Fieldwork is a highly valued aspect of a Geography education at Aiglon, with all students gaining experience outside of the classroom in our inspirational host environment. We are also uniquely poised to take advantage of having our own expeditions department, enabling us to design unique experiences in-house.
“Fieldwork is an essential ingredient of geography because it provides a ‘real-world’ opportunity for students to develop and extend their geographical thinking; it adds value to classroom experiences…It is one of the distinctive features of a geographical education and feeds our curiosity about the world.” The Geographical Association
In the Years 7-9 Discovery Programme, students will find themselves engaging in various fieldwork. This includes investigating the quality of the environment in different parts of the campus, why microclimate varies around the school and looking at weathering processes as the seasons change (freeze-thaw weathering is especially hard on our campus in the winter!).
Students visit the Tourist Office in Villars and interview the Head of Tourism about the importance of this industry in our region. They discuss how to manage its impact, and students explore the development of Chesières through populations change and settlement.
During the IGCSE course, students sit an ‘Alternative to Coursework’ exam paper at the end of Year 11 based entirely on fieldwork skills. Year 10 practise coastal fieldwork on campus using slope surveying equipment, replacing sand with snow, and in the summer term, investigating how the town snow-clearing affects the discharge of the Petite Gryonne River as the famous ‘snow mound’ below the Villars bridge melts.
In Year 11, study switches to the nearby town of Monthey, where students work in teams to map urban land use from the town centre outwards and investigate the impacts of out-of-town ‘box malls’ on the traditional central business district, a phenomenon affecting towns and cities across the world.
In Year 12, Geography students at Aiglon need to collect primary data for their IB Internal Assessments, a piece of formal coursework based on fieldwork. The Geography department works with the expedition team to run a two-day trip into the local ‘Coufin’ Valley exploring downstream changes in channel shape and bedload along the River Gryonne. Students are often surprised when we emerge at local landmarks such as La Rasse, a key meeting point during the winter in the ski area and a site of significant human intervention on the local river system.
As well as this formal fieldwork, students on the IB explore local modifications of the drainage basin on and around campus and how we mitigate locally for the threat of landslides and other mass movements.
Experiencing the awe and wonder of a high-altitude mountain environment is something most Aiglon students participate in as part of the expedition programme, and IB Geography students take this one step further by visiting the Moiry Glacier during the autumn term of Year 13. This expedition links into their studies on processes and landforms in extreme environments, but also the impacts of climate change on Switzerland.
Students have the option to climb the ‘Pigne de la Lé’ high above the glacier, or explore crevasses, abseiling into the ice when conditions allow. Walking on a lateral moraine, seeing and hearing extensional flow over an icefall, and travelling through zones of ‘ablation and accumulation’ allow our students to form a real-world understanding of otherwise very abstract systems.
Taking Geography beyond the classroom helps our students develop a real understanding of our local environment and can help open their minds to the world around them. Aiglon students travel far and wide; we hope that after studying Geography, they do this with their eyes open.
About Steve Saunders
Mr Saunders is Head of Geography at Aiglon College. With a range of experiences at the school, from houseparenting to many successes in the School Challenge, Mr Saunders embraces the integrated nature of his responsibilities. He is just as comfortable accompanying students up glaciers as he is helping his classes to understand the history of population development in the local region.