Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The inquisitiveness of Geography

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Left Image: Freeways of London.
Right image: English country scene - Suffolk..

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

Why is it so?

When discussing why geography is important and the reasons it should be part of the school curriculum, the words inquisitiveness and curiosity are often mentioned. An individual will study any subject because of interest and fascination in learning but the concept of inquisitiveness runs very strongly through the history of geography. From exploration and discoveries to map making geography requires a strong desire to ask questions and find out what is (where and how) and why is it? This is not to say there are many other reasons for studying geography but the inquisitive angle of geography seems to be a core requirement for the geographer. Geography covers a wide range of learning and hence has a wide appeal to a diverse group of students. Various attempts to classify geographical knowledge and endevour into themes or branches have been undertaken over the years. These themes provide ample opportunity to cater to the needs of individuals. For example the area of geo-tourism will attract a very different individual to the one interested in geomorphology. Whilst studying people travelling around the globe is very different to learning about rocks and landscapes, what links these individuals together as geographer's is their inquisitive geographical approach when they study or work in their chosen area. This inquisitive approach involves asking key geographical questions such as:
* What is where?
* What is the distribution and shape of what is there?
* Why is what is there there?
* What surrounds what is there?
* Why is what surrounds there there?
* What is the distribution and shape of what surrounds what is there?
* What are the reasons for the distribution and shape of what surrounds?
* What are the interactions between what is there and what surrounds?
* What are the interdependencies between what is there and what surrounds?
* How and why has what is there changed or is changing in nature, distribution and
shape over time?
* What is the future projection for what is there and what surrounds?
* other pertinent geographical questions to the area of geographical endevour!!

Whilst sounding a little confusing, the key to geographical inquisitiveness is to answer such questions in relation to places and spaces. This spatial inquisitevness is at the core of the geographical approach and is what drives explorers, adventurers, researchers, writers and hopefully teachers. This inquisitivesness in the classroom should be the driving force of inquiry teaching methodologies (pedagogies) which pose questions to the students and invite them to use their geographical knowledge and skills to find answers or possible solutions. Giving students the answer without inviting inquiry only goes towards crushing student inquisitiveness and makes the subject no different to others. Geography must embrace an inquiry approach so as to model what geography is all about! Asking questions and seeking answers by exploration of place and space. Spatial technologies are the great enabler for this approach. Spatial technology and the associated data and visualisations can provide the geographer in the workforce or the student in the geography classroom with information on places and patterns/trends across space that can answer the geographical questions developed.

The natural inquisitivenes of students when studying geography must be fed by asking the questions; what? where? why?, when? how? what if? and so what? when studying any of the geographical areas/themes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What makes Geography Geography??

Spatial Worlds website

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

Left image: The Melbourne CBD
Right image: The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

The headset of the geographer

With the context for the National Geography Curriculum presently being developed, the question, "What makes Geography Geography?" is being constantly posed by those coming to grips with the fact that geography is to be introduced in schools from R-12 across Australia in 2012. As a geographer I feel confident in discussing what makes geography different to other disciplines and indeed unique in the curriculum. However, to actually explain the nature of geographical study to the non-geographer is quite a challenge. As I have found out through the "Towards and National Geography Curriculum" project there is even disagreements on this question amongst geographers themselves. In this posting I will have a crack at trying to delineate the uniqueness of geography. In this day of spatial technology and spatial literacy, clarity on this question is essential. In fact, what are the linkages between geography and the world of the spatial scientist? Are geographers spatial scientists, or is the science word to be avoided? It is interesting that in the National Curriculum Board's Shaping Paper for Science, they refer to systems, interdependence, patterns, inquiry methodology, sustainability, climate change, biodiversity and digital and spatial technology. These are all concepts/topics/tools covered and used in geography! So is geographer all that different to Science in its approach? Naturally the answer is no but how then is it different? In the science document there is no reference to geography as a linking discipline and hence makes one wonder if the Science world is also not aware of the nature of geography and how it can compliment other disciplines? Interestingly the sparse mention of spatial variation and geography in the National Curriculum Boards Shaping Paper for history paper, a discipline traditionally closely allied with geography.

So what makes geography unique? To clarify this I thought it would be interesting to list the features of geographical education that I consider makes it what it is!

Geographers are interested and inquisitive about the:
* bio-physical (natural) environment and the built environment of humanity
* inter-actions within and between environmental systems
* interdependencies and intricacies of environmental interactions
* spatial variation evident across space and the reasons for the variation
* patterns and trends that can be identified when viewing spatial changes and environmental phenomena over space
* changes in land patterns and landuse over time
* processes which create landscape features and phenomena
* visual representation of places and their distribution over space

The way the geographer looks at the world though a geographical lens is what makes geography geography.
The advent of modern spatial technologies has put in the hands of geographers an array of tools which enable the geographer to visualise and describe the world geographically beyond our imagination only a few years ago. In this blog I will continue to present the latest spatial technologies which make geography one of the most exciting disciplines in the world when we are trying to visualise, describe, explain and analyse the world around us. The geographers headset is unique and needs to be clearly articulated if we expect good geography to be taught in our schools. The question needs to be asked, is the writing of a national geography curriculum going to improve geographical education in schools? The answer can be only yes when we develop professional learning strategies that enable non-geographically trained teachers understand what makes geography geography. It is not about the content of geography to be taught in the classroom but the headset of the geographer.