Sunday, March 11, 2012

Inquiring about inquiry with the Australian Curriculum: Geography

Images above: Geography students at Orroroo Area School using inquiry whilst studying the Year 7 'Why people live where they do' unit of the Austrlaian Curriculum: Geography.

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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Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Inquiry in geography

As mentioned in a previous posting called; "Its more than telling", inquiry is the preferred methodology in the Australian Curriculum: Geography. Here are the details of how inquiry is addressed in the draft curriculum document. Note, that inquiry in geography is different to that described in history and other learning areas; the same but different, to keep the disciplines distinctive when using inquiry!

Inquiry in geography: an attempt to articulate and show geographical distinctiveness

“... process of inquiry by which students learn new geographical knowledge and deepen their understanding. This is developed through investigations that involve observations or questions (for example, about environmental, social, cultural and economic features) the collection and interpretation of information to develop conclusions; and reflection on the overall process. Inquiries may be undertaken by individual students, or collaboratively, and may vary in scale, geographic context, and the time taken for the investigation.”

The process of geographical inquiry ... is described in the curriculum under five headings, which represent the stages of a complete investigation. Over each two-year band, students should learn the methods and skills specified. Every investigation need not follow every step; the inquiry process may follow loops, in which students go back to an earlier stage to ask more questions or to undertake more analysis. Furthermore, not all inquiry requires the collection and processing of information, as the starting point could be a concept, or an ethical or aesthetic issue, which can be explored verbally. Many inquiries should start from the observations, questions and curiosity of students.

Observing, questioning and planning: Developing questions about something that has been observed, experienced or thought about.

Collecting, evaluating and representing: Deciding how to investigate a question or find an answer to a problem, and identifying possible answers to test; collecting information from a variety of primary sources and secondary sources, such as text-based resources, statistics, images, maps, aerial photographs, satellite images, samples and objects, fieldwork, sketches, interviews, and reports; and evaluating information for reliability and bias.

Interpreting,  analysing and concluding: Making sense of the information gathered through textual analysis and interpretation, by processing it into maps, tables, graphs and diagrams. Identifying order, diversity, trends, patterns, anomalies, generalisations and cause and effect relationships, using quantitative and qualitative methods appropriate to the type of inquiry; and interpreting the results of this analysis and developing conclusions.

Communicating: Communicating the results of investigations using combinations of communication methods (verbal, audio, graphical, visual, mapping and text-based), which are appropriate to the subject matter, purpose and audience.

Reflecting and responding: Reflecting on the findings of the investigation and relating these findings to existing knowledge; reflecting on the process of the inquiry, and on the strengths and weaknesses of the method of investigation chosen; deciding what action is needed in response to the results of the investigation, by applying the criteria of environmental sustainability, economic costs and benefits, and social justice; and reflecting on the actions.

Whilst talking about inquiry in gegoraphy it is worth considering and even challenging the profile of inquiry as a pedagogical approach in geogrpahy.

In short, Inquiry learning is:

• research focussed
• real/authentic
• constructivist
• process based
• scaffolded
• about promoting, enhancing and guiding student learning
• the art of questioning – good questions based in discipline knowledge and understandings
• problem based learning

and …

• does not hand over responsibility for learning to the students
• provides searching questions and guidance
• promotes engagement
• involves the development of scenarios for stimulus
• involves inquiry based decision making

What does this all mean for the geography teacher designing programs using inquiry? It all sounds great but are there any downsides to inquiry based learning This is food for thought as we start designing professional learning for the teaching of the Australian Curriculum: Geography.

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