Geography is a fabulous, holistic subject. It’s how you get from A to B and it’s the reason why you can’t fly to Bali because there’s an ash cloud. Geography is why I became a teacher and a traveller – and not just a tourist.
As the AusVELS curriculum states: “The essence of the Geography domain is that it is an inquiry-based approach which focuses on questions of what, where, how, why, what impact and what ought.” To summarise Geography, it is really about making sensible judgements about matters involving relationships between the physical environment and society.
Can we really ignore the valuable, real life applications of Geography when we remember how lives were saved by a young girl on a Thai beach just before the tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004? Refer http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1480192/Girl-10-used-geography-lesson-to-save-lives.html
I love to travel anywhere, whether it is on our very own island continent or crossing oceans and borders in different hemispheres. Nothing compares to landscapes and cultures coming alive, previously only studied in textbooks. Travelling led to self-discovery, took me out of my comfort zone, frustrated and fascinated me, ultimately made me appreciate what I had and opened my eyes to other worlds. The beauty, the political instability, the poverty…the giardia bug that made me ill for a week… and the smell of rotten eggs as I walked around the rim of a volcano, are experiences etched in my memory from my very first overseas trip. We have all heard travel described as “more about the journey than the destination”. This seems relevant to our school students today, as they acquire the skills to prepare for this techno-centric world. The chance to embrace travel at a young age is to be encouraged and for me it opened up a world of freedom and discovery.
Maps are magnificent. Whether crinkled, laminated or alive on your smartphone, they’re like a useful piece of art. As I walked into The Map House of London many years ago, I felt like a kid in a candy store! These days, it’s the amazing capabilities of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and GPS that I love – and they’re now tools of the trade everywhere. I love how technology has developed so as to make solving problems, running scenarios, or even finding my way to the nearest Farmers Markets, so much easier.
3. PICTURES and POSTCARDS
Nothing beats a postcard and today, in some ways, you could liken Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to the new era of postcards. I know we now have e-books, various apps and online magazines, but for me there is still nothing that beats opening the pages of a National Geographic magazine and seeing wildlife photographs or colourful cultures. At the risk of a cliché: “a picture speaks a thousand words” Those postcards I received from my older sister from exotic locations around the globe just made me want to see the world, learn about its history and cultures (and get a passport)! I never tire of the inspiration I get from a great picture of a landscape, volcano, indigenous tribes or beautiful creature.
Reading about the expeditions of John Hanning-Speke and Richard Burton, particularly their journey to the Rwenzori “Mountains of the Moon” to find the source of the Nile, ignited my fascination with Africa. I finally made it to this vast continent in 2008 after taking up a position teaching in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Living out of my comfort zone in a place so different from my own, my perspective and previous misconceptions were challenged. I still find it hard to explain my love of Africa to others who have not experienced its magic. My time in Uganda was unforgettable and taught me adaptability, flexibility – and something difficult to teach – empathy. As a geography teacher this was the perfect canvas on which to paint all the colours of the human and physical geography that I encountered.
5. SIR DAVID
Sitting 5 metres away from the Attenborough legend as he shared the stories of his extraordinary life on stage, was definitely a moment. This awesome man has come into our classrooms and living rooms and shown us the fascinating world we live in, inspiring audiences that span generations. He’s also highlighting the global issue of sustainability, inspiring me (and hopefully all of you) to become a caretaker of our planet. It makes me hopeful. Bringing Sir David Attenborough into my classroom was also a way to connect my students to the awesome world we live in. I love everything he represents!
Demographers like Hans Rosling, a fabulous Swedish statistician, and his digital interactive maps of population statistics called Gapminder, are now making future population projections a great deal easier to understand. It’s an amazing classroom tool where students can predict future trends. I love that it is user-friendly, produces colourful scatter-graphs and supports visual learners like me!
The idea that a lemur lives only on one side of the world and a koala only on the other fascinates me. The thought that there are nearly 18,000 species of the humble butterfly is quite amazing. How did the tortoises in the Galapagos grow to be so huge and so old? The study of diverse biomes is real enjoyment for me. The millions of plants and animals that enrich our genetic, habitat and species diversity are a fascinating reminder of the richness of life. I love the fact that we are still discovering new species every day. When you actually look at just one species, the possible combinations affecting it are too huge to contemplate – and yet that’s what Geographers can do. I think this area of Geography might actually be my greatest love – because I want the Earth to be able to sustain the wonderful, vast, incredible biodiversity of the planet.
This leads me into to my favourite topic, sustainability
The idea of sustainability is not new and I love the fact that Dr Seuss got it right in 1971 when he wrote “The Lorax”, which was rediscovered by a new generation in 2012 via a 3D animated feature film. What can I say that I love about sustainability? I LOVE the concept itself and believe we can all make a difference. I love reminding my students that they can all make changes and, in particular, seeing in their eyes that they want to take this on as a challenge. Recognising that they understand the significance of what might happen to our Earth; I don’t even mind that they blame our generation – because there’s some truth in that! I hold fast the hope that this new generation of geographers, or whatever they become, will take sustainability by the horns and make it happen; to find ways to stop the loss of our habitats, flora and fauna and perhaps even turn our planet around: to be able to feed and water all the creatures who live here. That’s why I love sustainability.
9. FIELD TRIPS
“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”
This Chinese proverb epitomises the geographer’s essential learning tool.…the field trip. I have witnessed many times how learning outside the classroom can switch on those proverbial lightbulbs in my students’ heads. Extended field trips – i.e. study tours that I am developing now – are fabulous, because it’s like one long field trip with many locations. Studying geography in-situ makes it absolutely real for the students; their knowledge uptake is quicker, they enjoy it more and the practical nature of what they do makes them feel as if they are achieving something useful. This is one of my favourite things in Geography – the good old field trip!
10. MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN SO MANY WAYS
I really believe that the most essential outcome of the practise of Geography is that, at its best, it can have a major impact on the improvement of the planet on which we live. Impacting both Human and Physical Geography, the outcomes of well developed investigations can help feed us, lessen the divide between rich and poor, solve water shortage, understand the needs of different cultures and……well I could go on forever really. The idea that one subject can impact almost everything we do and potentially change the negative behaviours we exhibit in relation to how we treat the earth that supports us, is quite, absolutely, fantastic. In the old days people thought of Geography as the study of cumulo-nimbus clouds and isobars, as well as the quiz questions of where the capital cities were on a map. Our wonderful subject has properly evolved into something that is profound and impactful and it makes me proud to be a part of something so meaningful.
That’s why I love Geography…
Former – Geography and Environmental Science Teacher, IB schools
Now – Account Manager
Latitude Group Travel – an educational tour operator designing curriculum-linked tours, inclusive of experiential learning activities