Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Now and You: Making Geography real for students

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The Now and You

One of the buzz words in pedagogy these days is "Authentic learning".  In the past we called it Experiential  Learning! Either way, it is to make the learning as real as possible for students - for students to see the relevance of what they are doing and their learning as relevant to their life's now and in the future.  Of all the subjects, geography with its feet firmly planted in the living and non-living world within which humans live and its currency (things happening now) is well placed to be seen as a subject well positioned to provide authentic learning opportunities for students. 

Sometimes we relate this topic to the area of careers using geography but we should also be cognisant to the fact that geography is one of the few subjects which use the world within which a student lives now as a laboratory for study. In the Educause paper, Authentic learning is defined as:

"Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in virtual communities of practice."

The Educause Learning Initiative cited above goes on to link the potential of technology to enhance Authentic Learning.  The paper, titled "Authentic Learning for the 21st Century" says that:

"Learning-by-doing is generally considered the most effective way to learn. The Internet and a variety of emerging communication, visualization, and simulation technologies now make it possible to offer students authentic learning experiences ranging from experimentation to real-world problem solving. "

This is an excellent paper which affirms much of the discussion on this blog in regards to spatial technology and creative enquiry methods inherent in the use of technologies such as GIS.

The following quote is a geographical adaption to a piece from an Authentic Learning site:

Authentic learning says that...we should learn what happens in the "real world", and become "cognitive apprentices" to the experts. When we learn about geography, we learn to think like geographers. When we learn about the weather, we learn to use tools that a meteorologist would use. 

In regards to pedagogy, it is said that "Authentic learning, is a teaching method that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully connect concepts and relationships that are relevant to the real-world and are meaningful to the students (Donovan, Bransford, &Pellegrino, 1999). Authentic instruction, which differs from traditional teaching methods, use teaching strategies such as: structuring learning around genuine tasks, employing scaffolding, engaging students in inquiry and social discourse, and providing ample resources from the school and community (Donovan et al., 1999; Roth, 1992)."

From the same site I found this list of Authentic Learning characteristics of considerable interest:
  • Learning is real-world oriented and has value beyond the school setting.
  • Learning is often interdisciplinary.
  • Students use higher-order thinking skills and learn concepts as well as basic facts.
  • The classroom is learner centered and allows for a variety of learning styles.
  • Students have ownership of their learning.
  • Instruction uses hand-on approaches and is accessible for all learners.
  • Learning is active and student driven.
  • Teachers act as coaches or learning facilitators. They are one of many resources students may turn to for learning. Parents, outside experts, and community members may all serve as sources for learning.
  • Scaffolding allows students to receive help when they need it and allows them to work freely when they can accomplish tasks on their own.
  • Learning uses real-time data, which students investigate and from which they draw conclusions.
  • Students often work together and have opportunities for discussion as they work to solve the problem.
  • Students produce a product that is directed toward a real audience.
All of these characteristics resonate with the use of spatial technologies in the classroom and with the 21st Century aims of the Australian Curriculum: Geography to make geography real and relevant to students - in the here and now.

Here is a great video on the work of geography and geographers which may be useful for teachers to use to get the message across that geography is about the 'now and you', as a person living in the world. As a way to convince the students that what they do in a geography class or in the field is authentic and real, a little bit of classroom focus on the work of the geographer would not go astray.  Here are some more "the work of the geographer" type of resources.

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