Geo-Literacy and Why it Matters in Our Classrooms
National Geographic has begun an initiative to help our current students better understand the impact their decisions have in the world. The initiative was prompted by the lack of funding for geography programs and the resulting generation of students who missed the opportunity to learn about this invaluable subject. Understanding the importance of Geo-Literacy and exactly how to bring this information into the classroom falls directly in line with the high standards of the new Common Core. Plus, it’s fun!
In the past few years, our students have learned to make quick decisions and solve problems in record time. Solving problems quickly does not allow our students the opportunity to learn how to work through challenges. This type of activity can also elevate the frustration level when students do not see a quick solution to their problem and may even cause a student to give up too quickly on future problems. The complex issues our future students will face will not require “quick fixes” but long-term, thoughtful solutions with special attention to the results of their decisions. Geo-Literacy helps us to teach the process of analysis and how the results of our decisions impact other issues — some we would not have even considered. As our global economies have connected more closely and will continue to do so in the future, this becomes an important skill to develop. Any career chosen by future generations of students will most certainly require not only decision-making ability but also the knowledge of world cultures, geographic environments and analysis of the effects of decisions.
How can teachers incorporate Geo-Literacy in the classroom? Remember, it is not just geography, but teaching the process of how to make good decisions and the impact of those decisions. Sounds a lot like science, right? Science requires in-depth analysis, observations and of course record keeping skills. For example, if the focus of the lesson is pollutants in the water cycle, grading for the students could reflect the data collection and reporting on the consequences on a specific eco-system, including changes in water purity, insect, plant and animal systems. This type of activity is long and involved for a reason. Quick decisions are often not thought out and the results can be incredibly damaging. Think about the effects that a quick decision to build a dam would cause on the agriculture that depends on the water down stream. (Downstream could mean two states away!) Think about the decision made to use a certain pesticide that kills the pesky bug, but also the birds that feed on those insects. Once the birds die, no more insects can be eaten. Then, in addition to the immunity that the insects develop, in a few years, the farm could be overrun with stronger pesky insects and no birds to eat them! With a little research, this problem may have been solved naturally with the introduction of some ladybugs and amphibians. Our students need to understand how one decision can have an effect on a multitude of living creatures in our world. Again, with a little research, teachers can create hands-on relevant lessons that require real answers. Who knows, maybe one of your students will solve the energy crisis!
The study of Geography, of course, involves terrain but it can also include world cultures. Sounds like Social Studies, right? It is possible that much of the Social Studies curriculum teaches history. History is a great way to discuss the effects of decisions made and the impact on the generations of people that had to live with those (sometimes tragic) decisions. It is also a great way to discuss different cultures. Why cows are sacred in India, or how America is though of by other countries, Middle Eastern or European, can be great starting points to open the minds of our students. Did you know that students in Australia are taught American government and when asked who the current president is can answer correctly?! I recently asked an American student who the prime minister of Australia was and not only could he not answer, he could not even show me where it was on a map. (Kevin Rudd is the prime minister, in case you were wondering). Most teachers would agree it would be impossible to spend the time needed to effectively learn all of the head government officials of the world. However, understanding how different government systems work and having a respect for different cultures when encountering them is a Geo-Literate skill that should be incorporated in our future education systems. (And of course, our students should know the continents – ugh). Most likely, our students will have careers that require working with people from different parts of the world, so, developing a respectful “world view” certainly helps when making decisions.
The Common Core Standards require our students to develop higher-level thinking skills, mainly for the purpose of making good decisions. These good decisions can impact our world, society, communities or just our immediate families. Our students deserve the opportunity to gain those skills to make a better life for themselves and future generations. The respectable influence from National Geographic will have a positive effect on our current educational practices, which could lead to training and more funding. Great teachers are always looking for new, effective ways to guide students, so, thanks to National Geographic for caring enough to get involved!
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