited interior is a wilderness of ice fields and lava deserts, giving Iceland the lowest population density in Europe.

This volcanic laboratory of bubbling mud pools and noisy geysers will blow your students’ minds. Meet the troublesome volcano that caused the 2010 ash cloud and discover why flooding was one of the major impacts of this eruption. Next, compare Eyjafjallajokul to Hekla – one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes.

All this tectonic activity is far too good to simply watch, so bring your group armed with questions about Iceland’s renewable energy, and have them answered at Hellishieldi – the world’s second largest geothermal power plant.

From fire to ice, you’ll experience glistening icebergs and receding glaciers, allowing you to transition between tectonics, glacial processes and climate change all in the same day. Mighty waterfalls add another geographic discipline – wait for jaws to drop when you arrive at Seljalandsfoss, which plunges 60-metres over Iceland’s former coastline.

Reykjavík, the world’s most northerly capital, is both an appealing student base and a fantastic urban case study – set young minds whirring when you ask how this tiny city manages its volatile tectonics alongside sustainable tourism and a successful economy, then examine its everyday services and rebranded harbour.

A Geographer’s dream, prepare to be awestruck by Iceland. To avoid the coldest months and see the best range of attractions and museums, visit between May and September.

Find out more about our trips to Iceland here

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