Ronan Lynch is LAS’s Social Studies Department Chair and teaches IB Geography and Environmental Systems & Societies (ESS). Below is a short version of his interview. For the long version, click here.
Why are you so fond of geography?
Geography lets you explore such a wide range of topics. At university I studied under retailers, climatologists, geomorphologists, disaster management specialists, Soviet and Eastern European specialists, and more. Eastern Europe had just collapsed and one professor from East Berlin lectured on how Eastern Europe would soon join Western Europe. It was really an interesting time.
There are so many aspects for students in geography. There’s tourism, there’s the landforms, the human influence on changing glaciers, the glaciers’ influence on humans. There’s a massive spectrum of studies you can perform on our local glaciers.
Last year at LAS we studied rivers, and this year we’ll focus on more extreme environments. Since we live near Glacier 3000, the ski resort where you’re on a glacier almost as soon as you get off the lift, it makes complete sense for us to study glaciers. This paired with the disastrous effect climate change has on them and the visual differences you can see on a yearly basis, it is a perfect learning platform. In our geography textbook they recommend that we study far off places like Nepal and Everest. But we have so much right here. Linking these field studies into the curriculum is the best way to do it.
Tell us about your water study.
We studied the upper waters of the Grande Eau river that flows through the valley below Leysin. You can gather data and see changes over time. We used the Bradshaw model, which observes how the river changes with distance downstream. We can also look at water quality and human influence, including to what extent the river is managed. There’s a sewage treatment plant in Diablerets, so we could take before and after water samples, and continue taking samples up at the base of the glaciers, where it’s probably going to be more pure.
Our students are studying all this in geography. Glaciers, erosion, they’re all part of the course. They have to know the different characteristics of a glacier, its deposition and origin, so studying our local glaciers makes it more real for them.
And then there’s the Aletsch Glacier, which is the main example in our IB programme textbook. The textbook asks students to investigate alpine sensitive areas, using the Aletsch Glacier as a case study. We can visit the Aletsch in just a couple of hours. How many kids around the world get to actually go to the glacier that’s in the textbook? A colleague in England flies his classes to Iceland just to do this. Look how far they have to go. Some schools go away for a whole week.
How do you define the difference between citizen science and regular education?
With citizen science, like the LETS study, you’re physically involving students with their environment, whereas most education is more lecture style. I think citizen science is really good for getting student buy in. They get more interested as they become involved, especially when they see how it’s relevant. It’s really helpful to do a local study.
(IA – interview Ronan Lynch 151120 – short edit 1 (505 words))