#GeoEdChat Think Piece from David Rogers

How do you assess the development of geographic skills?

Progress and Achievement

 

Before you start, my aim with this post is to provoke and ask more questions.  I’m not an expert, and I don’t even have a beard….

We all work within the confines of formal examination systems, but how do you develop geographical skills as well as knowledge and understanding?  If you choose to develop skills, which skills are developed?  What are the informed by? Why those skills?  How do you identify and measure skill progression?  How are these skills taught – in isolation or embedded within a geographical context?

These questions go to the heart of what it is that makes a good geographer. In my view, the teaching of irrelevant or poorly defined skills or skills constrained toward examination technique only, are responsible for much of the bad geography lessons I have seen over the past five years.  I think that it is vital to teach skills alongside content, but how should this be done and how can it be measured?

We had the Personal Learning and Thinking Skills framework in the UK but skills without a strong geographical context is the wrong approach.  Why subject children to a ‘map skills’ unit when map skills can be developed in other ways?

Are there any skills that uniquely geographical?  We improved the quality of geographical writing at Priory by teaching in the same way as English colleagues – using the same rules and techniques. Therefore, should geography departments be making links to other parts of the curriculum to enable children move away from assimilative learning, which they then struggle to apply to other disciplines, toward transcendent learning?  Should we as ‘teachers of children’ focus on furnishing our charges with the skills needed to succeed in later life rather than subject specific skills?

At my current school, the Art department are developing a skills web, a way in which to track skills development.  Colleagues at Priory Geography have also started the process of developing this skills web.  Consider the following – are they on the right lines?  What could be added?

Skills

 

Designed by Patcham High School’s Art Department

Advertisements

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 10 with Stephen Matthews (@srmdrummer): Are traditional #skills in geography still useful?

A variety of skills

Most geography educators would probably agree that skills are woven into the fabric of geography; skills in the classroom and skills in the field, as well as skills involved generally in geographical inquiry. Often, it is inquiry that is used to organise how skills are articulated in school geography, as seen for example, from National Geographic or in the newly released Australian Curriculum: Geography. In other places, skills are formed into lists or other categories in their own right, as for example, from the NZ Ministry of Education. Regardless of how they are organised, it would be fair to say that, across these categories of skills, we would encounter some skills that would be termed as ‘traditional’. This raises some questions:

  • What might be considered the traditional skills of geography?
  • Are these traditional skills as relevant and useful as they always have been?
  • Are the more contemporary skills that are emphasised today more about employing modern tools and technologies to do ‘traditional’ things?
  • Is there a case for ensuring that students are able to utilise traditional skills in the traditional, as well as contemporary ways?

There are some, however, who would argue that skills have been, or are overly-emphasised in some school curricula at the expense of other important aspects. When UK education secretary Michael Gove initiated the review of the National Curriculum a couple of years ago, he was critical of a “lack of facts and vital knowledge” in many areas of the curriculum. We might consider whether a focus on skills, especially when not in the context of content, a good idea? Does the ‘knowledge turn’ potentially affect the quality of skills teaching in geography?

As the Australian Curriculum: Geography* was under development, there was early criticism that skills at the primary level expected too much of essentially non-specialist teachers. More recently, questions have been raised about the lack of specificity in skills, with fieldwork and the sequential development of skills using geospatial technologies not technically included in the Curriculum’s mandatory ‘Content Descriptions’. This has undoubtedly come about because the Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority (ACARA) required inquiry and skills to be combined in a single strand with generic inquiry as the organising structure. Having said this, is there the risk of creating potentially vast ‘checklists’ of skills to be covered in a curriculum? Should choices about how and when particular skills are covered be left solely for teachers to determine?

Where, then is the balance in teaching skills in geography to be found? Traditional versus contemporary, stand-alone versus integrated, explicit versus implicit, and so on. Has geography moved past the need to teach traditional skills or are there other imperatives? Join us for the next #GeoEdChat to share your views on skills in geography via Twitter on Wednesday, 5 June, or if you can’t make it, leave your replies here.

(* Declaration: This blogger was involved as a writer of the Australian Curriculum: Geography but the views expressed here are his views are his own.)

#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 8 with @DanRavenEllison – How can #play be used to improve geographies?

There is a strong link between geography and play. Geography is simply a giant game of hide and seek. Mentally and physically we’ve always played the game. From our first smiles playing peekaboo to the war games (and battles in theatre) that are played out by our military and political leaders, much of our lives are spent searching, evading and finding.

Play can be a powerful way for us to learn about places. Indoor games like The Settler’s of Catan draw from the ‘real world’ and can be an engaging way for us to learn about trade, strategy, inequality and theory (as this game is based on Central Place Theory). With parallels to the famous Trading Game by Christian Aid, indoor (board)games are effective and largely uncontroversial learning tools. A good exception being those created by my good friends at Terrorbull Games (check out the print-and-play games).

Outdoor play is far more controversial than indoor play for some teachers, parents and communities. We all know about the concerns for ‘safety’, curriculum time and other barriers that prevent children from benefitting from outdoor play, learning and exploration. Countries like Scotland have a very forward thinking approach to outdoor learning, but in England, the United States, Australia and other ‘developed’ countries the picture is far more bleak. Despite a raft of evidence revealing the benefits of us (all) having time and space to playfully learn outdoors, too many children just don’t get the right opportunities.

There is much that the professional ‘geography’ and ‘play’ communities can learn from each other. Playworkers, play rangers and playground designers are all inherently interested in creating valuable, meaningful and appropriate places for children. As well as micro-play environments like sandpits, many people in this thriving community are working hard to change the geographies of their communities by creating play streets and helping parents to rethink the real geographies of risk in their local area. Equally, geography educators can learn much from the way that playworkers create opportunities for free play (and learning) and conceptualise how this play can be of benefit to us.

An ever increasing movement of individuals and organisations are working to help the gatekeepers unlock opportunities for us – not just the children – to spend more time exploring, playing and learning outdoors. My work with Mission:Explore, the programme by the John Muir Award, the awesome personal drive of Juliet Robertson with Creative STAR and campaigning by Play England are just tiny sample of what is happening in the UK.

Empty Classroom Day on Friday 5th July is one of the most exciting. It’s a simple idea and one that we should all support. It’s aim is simple – that every school in the UK (I reckon this should say on Earth) there will be an empty classroom and pupils will be learning in their playground, local park, farm, seaside and the great outdoors.

So, my question for #GeoEdChat this Wednesday is this. Given that Empty Classroom Day is just around the corner..

  • How can play be used to improve geographies?
  • What outdoor games can you recommend that help us to learn outdoors?
  • How can play improve the geography of your community?
  • What can you do to support Empty Classroom Day?

#GeoEdChat now takes place for 24 hours every Wednesday with a focussed meet-up at 8pm in your timezone. I’ll be dropping in and out of the chat all day. Tweet with you then?

@DanRavenEllison is a Guerrilla Geographer and National Geographic Emerging Explorer.  He is one of the people behind Mission:Explore, a project to inspire young people to explore, learn and play outdoors. You can follow his blog here.

#GeoEdChat 2: How do you use social media and Web 2.0 resources to teach about geography? A think piece by Kevin Suess.

The second #GeoEdChat will be this Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern and the topic will be on how geography teachers are using Web 2.0 technology and the Internet to better their teaching. As the classroom becomes more digital and schools begin to offer 1:1 technology and Bring Your Own Device(BYOD) for students, the options for interacting and collaborating becomes limitless. Not only do students have a multitude of options regarding this technology but geography teachers do as well. As we approach the upcoming #geoedchat, here are some things to consider:

1. How are you using Facebook, Google Drive/Hangouts, Skype, Twitter, and other social media to interact with other professionals and content area experts around the world? How have you used these tools to bring the outside world into your classroom?

2. What websites/resources (Scoop.it, Diigo, Google Drive, Evernote etc.) have you found useful to curate and document the plethora of geography related resources for your professional development and for the enrichment of your students?

3. How have you used these tools within the classroom to help with geography related learning specifically with students?

3. Are there other tools online that you have discovered that help bring the outside world into your classroom?