What aspect of Geography do students find most engaging?

This week’s question for #GeoEdChat comes courtesy of Rod Yule who asked a couple of #GeoEdChat participants what aspect of Geography that students found most engaging.

I had a whole range of answers to this question come flooding out:

  • Contexts that students find relevant to their lives
  • Changes each year depending on class interests – some years I have had big groups who are incredibly interested in environmental issues, other years groups that just want to do more physical geography
  • A common theme is that students need to see the authenticity of the content to be studied (this is fairly easy in Geography in my opinion), that is students want to see the real world relevance – that it is not just some made up problem
  • Something provocative that brings an emotive tug to what will be studied

Then I started thinking more and remembered a conversation that I had in my department last week. We were discussing results of students in exams and how many in the department consider themselves “physical geographers” but our students seem to do better in the “human” papers – Population Studies, Development Inequalities etc. This has been a common theme over a few years so is there something in these papers that particularly engages the students?

What aspect of your Geography course do students find most engaging?

Why do you think this is?

Do you regularly ask your students in a manner in which they can be completely honest?


#GeoEdChat 9: Cross Curricular Collaboration – Golden Opportunity or End of Specialism?

There is growing talk about collaboration between subjects in school. From what I see/read/hear there seems to be 2 schools of thought with a few ambivalents in the middle. The most vocal are those at each end of a spectrum ranging from ‘golden opportunity for amazing learning experiences’ to those who see it more as ‘crosscurricular mush causing the end of specialist knowledge.’

Recently, I enjoyed reading the experiences of Matt Podbury (@mattpodbury) and Jim Noble (@teachmaths) who worked together on a joint Geography and Maths project about population growth called World Village (and here). I encourage you to read these as I feel they capture the true essence of what crosscurricular projects can do. It is an authentic collaboration where they fit together naturally without any subject being forced to fit. The links provide an authentic learning experience that requires the specialist knowledge from both subjects.

There are, however, examples I have heard of where collaboration is forced and unnatural in projects and I have heard of people saying that they would not want to collaborate as it will cause a watering down of their subject knowledge.

My personal opinion is (not important, but for interest’s sake) that as Geography teachers we should be pursuing a more collaborative approach with other subjects. There are many issues and topics that we study where other discipline knowledge would help give students a deeper understanding. And that is what we should all be striving for after all.

So for #GeoEdChat:

  • Is collaboration a golden opportunity or the end of specialism?

#GeoEdChat 4: How do you ensure students conceptual progression? A think piece by Steve Mouldey

When looking to measure students’ conceptual progression I tend to use Building Conceptual Understandings in the Social Sciences (Ministry of Education, 2008). This publication stated five ways that teachers could identify learners’ conceptual progressions:

·         Level of their understanding and use of abstract concepts increases

·         They make connections between multiple concepts

·         They apply and transfer their understandings to more complex and distant contexts as well as to those that are familiar

·         They take responsible actions and make informed decisions that are based on their understandings

·         They begin to understand that concepts can have different interpretations

We often keep strong records of student achievement but how many of us keep data tracking students’ conceptual progress? The issue with measuring conceptual progression is that they are complex, abstract notions that are constantly shifting. So what data to collect to track this progress?

Ensuring conceptual progress may be too strong a word there is plenty that we can do to provoke this learning. Here’s a few things I have used to prompt students’ conceptual progression:

Explicitly using the concept terms in class Some students inherently understand many of the concepts we cover in class but they just don’t recognise it as that concept. By demonstrating their use in our language students will become more aware of the concept and start using it themselves. I have found this particularly with concepts such as patterns and interaction where they have an understanding of these without realising what that understanding is

Concept Mapping over a unit By getting the students to focus on the concepts in a unit of learning they can help each other grow their understanding. In the first week of a unit get the students to collaborate in small groups on producing a concept map for the topic/issue. This can be done on paper or online. Good websites for online versions are CMap, MindMeister and Bubbl.Us. Then get the students to revisit their concept maps 3 or 4 times. This exercise allows the students to focus on connections between the concepts, discuss their understandings with others (assisting each other to deepen their thinking), visualise their learning and also over the course of time see their progress.

Apply the concepts to current events/ movies/ movie trailers Get the students used to applying the concepts to various ideas. I regularly use current events for this but have also used movies and have friends who have used movie trailers. In this way the students start developing their ability to think like a Geographer and use the concepts as a way of viewing the world.

Concept reflection sheets When getting the students to write or discuss reflections on their learning add specific questions in that make the students focus on their developing conceptual understandings. I have used this in both individual and group reflections to great reward for the students.

I look forward to discussing all this with you on Wednesday!