Sunday, June 16, 2013

Upskilling geographical knowledge

Image above: Professional learning in geography and history being presented at Port Augusta, South Australia.

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Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Humsteach blog

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Where am I??  

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

The place of knowledge content
In recent years the need for teachers to have knowledge content in geography has been denigrated by the pedagogical purists. I have frequently heard that, “if you are a good pedagogist you can teach anything!” Such an approach is basically flawed from the point of view that a teacher must feel confident in their knowledge and skill base in a subject before they can really develop rich and challenging (and valid) pedagogy in a discipline. This is particular pertinent to geography in our schools because there is a critical shortage of geography trained teachers available to deliver the curriculum. The question must be asked: “Can we expect the new Australian Curriculum:Geography, a curriculum written with considerable discipline rigour, be taught well by teachers with sparse geography knowledge and skills?” The pedagogical purists would say yes, but increasingly those responsible for the delivery of the curriculum are saying: "... how can we help teachers gain the content knowledge so that they can develop challenging and rigorous pedagogy". The issue is being further accentuated by the fact that the learning area consultant/advisor model which was in place throughout the 1970-1980’s has been dismantled by jurisdictions across Australia. The jurisdictions have gone towards professional learning in areas of general pedagogy, literacy and numeracy rather than providing comprehensive professional learning in the disciplines (science, mathematics and English being the exceptions to some extent). As a result, teaching associations across Australia have picked up the role of professional learning in their subject area but their capacity to deliver is limited by resources and time.  Having thought long and hard on this issue I was interested in the recent post comment and materials from Professor Seth Dixon (Rhode Island College). He also argues that there is an urgent need to help teachers engage with geographical content: knowledge (which includes the concepts), skills and understandings so that they can think like a geographer and work with the geography curriculum successfully.   

“Several schools have noticed that without geography classes, social studies teachers have difficulty becoming certified without some core geographic content. As a part of my job at the Alliance coordinator for the Rhode Island Geography Education Alliance, I'm giving a workshop designed to strengthen teachers geographic content. Most of the images in the presentation are hyperlinked to articles, videos and infographics that I have posted here in the past.”

Whilst there is no quick fix with helping teachers to tackle the content knowledge learning curve, such an attempt is an interesting start. With the recently released GeogSpace project (developed by AGTA and not jurisdictions) we have tried to provide guidance for teachers to develop fundamental geography knowledge, understanding and skills. The supporting units section of the site provide illustrations of practices in the areas of:
  • Geographical thinking
  • Fieldwork
  • ICT in geography
  • Assessment in geography
  • Geographical language
  • Geographical skills
  • Geographical understandings
  • Professional practice
  • Why teach geography
I hope the GeogSpace resource will help teachers to be ‘upskilled’ in geography and engage with rigorous geographical learning in the classroom (beyond colouring in and paper mache models) and learn some geography, so that they can be teachers of geography despite their dearth of geographical background.The GeogSpace website is now live at 
The challenge for geographers in Australia over coming years is to tackle the need to provide ‘non-geography’ teacher teachers with professional learning to become geographers. Without that knowledge the curriculum will not live up to the expectation to be a vehicle to re-introduce high level geography into Australian schools from Foundation to Year 12. 

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