Thursday, June 25, 2009

What makes Geography Geography??

Spatial Worlds website

Melbourne, Australia: S: 37º 47' E: 144º 58'

Left image: The Melbourne CBD
Right image: The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

The headset of the geographer

With the context for the National Geography Curriculum presently being developed, the question, "What makes Geography Geography?" is being constantly posed by those coming to grips with the fact that geography is to be introduced in schools from R-12 across Australia in 2012. As a geographer I feel confident in discussing what makes geography different to other disciplines and indeed unique in the curriculum. However, to actually explain the nature of geographical study to the non-geographer is quite a challenge. As I have found out through the "Towards and National Geography Curriculum" project there is even disagreements on this question amongst geographers themselves. In this posting I will have a crack at trying to delineate the uniqueness of geography. In this day of spatial technology and spatial literacy, clarity on this question is essential. In fact, what are the linkages between geography and the world of the spatial scientist? Are geographers spatial scientists, or is the science word to be avoided? It is interesting that in the National Curriculum Board's Shaping Paper for Science, they refer to systems, interdependence, patterns, inquiry methodology, sustainability, climate change, biodiversity and digital and spatial technology. These are all concepts/topics/tools covered and used in geography! So is geographer all that different to Science in its approach? Naturally the answer is no but how then is it different? In the science document there is no reference to geography as a linking discipline and hence makes one wonder if the Science world is also not aware of the nature of geography and how it can compliment other disciplines? Interestingly the sparse mention of spatial variation and geography in the National Curriculum Boards Shaping Paper for history paper, a discipline traditionally closely allied with geography.

So what makes geography unique? To clarify this I thought it would be interesting to list the features of geographical education that I consider makes it what it is!

Geographers are interested and inquisitive about the:
* bio-physical (natural) environment and the built environment of humanity
* inter-actions within and between environmental systems
* interdependencies and intricacies of environmental interactions
* spatial variation evident across space and the reasons for the variation
* patterns and trends that can be identified when viewing spatial changes and environmental phenomena over space
* changes in land patterns and landuse over time
* processes which create landscape features and phenomena
* visual representation of places and their distribution over space

The way the geographer looks at the world though a geographical lens is what makes geography geography.
The advent of modern spatial technologies has put in the hands of geographers an array of tools which enable the geographer to visualise and describe the world geographically beyond our imagination only a few years ago. In this blog I will continue to present the latest spatial technologies which make geography one of the most exciting disciplines in the world when we are trying to visualise, describe, explain and analyse the world around us. The geographers headset is unique and needs to be clearly articulated if we expect good geography to be taught in our schools. The question needs to be asked, is the writing of a national geography curriculum going to improve geographical education in schools? The answer can be only yes when we develop professional learning strategies that enable non-geographically trained teachers understand what makes geography geography. It is not about the content of geography to be taught in the classroom but the headset of the geographer.

No comments: