Geography is a distinct discipline : teaching the subject creatively to primary school students (updated)

At school I had two amazing geography teachers Mr Alan Moore and Mr Brian Thomas and they are probably the main reason why I went onto do a major in the subject when I went to uni as part of an Arts degree. I have held onto my Year 6 Social Studies book complete with its elaborate and colourful title page (tragic I know) — I show it to my pre-service teachers.

I love geography.

What both Mr Moore and Mr Thomas did was share their passion for the subject through wide-ranging travel photographs, detailed explanations of geographical concepts and they encouraged everyone they taught to look for signs of geography everywhere in the world.

A Twitter friend Susan Caldis head teacher and GTANSW President alerted me to a really helpful text written by Alaric Maude who was the Chair of AGTA from 2008–13 and is a retired Associate Professor of Geography from Flinders University.

Maude (2014) makes this point:

Primary teachers have a significant role in the teaching of geography in Australia because they are responsible for seven of the nine years in which the subject will be compulsory in the majority of schools (p.1).

The NSW Geography syllabus is complete and schools will transition this year to teaching it — with full implementation being mandatory in 2017.

Many great resources are in production not the least those on the NSW State Library website. Excellent teaching resources are NOT in short supply.

The NSW Geography K-10 aims to develop students:

  • sense of wonder, curiosity and respect about places, people, cultures and environments throughout the world
  • deep geographical knowledge
  • ability to think geographically
  • capacity to be competent critical and creative users of geographical inquiry methods and skills; and
  • as informed, responsible, and active citizens who can contribute to the development of an environmentally and economically sustainable and socially just world.

The key organising geographical concepts in the curriculum include:

• change • distance • diversity • interaction • interdependence • landscape • location • pattern • perception • place • process • proximity •relationship • risk • scale

So much scope here to make GEOGRAPHY really engaging for students.

In late 2014 I attended Geography Teacher PD organized by the GTA that drew attention to the amazing GeogSpace website — really a one stop shop — and also there is the Geographical Association website that comes out of the UK. Another favourite among teachers is Kids National Geographic. The NSW GTA annual conference is being held in Sydney on the 8th April 2016.

Google Earth is a source of endless fascination in the classroom — used with an interactive whiteboard it’s a perfect medium to view locations and trigger geographical conversations.

I always recommend having a wall map (the fabric ones are hot property in vintage shops), a free standing globe and printed atlases in the classroom — topographic maps are great too. A few years ago I had some maps I bought home from an overseas trip laminated, for example, the London Underground, Paris Metro, New York Subway … also museum floor plans from these cities — these make great direction teachers — hmmm … what have you done with that momento from the British Museum or the Louvre? There is always … City Rail?

Another geographer on my Master of Teaching team when I taught at Western Sydney University is a very keen Geocacher … it’s her passion*. There is opportunity to engage primary students with many of the new geospatial apps and interactive maps like the Indigenous Language map promoted by ABC Splash. The site has a searchable index for geography — have a look — it’s excellent.

Maude (2014) quotes Caitlin, Will & Butler (2013) towards the end of his book:

If primary geography has great relevance and connection with children’s lived experience, perhaps what children would learn would come naturally rather than be seen as a burden for some (p. 48).

I can’t help but imagine that the Mr Moore’s and Mr Thomas’s or the new Ms Moore’s or Mrs Thomas’s of geography teaching are out there in schools. I’m counting on you!

* Earlier post on Medium

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