Academic journal article Social Education

Geography: The Essential Skill for the 21st Century

Academic journal article Social Education

Geography: The Essential Skill for the 21st Century

Article excerpt

As we head further into the 21st Century, we are living in an every changing and interdependent world. The toys that our children play with are made in China. The clothes we wear or the shoes on our feet, the bedding we sleep on, or the drapes over our windows are made as far away as Pakistan or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Students need a global awareness that includes familiarity with different cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles in order to understand and address global issues. Geography can help students understand these issues.

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21st Century Skills

Three essential learning and innovative skills can help students with geography for confronting the challenges of tomorrow: creativity and innovation; creative thinking and problem solving; and communication and collaboration skills. One simple way to stimulate student creativity might be a walking tour of the school or campus. Teachers might challenge students to create a musical composition based on items they observed or heard on their tour. Have the students explain what the sound from their composition represents and discuss the difficulty of representing these sounds. Another way to stimulate creativity with geography is to use a poem as a springboard for having students write their own poems describing physical or human sounds in the environment. There are four important features of creativity: using imagination; pursuing purpose; being original; and judging values. (1) Imagination involves looking at a situation from a different perspective or thinking of alternatives. Pursuing purpose and being original encourages the student to have a set action or intention while conceiving of new ideas. Creative thinking involves trying new possibilities and rejecting those that do not work. Creativity does not happen in isolation; as Stephen Scoffham notes, "It is a way of thinking about the world and in many ways mirrors the process of learning itself." (2) Geography provides students an inexhaustible context for creativity in an interdependent world.

One invaluable asset for 21st century teachers is the availability of global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS). GPS, first created by the Defense Department, is today being increasingly integrated into the curriculum. EarthCache, developed by the Geological Society of America and the National Geographic Society, builds on the popularity of Geocaching--which invites users of GPS units to search for hidden or virtual caches around the world. (3) The EarthCache curriculum can be teacher created, and students then follow, investigate and learn how geography can be applied in a real setting. Students can then use creativity and critical thinking skills to create their own EarthCache.

Besides being outdoors and being a "detective," part of the adventure of finding a Geocache or an EarthCache is being able to read and use a map with the GPS units. The Garmin and TomTom GPS units use GIS. (4) GIS allows users to visualize data (such as the location of fire hydrants in a community) and display this information on an interactive map. Google Earth is an example of interactive GIS. (5) Students can pinpoint locations, determine patterns, and use problem-solving skills to answer such questions as "How can land use changes in Dallas over the last 50 years be shown?" Students with GIS can also predict what might happen in the future with land use patterns. (6)

Hurricane Katrina

An essential skill that fits nicely with geography is problem solving. Problem solving involves six key steps: what is the problem; examine the potential causes of the problem; identify alternatives to solve the problem; select an approach to solve the problem; implement the solution and verify that the problem has been resolved. Examples in geography can be found interwoven throughout the 18 National Geography Standards. When Hurricane Katrina struck southeast Louisiana in 2005, residents faced a host of challenges. …

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