Sir Michael Palin supports College Geography department

Sir Michael Palin has joined Steve Backshall in supporting The Henley College’s Earth Science department. When asked if he would support their Geography A level, Sir Michael replied immediately, with characteristic enthusiasm, saying: “Geography is more than a subject - it’s an adventure! Knowing about geography is essential if you want to understand what’s happening to the planet.”

The Henley College epitomises the practical and adventurous aspects of Geography, so admired by Sir Michael, with the teaching team taking every opportunity for learning outside the classroom.

Subject lead, Sandra Wickens, said “Geography is the study of the Earth, its atmosphere and Man’s interaction with it. Of course it’s exciting! It’s a hands-on subject and is not something which should be learned in the classroom alone. Going to Spittalfields and seeing inner-city issues first-hand puts the students learning into context. Actually getting out there and using simple equipment to collect data brings home to the students that Geography is a practical earth science. We give our students complete free rein their independent fieldwork project; they’ve done everything from human geography in New York, to air pollution studies in Reading to glacial erratic surveys.”

The department is extremely proud of its overseas adventures. Students have carried out fieldwork in the Atlas Mountains. They have gone to Iceland where they bathed in hot springs, studied geysers, watched the Northern Lights and learned about geothermal energy. They have visited the Bay of Naples, studying lava flows and climbing four volcanoes in five days. The team is currently in the throes of planning a trip to the Azores.

The Geography team is known for its passion and enthusiasm and has an unusually intrepid attitude to teaching. They have taught hydrology by getting their students to wade thigh-deep in the River Pang to collect real data which is then analysed in class. Local field trips and data-collection exercises are an important part of the course.

Emma Cook said “we are particularly proud of our students, many of whom stay in touch long after the have left Henley. It’s lovely to hear how studying Geography at Henley has changed their lives and has spurred them on to pursue an often adventurous career in the geographical industry”.

The students’ adventures in geography:

Fiona Naismith said “I’ve been accepted to do my masters in Migration at the University of Amsterdam! Now to celebrate by climbing Machu Picchu in the morning!”

James Moody got a first class Hons from Exeter and is now doing PhD at Sussex studying Geographies of Political Violence in Africa. He emailed the Henley team and said “this photo was taken in the Qadisha Valley in Lebanon. Between Bcharreh and the Cedars of God”.

Holly Brown messaged the team saying:Hi Sandra, I'm sending you this message because on Wednesday I'm flying to New Delhi as part of the UKIERI Study India Programme. Also, the programme involves a trip to Dharavi – somewhere I’ve wanted to visit ever since I learnt about it with Emma (which I referenced a lot in my application). So; I wanted to say thanks to both of you for making me such an enthusiastic geographer, as it definitely helped my application”.

Freya Ruparel, gained a place to study at the University of Cambridge after achieving A*A B in Geography, Philosophy and Environmental Science and will go on to study a BSC (Hons) in Geography. Freya has just returned from Hong Kong after competing in an International Geography Olympiad where Team GB came an impressive 3rd out of 60 countries. Freya said: "I'm so pleased to have got in to a great university. I have worked really hard with the help of my teachers and am really looking forward to pursuing my interests in the future, particularly the environment, climate change and human geography. I've really enjoyed my time at The Henley College."

Tom Hubbard, who achieved As in Geography and Geology and who is now studying Geology at Imperial College London, said “Sandra was an incredibly fun and inspiring teacher, especially on fieldwork. The independent fieldwork project was one of the best things I have ever done and has been incredibly useful at university. I love fieldwork and it is one of the areas in which I feel most confident in an extremely academic environment”.


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