Physical Geography: Learning and Teaching in a Discipline So Dynamic That Textbooks Can't Keep Up!

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT:

Physical geography is a dynamic discipline. This makes geography exciting, but poses some problems for teachers and students. Learning resources rapidly become out of date, and some of the resources that students and teachers trust are in fact seriously flawed. Students progressing from A-level to university are often confronted with the realisation that much of what they studied at school was outdated or incorrect. Problems for teachers include keeping up to date with new discoveries and theories, choosing reliable teaching resources, and advising students when resources provide conflicting information. This article illustrates these problems and suggests some solutions - for example: textbooks such as those in the Geographical Association's Changing Geography series, that bridge the gap between A-level and university; greater interaction between schools and universities in the form of university workshops for school students and teachers; and teacher-researcher co-authorship of learning resources.

Introduction

Physical geography is a dynamic discipline: science moves quickly and our knowledge and understanding of the world around us is constantly developing. This makes geography an exciting discipline to research, to study and to teach, but poses a serious problem for teachers and students. Slow and incomplete revision and renewal of some widely used textbooks and other teaching and learning resources has caused a confusing situation where students and teachers are faced with a range of conflicting and contradictory information. Students progressing from A-level to university often find that much of what they studied at school was outdated or incorrect. Fundamental problems for teachers of physical geography include keeping up to date with new discoveries, choosing reliable teaching resources, and knowing what to tell students when resources provide conflicting information. The situation has been made worse because some of the most widely used textbooks and websites, which most students and teachers trust, are perpetuating dated or incorrect ideas and information.

Using the teaching of global environmental change and glacier systems as an example, this article illustrates these problems and suggests a number of possible solutions. Although the article focuses on specific examples, the problems and opportunities illustrated here apply across the whole discipline.

Problems for geography students and teachers

Geography is a fantastic subject, encouraging us to explore and understand the world around us. It gives students the opportunity to encounter places and environments locally and globally, to combine a range of skills in fieldwork and classroom study, and to identify links between aspects of the natural and human environment that other subjects often study in isolation. The subject-matter of geography is highly topical in terms of current affairs, and geography students can apply their learning to a wide range of important social and environmental issues. Fo r example, in physical geography, issues such as global warming, the collapse of the world's glaciers and the catastrophic rise of global sea level feature almost daily in the press and on the television news, giving students a broader cultural context to their geographic studies. In the degree course in physical geography that I teach at Keele University, we use the theme of global environmental change as the focal point around which the course is organised, partly because it is a topic that students find appealing and accessible, but also because it provides a way of drawing together a wide range of different types of geographical evidence to address an important issue. Geography is all about combining evidence from different sources to address complex interdisciplinary topics and problems. Environmental change, ice-sheet collapse and global sea-level rise are among the most complex, and the most pressing, geographical concerns. …