Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to create the need to know?

Picture descriptions:
Left image: The importance of a map! Especially to lost geographer tourists wandering the streets of Seoul!
Right image: Motivated students in South Korea learning the geography of Australia. Is such compliance on the "need to know basis" or just the "need to achieve" imperative?

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

How to create the need to know?
One of the challenges always facing geography teachers is convincing students why they need to know what we think they should know. The simple question of how to create the need to know in your classroom takes us down some interesting pathways. As teachers, if we cannot articulate why something is important for a student to know, then we must challenge ourselves as to whether we should be teaching the content or skills we are. This question becomes incredibly pertinent when one considers the discussions in relation to the national geography curriculum. Whilst not advocating that we only teach what student want to know, we must be conscious of the responsibility we have as educators to create an environment in the classroom which develops a curiosity and desire to want to know amongst our students. We should not expect students to be powerless receivers of the content we wish to teach! The context and reason for the importance of the content and skills we plan to teach needs to be created at the beginning of every course, topic, activity and experience. The national curriculum’s remit that they are developing content which needs to be taught and skills which must be acquired is a worry if it is not supported by a rationale that clearly and realistically explains why the curriculum is important for the young person on the receiving end. As a citizen of the 21st century it is imperative that our students receive geographical education which is relevant and useful to them as an individual living in an increasingly complex and demanding world.
So how do we create the need to know? This question takes us to the heart of learning and that is motivation. If motivated students are prepared to learn anything! I often hear one teacher say the kids found the topic boring and another saying the kids loved the same topic. It often is not the content that has changed but the context. The teacher who motivates can transfer their enthusiasm for a topic to a group of students regardless of the content. As a person who loved teaching soils and rocks I certainly know that others find such topics a challenge to teach! As well as authentic (or faked) enthusiasm on behalf of the teacher, students can be motivated by the plethora of technology now available to the geography teacher to make learning more relevant, inter-active, autonomous and exciting. The technologies often referred to in this blog, whether spatial or communication (wikis, blogs etc) are ways for students to see the inter-section between what they are studying in the classroom and the “real world” they live in. The technologies enable students to move beyond the classroom and see that the topic and skills they are learning have an application in the working world, family life and social functioning. As the American educator John Holt said:
“The child is curious. They want to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over themselves and their environment, and do what they can see other people doing. They are open, perceptive, and experimental. They do not merely observe the world surrounding around, they do not shut themselves off from the strange, complicated world around them, but taste it, touch it, heft it, bend it, break it. To find out how reality works, they work on it. They are bold. They are not afraid of making mistakes. And they are patient. They can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning.”
Geography with its traditional tendency towards exploration and curiosity about the world is perfectly positioned in the curriculum to enhance this aspect of student learning and have students engage in the world. Geography is not static and something to be learned within four walls only, it needs to be dynamic, interactive and explorative. Any geography curriculum developed must create in the students a "need to know" mentality. Allied to this needing to know, is the previously mentioned concept of nurturing the "discomfort of not knowing" with students. The inquiry methodology employed in geography is ideal to create such an environment for student exploration and learning. Spatial Technologies available to the teacher of geography is a wonderful tool to enhance student inquiry and exploration via software such as Google Earth (Google have recently developed a site for educators on how to use Google Earth in the classroom).
For learning to be engaging and motivating for students the content and pedagogy needs to be:
* Personally meaningful
* Integrated
* Coherent
* Transformative
* Transferable

Geography has traditionally done all of these things, plus being fun! Just for the fun of learning also check out the Lufthansa virtual pilot site (beats photocopied maps of Europe to learn places). I hope these thoughts are the premise we begin to write our national geography curriculum.
David Lambert, Chief Executive of the Geographical Association in the UK has written an excellent article on the “The World in the curriculum: why geography matters”. His discussion on the role and nature of geography in the curriculum is interesting in the context of this blog. While on the GA and organisations working at making geography a core ingredient of the curriculum, the following information is of interest.

* The world directory of Geographical Societies and organisations and other geography sites. A source for all aspects of geography.

* New GA Website Launched in September 2009

The website of the Geographical Association has been redesigned and restructured to give it a fresh new look and make it easier to navigate.

It includes a range of exciting new features including:
* Lively homepage highlighting new additions and popular content
* Resource Finder tool allowing users to search the GA’s vast collection of online resources using a variety of criteria
* Tabbed Shop panel listing new books, recommendations and shopping basket contents
* Members’ panel containing personal account details, bookmarks and recently viewed pages
* New look Journals area with easy access to articles and associated resources
* Cloud tags – a new way to find similar content using keyword matching
* RSS Feeds – sign up for the latest website updates

The Geographical Association is a subject association with a mission to further the study, learning and teaching of geography.
The website is a popular resource, used by teachers in more than 200 countries and receiving an average of 3000 pageviews a day. Our website keeps the geography teaching community up to date and provides a wide range of high quality resources, including our three well-respected journals.

A free guide to the new website is available to download and further information about the Geographical Association can be found on the site.

Geography - teaching - excellence
Find out more about A different view: a manifesto from the Geographical Association

1 comment:

jessica said...
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