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Nerdfest 2015 Day One: Thinking like a geographer

There’s been a big push in the last few years to train kids to think historically, to ask better questions, to analyze evidence, to solve problems ala Sam Wineburg.

But what does it look like when kids think like a geographer? The last session of the day yesterday at the NSSSA conference focused at interpreting primary sources with a geographic lens. What sorts of questions can we train kids to ask that helps them think about connections between events and place?

And I love the idea of thinking geographically. I would be the first to admit that I am very US History-centric. Thinking historically – ala Sam Wineburg – has been my life for the last few years as I helped write state standards and train teachers.

So having a conversation about a different lens to think about the past is a great way to end the day. I’ve pasted a few resources below that you really need to go check out but the basics of thinking geographically look like this:

Where is this place? (Specific location / relative location)

What are the human and physical characteristics of this place?

How are ares linked? What do they have in common?

How are areas alike? What is the spatial organization?

What ideas, people or things are moving? How are they diffusing to other places?

Who is affected? (city, state, country, world)

Human & Environment Interaction
How are the humans modifying, adapting to, or depending upon the environment?

Past – Present – Future Uses of Geography
Based on what we know, what can we do to sustain our world?

We practiced the idea by zooming in and out of  a political cartoon from the late 1800s. And as often as I’ve used this image, I learned some new stuff by focusing on it with geography goggles on. A simple example? I never noticed that the man washing the window in the top left corner was using a rag shaped like the continent of Africa.

school begins political cartoon

The presenters then asked us to create a simple graphic organizer to make sense of geography by creating a “relative” map of the political cartoon itself – mapping the people and groups in the room as seen from above. We then used Google Maps to drop pins on the actual locations around world and developed questions about the connections and relationships between the places and ideas in the cartoon.

Exactly. A very cool way of asking kids to look at historical evidence in a different way.

We also shared ideas from Phil Gersmehl who has written a lot on the topic, specifically referencing a nice article titled What Do We Mean by Reading Maps?

We left with a ton of resources, including document analysis worksheets with a geo focus, lesson plan ideas, and instructional tools. Most of these can be found at the Arizona Geographic Alliance.

Need a little teaser?

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 8.34.32 AM

When you’re done there, head over to the Library of Congress for geography lessons. And to the National Geographic Alliance Network.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Please post more of the geography-related links from your geography discussions. I’d love to see what you recommend as far as maps and mapping tools for geography teachers.

    November 13, 2015
    • glennw #


      I left the handouts and links behind in a different room. When I get them back, I’ll post a few more things. Thanks for the comment!


      November 13, 2015
      • Most appreciated, sir.

        November 13, 2015

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