Saturday, August 31, 2013

A tool for contestable geography

Image above: The classroom response system called Poll Everywhere

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Poll Everywhere has a place in the modern geography classroom to support discussion on contestable topics. 

"A curriculum is not value-free, as values and attitudes cannot be divorced from content."
The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography January 2011

Geography and geography teaching is indeed not value free. It is almost impossible not to be political in some way when discussing geographical topics.

As Robert Butler was quoted as saying in the Economist in 2010:

“It is getting harder and harder in conversation to raise one or other of the most basic subjects in geography—agriculture, glaciation, rivers and population—without a flicker of panic crossing the other person’s face. You are no longer talking about a neutral subject.”

Geography as a subject has the potential to be relevant, dynamic and challenging for students in the classroom through providing the opportunity to develop a political frame around what is taught. How can we teach about water, population, migration and climate change for example without challenging students to place the discussion in a political context – that is, what do you believe is right and what are the justice and ethical beliefs that guide ones opinion on an issue. A digital tool that is a wonderful way to get students involved (all students, not just the vocal and uninhibited) in discussion of a contestable nature is Poll Everywhere. The brilliant aspect of this program is that it is easy to use, is anonymous and inclusive of all, can be used and developed in real time in the classroom and provides instant feedback (graphs, word walls etc). The program gives all students a voice so that they can express their opinion without ridicule or embarrassment. The resulting graphs and graphics provide data for class research and discussion and can be archived for comparison over time presentations. As a tool it is a great interactive way to involve the geography class in some high order thinking and discussion.

The brief video on the Poll Everywhere Home page gives an introduction to this free digital tool which can be used not only in the geography classroom but also with teachers in their professional learning in geography. Here is a Poll Everywhere document I recently used with a group of teachers working on the concepts in history and geography. All they had to do was type the URL and start submitting their response to the questions in the document by using the codes (each code is unique and can be used only once specifically for the question - called a poll) generated by the teacher/facilitator of the question. Poll Everywhere is a great way to get discussion started in any gathering.  It is certainly worth the 30 minutes to get acquainted with the tool and make the learning more interactive for participants and create some inclusive and comprehensive data for contestable discussions.

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