Friday, August 31, 2012

Are we there yet? Almost!

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

The final draft is up!

The final draft for the Australian Curriculum: Geography was posted today on the ACARA site.

The revised curriculum has been prepared for validation of achievements standards and provides the material for the final stage of curriculum development of the Australian Curriculum: Geography.  During September 2012, there will be further refinement to the achievement standards and the curriculum as a result of the validation process. This latest revised document has been written as a result of the consultation process from October 2011 to March 2012.  The consultation report has just been released by ACARA and will give an insight into the views of jurisdictions, assocations, organisations and individuals etc around Australia to the October 2011 draft of the Australian Curriculum: Geography. Naturally the ACARA writers and advisors have done thier best to respond to the views expressed.

In October 2012 the final F-12 Australian Curriculum: Geography will be presented to the ACARA Board for approval and then to the Ministerial Council for approval to proceed with digital publication in December 2012.

Go to the geography pages on the ACARA site to view the progression of the geography curriculum since 2009, be reading the Australian Curriculum: Geography Initial Advice Paper (April 2010), Shape Paper (December 2010), Draft Scope and Sequence (October 2011), through to this penultimate public document titled the Revised Draft.  It has been quite a journey and we are almost there. 
As always we encourage geographers from around Australia to provide feedback to ACARA.  Only then will we get a geography curriculum for geography teachers we want and deserve.
GeogSpace is happening

As previously mentioned the attention is now turning to the resoucing of the curriculum via the creation of the GeogSpace project with Education Services Australia (ESA). The project is going along very well with writers developing illustrations of practice as core units for each year level and supporting curriculum units for the teacher of geography (not always a geography teacher!) to engage with geographical thinking and teaching. Click here to view the August briefing Powerpoint of the project.  More on that to come in the next few months.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Avoiding Geogphobia

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

Sunshine Geography versus Problematic Geography

We teach geography in our schools for many reasons. As Rita Gardner says:

“Geography is one of the great civilising subjects in the curriculum. It trains young people in an understanding of the diverse and interconnected world in which they live and for which they will have to take a responsibility though their work and actions. With this emphasis on understanding both environmental and social processes, and their interactions and change, geography encompasses many of the issues facing the world today." 
 Rita Gardner Director Royal Geographical Society 1999

In our enthusiasm to expose and address the problems facing our world we may be doing our subject a dis-service.  Recent statistics on the decline of the number of geography students in the senior years in Australian schools started me thinking about how we get students to ‘love’ geography like many of us did. When I say to people I am a geography teacher, their first response is “that was my favourite subject at school.” Rarely do I come across a student today who says the same thing!! As a result in this posting I would like to pose the following questions:
  • What’s changed? 
  • What did we like about geography when we did it at school?
  • Has the subject changed for the worse or have students changed and no longer find it appealing compared to other more exciting subjects?
  • Is it that they do not see geography going anywhere or providing employment opportunities?
  • Is it because we have too few passionate geography teachers in our schools?
  • Is the subject not “hands-on” enough for the modern student?
  • Is the curriculum not relevant to student interests and needs?
  • Does the name geography lack currency and is seen as old and offering little excitement for students?
  • Is it that in our desire to educate about the environment, challenges and threats to our world, we have concentrated too much on the bad news?

I would say there is an element of truth to all of the above but the one I want to focus on is the last. This focus on bad news stories is called “death geographies” or “Doomsday Geographies” in the UK and is blamed for turning many students off geography. By focussing on bad news such as pollution, climate change, over-population, famine and other environmental and social problems from the early years of schooling, well–meaning teachers have created a sense of powerlessness amongst students and even a feeling of blame – neither being an attractive approach if we want to attract students. This approach is often compounded by non-geographers teaching geography who lack the content knowledge and find that there is a plethora of materials on the bad news geographies that provide ready-to-go teaching materials. I am not saying that it is not important to teach the bad news stories but we need to develop a love for the world before we start the death/doomsday geographies.  Surely one of the reasons we loved geography was the remote, exotic, diverse and fascinating geographical stories we studied in primary and secondary school.  The remote, romantic and exotic is what fed our natural curiosity and engaged our wonder.  I call this “Sunshine Geography”, It is this geography we may have neglected in our fixation on systems and problem solving over the years.

As we write the Australian Curriculum: Geography we have kept this sunshine aspect of geography in the forefront of study.  It is only when someone loves something that they really care about it and for it.  

The Australian Curriculum: Geography Aim 1 states: 
Australian Curriculum: Geography aims to ensure that students develop a sense of wonder and curiosity about places, people, cultures and environments throughout the world.”
This sense of wonder and curiosity is what we need to ensure from the start, so that students enjoy and embrace geography.  Only once they have this should we start talking about what is threatening the beauty of the world. Just look at this visually stunning video montage with clips compiled from the Discovery Channel's series "Planet Earth”  and "What a wonderful world" with David Attenborough. How could a student not be fascinated and inspired by such vision. 

The question about when and how we introduce the problematic geography is a question that needs to be discussed in a considered way by teachers.  We have a responsibility to not depress and scare students about the future of our world.  An interesting parallel can be drawn from the work on Cosmophobia amongst young people.  In many ways the fear of a comet hitting the earth is no more scary than a teacher saying that we will be destroyed by climate change (droughts/sea level rise), increasing catastrophic events, die of famine or unable to breath through air pollution.

"In the case of movies, documentaries,books, blogs and websites, they are doing their best convince many in the public that some kind of catastrophe awaits us around the winter solstice of 2012, and that its cause will be an astronomical or geophysical event. Some people are seriously worried, others are mildly concerned, while others are cynical about both the scare mongers and the scientists who rebut these suggestions. “Doomsday 2012″ represented both a challenge and opportunity for science communication and education."

The Cosmophobia website offers teaching materials to be used to help students to cope with these fears.

In the case of geography we must be careful to not create a “Geogphobia” of destruction through focussing on the problems of the earth from the early years of schooling, over and over again.  No wonder students do not want to do geography!! We need geography teachers who have the sense of wonder and knowledge of process and geography thinking to inspire students.  As students move through their schooling this sunshine geography needs to be integrated with considered problematic geography but we must be careful not to overwhelm students with the “we will all be rooned” approach. 

"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, in accents most forlorn,
Outside the church ere Mass began, one frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about, coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock & crops & drought, as it had done for years."

Even if this was my favourite poem at school we must not make it the basis of geographical education in our schools or us geography teachers “...will all be rooned.”.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A concentration of geographers!

Image: Leaving Adelaide, heading for Melbourne. Glenelg below (not Glenelg on Mars!)

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

Geographers gathering in Victoria this time

A concentration / world / agglomeration of Geographers! Just some fun with a collective noun for a gathering of geographers but it would be good to have one accepted as the collective noun. 

Ever since 2001, in late August I make the journey across to Melbourne for the biggest gathering of geographers in Australia at the Geography Teachers’ of Victoria (GTAV) annual conference. The conference normally attracts up 350 geography teachers and is always an outstanding event. I am sure the 2012 GTAV conference, being held in Queens Street in the Melbourne CBD will be no exception. The program is worth having a look at to see the breadth and quality of the presentations and fieldwork available at the conference.

My role at the conference as AGTA Chair is to present and participate in several workshops on the Australian Curriculum: Geography and one workshop on Geographical Thinking. I am looking forward to the conference as always because of the collegiate and professional feeling of the event.

Here are my workshop presentations for those attending them and any Spatialworlds readers who may be interested. They are on Dropbox at:

* Australian Curriculum workshop

* Geographical Thinking workshop

* The Thinking Geographically DVD

* Order form for Thinking Geographically DVD

I am sure the next posting will contain the gems of information and resources I always gather at the GTAV conference. Even if you are not a Victorian it is worth getting to Melbourne for this conference. Anne Olsen, a geography teacher from Wellington New Zealand is one who also makes the pilgrimage to the GTAV conference every year. Anne is the leading geography teacher promoting spatial technology in schools in New Zealand and is always worth having a chat with.  

The GTAV has been the leader with spatial understanding in Australia and their Spatial Skills book and Spatial Concepts posters are excellent resources for professional learning and the classroom. These resources are available on the GTAV  website.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scooping geography

Making it easy to find teaching materials

The way forward for the curating and sharing of geographical sites is through websites such as ( and the communication network of Twitter.  As an educator one should join and share – you will be amazed by the number of fantastic resources and sites regularly turning up in your email inbox.  It makes life easier in preparing and researching for material to use in the classroom. is a wonderful website with the potential to link into a wide range of geography orientated websites collected by individuals. It is also a great resource for teachers to curate collections of geographical materials found on the Internet.

Here is a great example of an educator (Seth Dixon is a professor at Rhode Island College and can be reached via Twitter @APHumanGeog) using to curate and spread outstanding geographical education sites and resources. The site is called Geographical Education and is at
“Global news with a spatial perspective: resources for educators and the inherently inquisitive.

Here is just a selection of Seth’s communication network in one week.
·           *
      * Tumblr: 

Here are some great cites ‘provided on a plate’ via Seth’s networks.

This database of global wars and conflicts is searchable through space and time.  You can drag and click the both the map and timeline to locate particular battles and wars, and then read more information about that conflict.  This resource would be a great one to show students and let them explore to find what they see as interesting.  This site is brimming with potential.     

The artistic collection entitled 'Landscapes' compiled  "the bizarre instances of cartographic dissonance inflicted by the Dutch government over their virtual lands. As Henner notes, the number of censored sites within the small country of the Netherlands is surprising, as is the technique used by officials to disguise them. Tracts of land deemed vulnerable to attack or misappropriation are transformed into large tapestries of multi-colored polygons, archipelagos of abstraction floating in swaths of open fields, dense forests, and clusters of urban development." 

This is an excellent review/summary of an edited volume that shows the value of geographic thought and its importance in the modern world.  This review conveniently gives a one paragraph synopsis of each chapter.  It does not need to be read chronologically, so you can pick and choose what you find relevant to your course.  The top 10 are (in order of inclusion in the book): the Idea of the Map, the Weather Map, GIS, Human Adjustment, Water Budget Climatology, Human Transformation of the Earth, Spatial Organization and Interdependence, Central Place Theory, Megalopolis and Sense of Place. 

This site shows how much space would be needed if the world’s population lived uniformly at the density of selected countries. It’s a good comparative use of spatial data. Here’s the original link:

This new resource, myHistro, combines interactive maps with timelines to organize stories, journeys or historical events as the move over time and place.  By embedding photos, videos and links this creates an incredibly dynamic platform for telling historical and geographic stories.  By combining these features, this is a powerful tool to create customized resources for you students.  Pictured above is a sample timeline that shows the spatial and temporal journey of the Olympic torch for the 2012 Games.   

There are plenty of regional biases about other places.  This map was generated by Google autocomplete.  If you Google, "Why is Rhode Island so...." if will automatically suggest some responses.  This was done for all the states and these autoresponses are quite revealing (and often humorous). 

Using satellite images to see change
"With the help of satellite images fifth and sixth grade students at Mr. Tim Blum’s geography class at the University of Wyoming Lab School got a birds-eye view of how humans have impacted or modified their environments. Images acquired by satellites decades apart showed cleared forests, irrigated crop fields in the middle of the deserts, altered landscapes (new roads and water bodies), and urban growth."

In short, there is so much great teaching materials and hints up on the Internet now, programs such as and Twitter just help us find and curate what is good. In fact it comes to us on a daily basis instead of wasting time searching!!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Searching for skills

Searching for the 21st Century geographical skills

In many of the Spatialworlds posting we have talked about the concepts in the Australian Curriculum: Geography and their importance in developing geographical thinking. In this posting I want to explore the generic skills involved in the teaching and learning of geography in the 21st Century.  

The Australian Curriculum: History clearly articulated the generic skills of history and embedded them in a developmental manner very effectively in their F-10 historical skills strand. The historical skills identified in the ACARA document are continuity and change, cause and effect, significance, perspectives, empathy and contestability. 

The challenge for geography is to identify a list of generic skills that goes to the core of geographical education. When anyone asks a geography teacher; “What skills do you want your students to develop”, we should be able to articulate those skills clearly and coherently. We are very good at saying we want our students to understand maps, undertake inquiry, draw graphs, do cross-sections etc but geographical skills are much much more in the 21st Century world of geography. This posting is not intended to develop a comprehensive and finite list. Rather, it intends to be a useful starting point for teachers to begin to think about the generic geographical skills to be developed in the teaching of geography.  I would also hope that it will provide an opportunity to debate what we are actually trying to develop in our students in terms of skills for citizenship and living.  I would suggest that in geography these skills, as is the case with the concepts, make geography geography
Here is a go at making a generic geography skills list!

  • Conceptualisation: to discuss geographical events, phenomena and places using the geographical concepts of place, space, environment, interconnection, sustainability, change and scale.
  • Comparability: to compare and contrast geographical places, processes, features, events and spatial arrangements.
  • Cause and effect: to identify causation and impact of geographical processes, spatial variations and events.
  • Contestability: to discern that there are multiple explanations for geographical phenomena and be prepared to discuss multiple causes, interpretations and futures.
  • Empathy: to be empathetic to the impact of geography on humans and have an understanding of a variety of views and impressions.
  • Futures: to be able to project forward and suggest possible futures for whatever geography studied.
  • Graphicacy: to evaluate and use data in the form of maps, graphs or other visual representations of the earth.
  • Questioning: to ask the inquiry questions of what, where, why and so what?
  • Source/data critiquing: the ability to collect, interrogate and analyse data and visual representations (maps, visualisations, images). 
  • Whyabouts: to explore the ‘why of the where’ when investigating the reasons for the location of geographical features, places and spaces.

Hopefully this list and interpretations of the skills will start some discussion of generic geographical skills. They are certainly going to be part of professional learning for geography I hope to conduct in the future. I should emphasise that this listing is just me thinking out aloud and not any official work of ACARA as they develop the Australian Curriculum: Geography.