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Odblog

A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Geography as Science

I am a human geographer at heart. I've always linked Geography to the other social subjects and studied it in conjuction with, first of all, history, politics and English, before finally specialising in Geography and Politics for my honours. I do, however, think it is important at a time when Geography seems to be losing some claims on its territory (in my opinion, particularly in the way CfE outcomes are divided across the curriculum) that we sell ourselves as a scientific discipline too. Our strongest tool here is geographical enquiry.
This relies on being able to conduct studies in the field. Although we weren't able to do that today, my S3 class had a really productive period drawing conclusions about the value of enquiry. We have been studying river landscapes and started the period, which we titled "Researching Rivers", with a simple question- Why? This triggered a broad ranging discussion where I suggested that I could send out groups of students to research rivers and, without me directing them, the students would be able to frame their own enquiry. This brought the discussion round to science and I asked why scientists conduct experiments. I was  surprised that many students thought that it was to make the subject more practical and enjoyable, while some others thought it was to learn through experience. While elements of this may be true, I was pleased when a very astute member of the class suggested it was about proof of assumptions.
This gave us the opportunity to discuss the events at CERN, Einstein's theory about nothing being faster than the speed of light and science always looking for the answers. I then asked the students why they should trust everything I tell them about rivers when theories which have shaped the nature of modern science are being questioned. It would be reasonable to test the way that I had modelled rivers against real research and first hand data.
I then presented the class with a bag of props. 2 metre sticks, a ruler, a bag of corks, a stopwatch, a clinometer and a measuring tape were there, as far as I remember. The class were asked to determine 6 ways in which they could confirm or challenge the assumptions that I had encouraged in teaching rivers. They were reminded that their methods would have to be as rigorous as those of the scientist and they could only use the props given. I had some outstanding descriptions of fieldwork techniques presented which considered the need for accuracy, consistent sampling and showed a real awareness of expected changes along the long profile of a river and how these could be verified. It is the first time I have taught a Standard Grade class the theory behind geographical enquiry where the learning did not feel forced or removed from the reality. I also feel that placing enquiry with scientific research in this way gave students a far better understanding of the why and how of the techniques. Overall, a very pleasing outcome to the lesson.

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1 Comments:

At 2:36 am, Blogger GeoParky said...

Really interesting and motivating. I intend to try your approach, with a more structured procedure as back up. This is real thinking. Well done.

 

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