Donald Rumsfeld is famous/infamous for several things but especially for pointing out that there are known knowns,  known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. 

All GIs are a bit like this. There is stuff we know because it is detailed in the marking scheme. And there is stuff we know we don’t know – like whether our students 18 SRPs in the gathering section are actually 18 SRPs. And then there are unknown unknowns like how a particular topic will be marked because it is the policy of the SEC not to comment in order to protect the integrity of the exam. 

We just have to muddle through and do the best we can and hope the standardising/re-standardising of marks in any given year will not be too hard on our cherished.

This year’s geographical investigation topics is….

A study of the impact of the geomorphic processes of transportation and deposition on the formation of any ONE landform. 

If we parse this, we get

Deposition processes

Transportation processes

Impact on formation, and

ONE landform.

Working backwards, this topic does not say ‘one landform of (insert name)’. This should mean that students are free to choose any landform. More anon.

“Impact on formation” means that students will have to show how the processes they investigated impacted on the landform. Impact is not defined and so we should not need to get too complicated about it. Once the student can show some sort of impact – ‘the stones are deposited on…..’, it is reasonable to expect examiners will accept that.

The students have to investigate “transportation and depostion” processes.

So, for the topic above, I would expect a student to have at least one activity that demonstrates deposition is happening in the landform. And I would expect at least one activity that shows transportation. They will most likely need four activities. And more on the transportation thing in a minute but enough to say that these processes can be express or implied. That means the activity can measure and record deposition directly (sediment is sorted showing a pattern of depostion) or it could be implied (say, reduction in velocity therefore deposition must be happening).

Ok, so the big question…..


“Can I do a meander”

As Barrack Obama would say, “Yes, you can”.

I think it would be unreasonable not to accept a meander as the one landform and can’t think why it would not be acceptable.


You must be careful.

But a meander is landform of erosion. Yes, it has a depositional component; but you can get deposition in a river without a meander; but meander can not exist without the erosion.

So if your students were investigating a meander this year, they would need to be very careful to avoid ANY reference to erosion (they won’t lose marks, I just can see them getting marks for references to erosion).

Ok, so, back to transportation….

Whenever transportation comes up in the investigation, I always advise my students to choose a coastal study. There are two reasons for this;

1. Transportation processes are relatively easy to investigate in a coastal location by measuring and recording longshore drift.

2. Measuring and recording transportation in a river is relatively difficult to do. Typically students would need to build a sediment trap and have a few days – say, three – to investigate so they could periodically check the sediment trap to measure pebble sizes. Generally we only have one day we can take our students out of school.

You could of course use something like a pebble board weighed down in the river and observe sediment as it passes over or rests on the board. However, this would only be observation, and a challenge for students would be wrangle enough information so that they could show the impact of whatever they saw on the landform.

You could take a water sample and distill it to find dissolved load and that would be a nice activity. But again, impact on the landform could/may/might be an issue. Though as I said previously, I think once your students can show at least one impact from deposition and one impact from transportation it should be sufficient and so dissolved load doesn’t necessarily have to be the one that shows the impact. It can be used to imply and support another conclusion in the conclusion section.

Ok, so your students did a river investigation…..

You could do some nice things if you think outside the box.

If my students were doing a river investigation, what would I look for them to do?

1. Velocity – to show that velocity is reduced on the inside bend and that this explains the pattern of deposition on the point bar.

2. Pattern of deposition. Refer to models of geomorphic processes in rivers. I haven’t the space here to write all this up so I have to leave it to you.

3. Gradient – I would look for them to make a link between the pattern of deposition and the changes in gradient. Again, refer to models of geomorphic processes in rivers.

4. Cross sectional Area – but be careful. The key thing to extract here is the shallowness of the inside bend, hence….., and avoid the outside bend.

Once students have their data, and have written up the gathering, they will need two different graphs types. So they could consider what is the most appropriate way of showing their information.

The key section is the conclusions. It is here that they will show how processes impact on the meander.

A note on field studies centres

Like many things, not all field study centres are created equally. If you are a field study centre, I hope you will take this in the spirit in which it is intended.

You need to do a better job.

Many teachers use field study centres because they lack the confidence, experience or other resources to do it themselves. Some teachers use field study centres because the blurb sells the centre and so they trust that a better job will be done than they can do themselves. 

It is not enough, in my humble opinion, to just let kids off into a river and assume that they can follow your demonstration of what to do. They need constant checking to ensure they are doing each activity and that they are doing each activity correctly.

And for some centres, the description of each activity doesn’t tell the student how to do each of the activities. 

And then…..

The GI is an enjoyable experience but the write up creates a lot of anxiety about whether it is correct or not. Students need guidance from the person who has facilitated the investigation in how to write up the specific data they have collected and how the data produces particular conclusions. This is the difficult bit. It requires knowledge and critical thinking and I think it is reasonable for field study centres doing field studies to help student complete the field study.

Maybe this is not your thing. But you could seriously strengthen your offering by including it. Nuff said.

And just because someone is going to ask….

Word count….

No, they don’t. Not unless it obviously ridiculous. No adding lines. No going outside the text boxes.

And language….

A ‘Task’ and a ‘Method’ are the same thing. Pick one of those words and use them no more than two times in your gathering section.

An activity is a just that – a specific identifiable job done in the field. A ‘Task/Method’ can be one activity or a series of linked activities.

Don’t confuse the two.

I hope this helps. Let me know etc.

(There is an obscure puzzle-sort of link to the video. Extra brownie points if you get it.)