Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The concept of concept in geography

Left Image:Patterns and landscapes.
Right image:The gathered at the AGTA conference listen to Dr Peter Hill, CEO ACARA, January 2011.

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

The concept of concept
When is a concept a concept? This is a question which is frequently asked when writing curriculum for any learning area. This is something I have been grappling with recently when considering the issue of what are the key/core/fundamental concepts in geography. The term is used loosely, probably because it is a difficult term to pin down. This posting explores the nature of a concept and what have been identified across the geographical curriculum writing world as the fundamental concepts in geography. Naturally the area of spatial, (is it a concept?) has a prime place (yes, another concept) in the geography curriculum, but there are others which are more temporal and focused on connectivity (however it could be argued that even connectivity is based on the concept of space).

What then is a concept? Here are some of the attempts from various sources to define:
• A general idea derived from specific instances or occurrences
• Something formed in the mind, a thought or notion
• An abstract or psychological thing that can be understood, operate with, apply etc - idea of applicability of the concept.
• General tools of enquiry
• An aspect of thought
• A unit of thought in terms of what one thinks
• May lead into judgments, propositions or even theories
• Helps frame predictions
• Concepts occur within theories but a theory with general acceptance can become a concept
• Concepts have a tendency to be referred to in connection with the general rather than singular terms
• Are often used to organise/group and classify thoughts
• Concepts can be developed, changed, discovered and invented
• Are something understood, reasoned or imagined
• May be based on a generalisation, abstraction or occurrence

Has that helped? Maybe a better idea is look at how the concept of concept has been applied in parts of the world to geographical thinking. One author describes a geographical concept as an abstract idea that are usually emphasised in instruction (i.e. mobility, variation, distribution, energy flow etc). As a result of such a broad interpretation of the concept of concept there has been a huge number of ‘things’ in geography described as concepts. In addition to the four listed above, the list can grow to include hundreds or almost anything we observe and imagine in geography. The Australian Curriculum: geography developed quite a long (but not finite in any way) list of concepts in geography. They were:

* Change, distance, diversity, interaction, interdependence, landscape, pattern, perception location, place, process, proximity, relationship, risk, scale, space, spatial distribution, sustainability and system.

When participants at the AGTA conference in January first viewed this expansive list of concepts they said that there were far too many for a curriculum and we needed to group them. Easy to say but hard to do – but what a great geographical discussion. Naturally geography curriculum around the world has been trying to develop a concise, coherent, workable and relevant list for many years. It seems that a list of 5-7 concepts are about the number when looking at the following lists from curriculums and curriculum writers around the world.

Here are just some of the attempts:

• Cause and effect, classification, decision-making, development, inequality , location , planning and systems (Leat 1998)

• Describing and classifying, diversity and wilderness, patterns and boundaries, places, maps and communication, sacredness and beauty (Rowley & Lewis 2003)

• Space, time, place, scale, social formations, physical systems, landscape and environment (Holloway et al 2003)

• Space and place, scale and connection, proximity and distance, relational thinking (Jackson 2006)

• Place, space, scale, interdependence, physical and human processes, environmental interaction and sustainable development, cultural understanding and diversity (UK 2008 Key Stage 3 Curriculum QCA 2007)

• Location, scale, distance, distribution, region, spatial association, spatial Interaction, spatial change, movement (GTAV Spatial concepts 2005)

• Location, place, human environment interaction, movement and region (National Geographic)

• Importance, evidence and interpretation, patterns and trends, Interactions and associations, sense of place and geographical value judgments (Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

• Space and place, scale and connection, proximity and distance and relational thinking (Peter Jackson, UK)

• Place, space, time, change, diversity, perception and representation and interaction (Liz Taylor, University of Cambridge)

An interesting site to enhance the discussion is TeachSpatial which attempts to delineate spatial thinking concepts from a range of sources and angles.

At a DECS geography Advisory Group workshop held in Adelaide yesterday I presented the task of reducing the concepts to 6 from the 19 that appeared in the shape paper for Australian Curriculum: geography. The 23 educators present (F-12 geographers from across SA working as teachers - early years, primary and secondary, Principals, Deputies, curriculum consultants, teacher educators and GTA reps) did not refer to any other work but just what they thought as experienced geographical educators. Here are the six key concepts they came up with after 20 minutes of discussion
• Change, sustainability, connections, diversity, perception of environments and space
Interesting! Despite the absence of the concept of place in the DECS list and the absence of sustainability in most of the others, there seems to be a degree of agreement on the concepts of space, change, connections/relationships and diversity as we look at all the lists.
What a great task to get geography teachers thinking about the big picture of what we are really wanting students to understand about geographical thinking. It will be interesting to see what the key concepts are when the Australian Curriculum writers settle on a reduced number of key concepts as what seems to be the way to go. Naturally all of the key concepts have related concepts nestled within. The spatial/space concept is a great example of this as shown by the GTAV with their spatial concepts listed above.
We need to have much more discussion on the concept of geographical concepts and their identification and definition. I feel they will be at the core of the professional learning when we get to the stage of implementing the Australian Curriculum: geography. Without the concepts we just have content!! Watch this space for more discussion on this topic as get further into the big ideas of what we want this curriculum to be about!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Professor. McInerney!
I was taken from great pleasure to read your research, entitled "The concept of concept in geography". I work as a professor on the Faculty of Education, teaching the discipline “Teaching Methodology of Geography”, and my students often ask about this "Epistemological Knot”. Complementing your exposure: without the concepts, Geographical Science assumes only a informative role. Investigate and evaluate the key concepts in Geography give it a formative character.
I would contact your group to analyze and discuss the key ideas in geography.
Finally, I ask you a favor: could you help me to find others researchs about this theme?

Congratulations and thank you for contribuition!

Prof. Leonardo Bez
Center for Distance Education
University of Santa Catarina State
Florianópolis - Santa Catarina - Brazil
Contact: leobez@gmail.com