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Brenda's Blog

The Changing Face
Of Geography

Two memories stand out from my time as a student in geography class:

1.) Im in grade four and the word geography jumps out in a foreboding way from our weekly spelling list. Realizing that this tricky word has the potential to stump her students, my teacher shares a mnemonic that teachers having been imparting to students for generations: George Elliots grandmother rode a pig home yesterday. That catchy phrase helped me through that 4th grade spelling test and has floated into my mind each and every time Ive written the word -- even today!

2.) Im in grade six and my teacher introduces a catchy game to help students drill for an upcoming world geography test. Two teams line up against opposite walls, facing each other. A large map of the world stands between us at the front of the room. One by one, a team member identifies a geographical location that starts with the last letter of the location the previous student had to identify. So, for example, if the last team member located Kenya, the opposite team member must name and locate on the map a geographical location starting with A". No geographical location or land form could be repeated, so as the game progressed, it became harder and harder to think of and locate the continents, countries, mountain ranges, and rivers of the world. I loved the game -- mostly because I excelled at memorizing geographical locations and landforms.

As pleasant as those two memories are, the unfortunate thing about my geographical past is that, although I can spell the word and locate just about any location you might throw my way, I have trouble navigating a map, have a propensity to get lost, and have difficulty making inferences and drawing conclusions from maps and other geographical sources. For someone who excelled at geography, that is perplexing.

Thankfully, Geography instruction has changed drastically over the past forty years. The geography classes of my past are sorely out of step with todays classes, where students no longer just memorize locations, but grapple with such complex topics as place, space, interdependence, environmental interaction, distance, relational perspectives, geographical imaginations, cultural understanding and diversity, proximity, physical and human processes, inequality, and scale."

Todays digital mapping tools offer exciting learning opportunities for teachers seeking to deepen students geographical thinking skills. Online digital mapping tools like Google Maps, Community Walk, and Wayfaring provide ways do not only extend a students ability to navigate a map -- additional applications in those digital mapping programs allow users to personalized and annotate maps and share them with others. Those applications take mapping to a deeper level by connecting place, story, and community in a way that helps students develop a clearer understanding of how where theyve been affects them in the future.

So, how can digital mapping tools be used to teach geographical and historical thinking? To answer that question, I decided to try my hand at creating my own digital place-based storytelling project, one that could be used with students of all ages. With no example to follow, I ventured out into the dark, guided by my belief that inquiry and authentic hands-on activities have the potential to facilitate deep learning in students.


Next week: Brenda shares her digital place-based storytelling project and other digital storytelling projects that connect story, place, and community.

About the Author

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

Author: Brenda Dyck
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