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Making Geography Live

Generally, one could say that geography is a burdensome task for the average student.  It appears to be a boring, tiresome subject to most students, but why?  I would like to give some possible reasons for this problem.

First of all, I think that geography tends to be stagnant.  To explain further – to the general pupil, geography has no change, it seems to be the same pile of maps with the same cities, the same boundaries, the same elevation, the same imports and exports, the same rivers every time he studies.  Geography does not deal with people, animals, or any other creature that has interest and dynamics.

Then, also, geography is primarily a large book jammed with facts.  He sits down to study 3 or 4 pages of facts concerning names of cities, products, imports, exports, etc.  After he has read the assignment several times, and feels rather secure in the fact that he will be able to “parrot” them back in exact pronunciation, order, and detail, he closes the monstrosity of compiled data in relief, and reaches for a library book which gives a fast-moving, interesting story of Perky, the sheep dog.

Another possible culprit for geography’s scare is probably the time at which it is taught.  Often geography is “squeezed in” in the afternoon by a teacher who himself likes to hide it until last.  When a subject tends to be a boggy problem, it should be changed to a time when interests are at their peak.  For example, if it is scheduled for the last study of the day, it will “chug and crawl” for both teacher and pupil; but, if it were placed after a morning recess, the response would increase very much.

In the fourth place, geography covers much more than can be covered adequately.  Speed to the pupil means more than, I believe, is realized by many.  If they can only cover 2 or 3 of those cumbersome pages a day, they wonder if they will ever finish that book.  It appears that even the pupil thinks that he must keep moving to make it interesting.

(This last paragraph is exactly what was written in the original.)

The greatest problem in geography is that it is much too abstract.  It does not deal with people they can visualize, factories they have seen, houses they have been in.  Mark Twain was not just having a joke or laugh in his story of the flying machine, when Huck Finn denied that the green territory below them was Illinois because it was pink on his school map.  The pupil has too much of a problem putting geography into the tangible or the experienced.

After studying the failures or hindrances of geography, I think it would be advisable to look at a few remedies for the problem.  I intend to give some of the remedial steps and not discuss them “pro” or “con”.

First of all, geography can become a moving subject both in study and in material; that is, more can be covered in subject matter itself by making it more general with less fact, and one can remove the stagnant effect by introducing discussion concerning change in both conditions of life and the world.  For example, one can study changes that took place in industry, politics, political territories and in the people in Europe before and during the Second World War.

This type of study will bring about more study of concepts than of fact.  In the teaching of concept, I believe a pupil has a stronger place to co-ordinate his facts which will not become burdensome and detailed.

It will also help to place geography at a different time in the daily schedule to make use of the pupil’s best interests and to link geography with other subjects, such as history, reading and science. To illustrate – a teacher can teach geography and history jointly in a study of the Civil War through its campaigns and battle fronts.

My last suggestion is that of introducing more of the many possible projects that exist.  The only difficulty in projects is that they are restricted only by the teacher’s imagination and research.  I will give a number of the many aids that can be used.

  1. Maps and charts can be used with success if used correctly. Desk maps can be used to teach concepts and generalizations of different regions through study of population, elevation, location, size, rainfall, etc.  The pupil can make his own maps, map puzzles, graphs, and charts from his own research and study.
  2. Bulletin boards can be used for maps, pictures, and diagrams of the regions studied in order to increase curiosity and to act as good illustrations. Allow or request pupils to bring their own pictures or newspaper clippings which they can explain to the class possibly on a credit system.
  3. The children can build homes, ranches, factories and machines (preferably to scale) like those studied in geography class in order to add motivation and concreteness.
  4. The teacher can make worksheets and outlines emphasizing those things he believes important.
  5. The teacher can give frequent objective and/or subjective tests to find the weak areas of study.
  6. Other effective methods are the argumentative and problem solving methods. In the argumentative method, panel discussions and debates are given by the pupils on a problem.  For example, they could hold a debate on the problem – Resolved that the most important factor in the fall of Hitler’s rule was his invasion of Russia.  Problem solving also initiates new interest.  Primarily one or two pupils are set to the task of a particular, comprehensive question such as, “Why did the Egyptian religion center around the Nile River?”
  7. Requesting a pupil to write or tell a story about people or industrial businesses in a particular country will demand study from him. A Mr. Thomas could request Tommy to prepare and tell a story about the life of an imaginary Mexican boy maned “Escedro,” who grew up in Mexico City.
  8. Stories either read to, or by, the pupil about children or animals in other parts of the country or world will push his curiosity to learn more about this particular country or region. For instance, after reading or hearing a story about a little Eskimo and dog, Jimmy can study Alaska on the basis of his experience through the book (which can also be interpreted as a call for better reading books).
  9. Lastly, a good means of motivation lies in trips both of the class and of the individual. A well planned trip to a textile mill, furniture factory, or museum can bring new interest if the pupil is required to listen and learn in order to give a report or take a quiz.  The individual pupil can also make his own trips for research by going to the local business men to gain information.  To illustrate:  Jim has been requested by his teacher to find all the steps and processes which are involved in the transportation of the corn in his cereal from the farm to his home.  He can visit the local feed mills and the local grocery store to obtain nearly all of the necessary information.

These are only a few of the many projects that can be incorporated to enliven the dead study of geography.  May geography live for the student and the teacher!