Updated National Geography Standards Published

Geography for Life CoverAfter five years of careful work involving dozens of content experts, editors, and reviewers, the updated National Geography Standards have been published. The new document, Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, Second Edition, outlines 18 Standards that identify what students should know and be able to do in grades 4, 8, and 12.

According to Roger Downs, professor of geography at The Pennsylvania State University and chair of the Standards Content Committee, the updated Geography for Life reflects many of the changes in geography since publication of the original document in 1994. Topics such as globalization and human dimensions of global change are more fully integrated, he said, and the skills have been revised to incorporate the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and geospatial technology.

Short essays, designed to guide teachers but also allow them to find their own creative ways to encourage students to learn geography, introduce each of the Standards. “The Standards are better thought of as guidelines for what teachers might do, not a template for what they should do,” said Downs.

The new document’s layout and organization received attention during the revision process. “The major difference from the first edition, apart from the substantive updating, is in the structure of the Standards,” said Downs. “For each Standard, by use of careful scaffolding, there is an explicit attempt to build understanding from grade level to grade level.” This scaffolding illustrates how the geography content could be presented at each grade level.

“The redesign of the document enables a teacher or curriculum developer to see simultaneously how ideas are structured within a grade level and across the three grade levels,” Downs said.

“If you want to look ahead to see where students are going, or if you’re at the 12th grade level and want to look back to see what students may or may not have had… it’s all on one page for you as you look at a Standard,” said Susan Gallagher Heffron, Senior Project Manager for Geography Education at the Association of American Geographers and a member of the Standards Content Committee.

Gallagher Heffron served as project manager for the updated Geography for Life. She and Downs were co-editors of the document. The second edition also has new photographs and maps and an expanded glossary of geography terms, which Gallagher Heffron said should be a useful instructional tool for teachers using the Standards, especially those who are new to geography.

She also cited new emphasis on “doing geography”—helping students learn to ask and answer geographic questions—as another important update. Other modifications should make the document itself easier to use. The book’s spiral binding allows it to lay open on a desk.

Geography for Life was developed under the auspices of the Geography Education National Implementation Project (GENIP), a consortium involving the Association of American Geographers, the American Geographical Society, the National Council for Geographic Education, and the National Geographic Society.

NCGE will manage sales and distribution of the document. The National Geographic Society is developing a companion website focused on the updated Standards.

Gallagher Heffron said she hopes curriculum developers, educators, textbook publishers, and others embrace the updated Standards and create products that aid teachers.

“The overall goal remains the same,” Downs said. “This is geography for life, an indispensable way of understanding the world and functioning in it.”

To order your copy, please visit www.ncge.org/geography-for-life.

–Tim Hill

AP Human Geography Growth Noted

A lengthy article in Education Week reports on the dramatic growth trajectory of the AP Human Geography exam.

Geography may not be particularly known as a hot topic among today’s students—even some advocates suggest it suffers from an image problem—but by at least one measure, the subject is starting to come into its own.

Across more than 30 topics covered in the Advanced Placement program, participation in geography is rising faster than any other. It’s joined by AP courses like Chinese, environmental science, psychology, and world history that have been gaining ground most rapidly in recent years.

The article goes on to explore possible explanations for geography’s growing popularity, with quotes from Daniel Edelson, National Geographic’s vice president for education.

“It reflects the interest in the subject and the fact that there is still a lot of room to grow across the country,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody has a projection for how long it will continue at this pace, but we’re nowhere near saturation.”

Advanced Placement (AP), a program of the College Board, provides an opportunity for high school students to earn college credit by taking challenging courses that are equivalent to those offered at the college level. The 2011 geography exam included 75 multiple-choice questions and three free-response essays. Students in the class of 2011 took more than 45,000 AP Human Geography exams, according to data from the College Board. The geography exam was first administered in May 2001 to 3,293 students.

More on this topic:

8th Annual AP Report to the Nation from the College Board
Human Geography Subject Supplement
from the College Board
AP Human Geography Course Home Page from the College Board
AP Human Geography resources
at the NCGE website

Geography Course on the Chopping Block in Oxnard?

A high school geography course requirement at the Oxnard Union High School District in California could be eliminated to make way for a new offering designed to help ninth-graders make the transition to high school, according to a recent article in the Ventura County Star.

“What we’re looking at is trying to develop a course for our freshmen to take that would provide what we call 21st-century skills,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Dabbs. Those skills include creativity, collaboration, technology and a background in how to prepare for college and careers—”a lot of issues in terms of the transition from the eighth grade to the ninth grade and what we can do to increase graduation rates, increase college-going rates.”

According to the article, the district is in the early planning stages for any proposed curricular changes to make way for the “freshman skills” course, but geography supporters in the school are already rallying around the course.

In fact, geography educators argue that the subject teaches some of the most important 21st-century skills. Geography helps us better understand the global economy, complex international relations, and environmental challenges. Geography helps business leaders create and market new products and services. Geography gives people knowledge needed to use natural resources in a sustainable manner. Geography helps citizens make informed decisions about land use and transportation in their communities.

The list of benefits of geography knowledge and skills is long. Let’s work to make sure geography is a robust part of the curriculum for every student—and not on the chopping block any time a school needs to find space for a new course offering.

More on this topic:

The National Council for Geographic Education and the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills produced a 21st Century Skills Map for Geography.

–Tim Hill

Putting “Geographia” Back into Geography Education

—Geography: from the Greek geographia, meaning “writing or describing the world.”

Most Americans travel to school or work in private vehicles, or perhaps by public transit, safely enclosed and protected from the elements. We live, work, shop, and learn in climate-controlled buildings. Modern, comfortable, middle-class living has separated from our natural environment.

With this reality in mind, Daniel Edelson, National Geographic’s Vice President for Education, writes in ArcNews that today’s students need some “old-fashioned geographia” that gets them outside to observe and explore their natural environment.

Before students can understand the world, they need to observe it. To observe it, they need to experience it, of course, but they also need to notice it. It’s not just about looking; it’s about seeing. And teachers have known forever that the best way to get students to be good observers is to engage them in documentation and description.

One such initiative Edelson cites is Project BudBurst, which encourages people to observe, record, and share seasonal changes in plants, a kind of research sometimes called citizen science or community geography.

Yes, geography helps us answer questions, solve problems, and understand the world, Edelson writes. But we must not neglect observing the world around us.

How do you practice geographia?

–Tim Hill

Is Geography a Science?

Geographic tools, including geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), satellite remote sensing, and popular geographics, “constitute a macroscope that allows scientists, practitioners, and the public alike to view the earth as never before.” That is the argument made by Jerome E. Dobson, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas and president of the American Geographical Society in his article “Through the Macroscope: Geography’s View of the World” in ArcNews.

Can geography regain its position as a recognized and respected science? Although geography has been abandoned or neglected by many elite American universities, Dobson says it is time for geography to reclaim its proper role in advancement of scientific knowledge and human intellectual development.

The macroscope is here today, and science is already changing in response to it. We are entering a new scientific era that may be every bit as exciting and enlightening as the revolutions prompted earlier by the microscope and telescope. Surely our professional lives will be richer, and science itself will gain, if we, who know the marvelous instrument best, insist on using it ourselves to tackle the greatest mysteries of our time. Surely we must insist on reviving the classical model in which geography is viewed as a fundamental discipline.

Although discoveries using the macroscope may come quickly, changing the culture of science may take decades, Dobson acknowledges. “Again, I urge, bring back geography! To science … education … business … and government! The benefits to science and society will be incalculable,” he writes.

In 2007 Dobson wrote “Bring Back Geography!”, another thought-provoking article for ArcNews.