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Geography

Geography is a popular and successful subject at Merchiston.

In the Department we share a real enthusiasm for our subject, and a desire to communicate this to our pupils. In studying Geography, pupils investigate the interdependent links between people and their environment on local, regional and international scales. The subject encompasses the natural processes that shape the planet, the cultural diversity of its inhabitants, and contemporary issues of environment and development and geopolitics.

We seek to engage pupils in learning Geography by encouraging them to work and think independently and by ensuring our teaching is stimulating, varied and creative. We strongly believe that fieldwork is an essential component of the subject giving all year groups opportunities to take part in fieldwork activities.

We are delighted by the numbers of pupils who go on to study Geography related subjects at University, with Geography graduates being amongst the most employed group upon graduation (due to the wide skill base the subject involves, and its relevance to contemporary society and developing world issues). We aim to support and extend the learning and interests of all pupils through a range of specially arranged activities, including seminars, lectures, field work, and study-day visits, Geography Society evening discussions, as well as a generous provision of extra-support drop-in sessions.

Staff

Tanya Bower

Tanya Bower

Head of Department
BA, MSc, DPhil, AKC, FRGS

After lecturing at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Kings College London, Bristol University and Keele University, Dr Bower trained as a teacher at the University of Edinburgh. She has written two books and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and has taught at Scottish schools including Glenalmond and St George's. Tanya assists with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Scottish dancing, athletics, and is a lieutenant in the CCF (currently contingent commander for Shell).

Stuart Buchanan

Stuart Buchanan

Teacher of Geography

Mr Buchanan achieved his undergraduate degree in Geography from the University of St Andrews before embarking upon his teacher training at Edinburgh University. He spent 4 years teaching in the Highlands before joining Merchiston in 2016. He has a keen interest in the outdoors and is an active supporter of the Duke of Edinburgh's Scheme. In addition to this, Mr Buchanan also assists with rugby training for the Middle Years and has the role of Assistant Housemaster of Chalmers East.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

Teacher of Geography
BSc

Mr Hall is a graduate of Strathclyde University. He spent 8 years teaching in New Zealand before returning with his young family to join Merchiston in 2012. He has many sporting interests, and is an experienced rugby coach, having coached the 1st XV at his last school in New Zealand.

Martin Harkins

Martin Harkins

Assistant Housemaster in Pringle, Teacher of Geography, Primary Specialist
BA

Mr Harkins is an upper primary specialist. After reading for his BA in Economics at the University of Stirling he obtained his teaching qualification at the University of Strathclyde, and completed his probationary year in Inverness. As well as teaching Geography up to III Form, his co-curricular involvement includes a number of sports and outdoor education.

Michael Raikes

Michael Raikes

Teacher of Geography, Director of Junior Sport
MA

Mr Raikes is an experienced teacher of Physical Education primarily within our Junior School. His main focus is on the teaching of the core aspects of PE as well driving the Fundamental Skills component of the PE curriculum. As Director of Junior Sport, Mr Raikes oversees the running of our Junior Sport and Activity programmes, whilst being a lead coach in both rugby and cricket throughout the school. His main aims are to get boys playing a number of different sports, whilst ensuring that participation and enjoyment are at the forefront of our sporting programmes.

Facilities

The Geography Department is housed in the teaching facility known as ‘Mount Olympus’, above Evans House. The Department makes its teaching and learning stimulating through the use of a variety of active learning techniques and enquiry based study as well as utilising strong audio-visual and IT resources. We use Google Classroom as the portal for pupils accessing (using their own laptop / ipad) many of the teaching and learning materials to help themselves support their own learning outside of the classroom as well as within.The Department has interactive white boards in all three teaching rooms and is strong in using IT and fieldwork. Pupils often use personal laptops / ipads in the Department for research and presentation as well.

Curriculum

Lower School

In the lower years, pupils study a range of topics which build their understanding of both human and physical aspects of the world around them, with a particular emphasis on important building blocks for understanding a range of geographical processes and issues, and that involve analysing contemporary world affairs. Examples include the dynamics of the physical landscape (such as rivers, coasts, and tectonic hazards), understanding concepts such as fragility, thresholds, and sustainability from an analysis of contrasting ecosystems, complex world issues (such as poverty, climate change, and inequality), as well as some regional knowledge. This provides the pupils well with the skills needed for study further up the school. The teaching is engaging, interactive and thought-provoking. Opportunities are regularly provided for pupils individualise their focus, for example, by their own chosen case study. Also to take their learning outside of the classroom to utilise the fantastic opportunities of our school campus and our local area.

Shell and V Form

The curriculum for Shell and V Forms follows the Cambridge Geography IGCSE course, focusing on international issues related to population and settlement, economic development and the natural environment. 27.5% of the syllabus is coursework (a geographical investigation), and 72.5% of the marks are two examination papers (one more issues based, the other more skills based). The Department undertakes fieldwork whenever possible. Pupils subscribe to the Wide World Magazine of the Geographical Association (GA) to enhance their learning.

VI Form

Pupils who opt to study Geography in the VI Form follow the Pearson Edexcel GCE specifications focused on contemporary global issues such as energy security, water conflicts, human rights, the geography of power, international relations and inter-country interventions, globalisation, the regeneration of human landscapes, and hazard management. There is an extensive fieldwork programme, whereby pupils explore and develop themes discussed in the classroom. Pupils attend external lectures and workshops and subscribe to the Geography Review magazine. The subject is a popular option at A level and a large number go onto read Geography related courses at University. Pupils subscribe to the Geography Review magazine of the GA to enhance their learning, and are encouraged to subscribe to The Economist for the two years of their A Level Geography to support their contemporary case study material to use as evidence for their arguments throughout the course.

Activities

Fieldwork and the enquiry approach to learning plays a strong role in the teaching of the subject at every level. This takes place mostly in the local area of Colinton, within Edinburgh, in the Pentalnd Hills, and the Lothian coast, sometimes also further afield. There is also a regular overseas fieldtrip to Iceland for the IV Form and Shell year groups, and we run an interdisciplinary expedition for sixth form only, to such diverse places as venezueal (to live with the Pemon Indians in the Amazon Rainforest in 2016, and to Vietnam in 2018 (including Kayaking around the dramatic limestone landscapes in the South China Sea, and mountain biking across the Mekong Delta).

Fieldtrips

  • I Form – School grounds and Colinton
  • II Form – Gullane to North Berwick coastline and Water of Leith
  • III Form – The Pentland Hills and Local Villages, as well as the School grounds
  • IV Form – Southern Uplands, Dynamic Earth and School grounds.
  • Shell & V Form – Water of Leith, Edinburgh and Portobello.
  • VI Form – Leith, Aberlady, Portobello, Lothian Coast, Edinburgh.
  • Overseas – IV Form and Shell expedition to Iceland, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019. VI Form Expedition to the Venezuelan rain forest, 2016, and another to Vietnam in 2018.

WorldWize Quiz

All students studying Geography in the II, III and IV Form take part in a year group World Wide Quiz. The aim of the quiz is to improve the pupils’ sense of place in the world around them through an enjoyable activity, with the potential to win prizes for high scores. Teams of three pupils across the IVth Form, Shell and Vth Form years may also compete to represent the school in the National GA WorldWize Quiz open to schools throughout the UK.

Our student-led Medical Society provides opportunities for prospective medics to collaboratively apply their scientific knowledge in a medical context. On average, 7% of our Year 13 students have applied for Medicine at university over the last three years.

Merchiston

Through our close links with the Roslin Institute, IGCSE and A Level pupils also get to experience advanced genetics techniques as well as a wide range of the usual practical work offered within schools. Being able to use the Roslin labs has enabled the department to deliver hands on experiments on subject matter elsewhere only able to be taught theoretically.

Ms Williams Head of Biology

Coming from a state school, science was taught very theoretically. Here at Merchiston, we do so many practicals to reinforce our knowledge. This has given me a totally different view on school in general: every day I wake up and I look forward to my lessons

Vincent B Year 11 (S4)

Science News

Scottish Climate Week

During Scottish Climate Week, our students have been contributing to Seagrass Ocean Rescue