Picture perfect

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By Margaret MacKintosheditor of the Geography Association’s Primary Geographer

Working with photographs is an excellent way of developing key skills and stirring children’s geographical imaginations. Use the ‘Pertisau, Austrian Alps poster’ as a focus for these activities

Using photographic material as a starting point for a geographical study is an approach that is suitable for all abilities. I once spoke to a boy, deemed to have SEN, who was constructing a map from a photograph. ‘Do you like this sort of work?’ I asked him. ‘Oh yes,’ he replied, ‘I can do pictures’. Working with photographs allows children to learn about and communicate geographical information and ideas linked to places, spaces and environments, pictorially. An oblique aerial photograph of an Austrian village in summer – like the one on the small poster – makes an appropriate starting point. Because children are more familiar with photographs of the Alps in winter, this view extends or challenges their concept of Alpine mountains.

About the picture

Some 30km north east of Innsbruck, Pertisau is a village on the western shore of Achensee, in the Austrian Tirol. At an altitude of 952-1491m, in winter it is an excellent ski resort with ski slopes on the Zwolferkopf mountain and long cross-country trails. In summer the beautiful Alpine landscape is ideal for natural history and walking.

The Austrian Alps are part of a mountain chain that was initiated, approximately 25 million years ago, by the collision of two continents. The Afro-Indian tectonic plate collided with the European plate, crumpling and uplifting the rocks at the boundary to form the east-west Alpine-Himalayan mountain belt. This is the largest continental collision zone on the Earth’s surface. It resulted in the deformation of 40-200 million year-old strata into spectacular folds. Uplift continues even now, at a rate of about one millimetre a year.

Glaciation, a very powerful method of erosion, has had a major effect on shaping the Alpine landscape. Rock debris falls down the slopes, becoming incorporated into glaciers which grind away at the rocks of the valley floor as they move downwards under gravity. Classic U-shaped valleys form as a result. The angular mountain pinnacles result from frost shattering, produced by freeze-thaw mechanics. These processes are active today, causing deeper erosion of the mountains. The eroded material is transported and deposited as sediment, ultimately in the sea.

Activities: Pertisau Y3-6

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