Online Tools for Teaching Geography

A recent article in The New York Times addresses U.S. shortcomings in geographical knowledge. In the first three paragraphs, questions dealing with earth science and economics are included as geography questions in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). If you test yourself on the NAEP site, you’ll find other discipline overlaps. Science, for example, has questions that could be considered geographical.

 

Today, the geography I learned in school, (Where is Zanzibar?) falls under the heading historical geography, which is only one aspect of human geography. Human geography and physical geography, in turn, fall under the encompassing rubric geography. I point this out only to make clear (probably to the choir) that NAEP’s test results don’t necessarily reveal that our kids don’t know where they are. They just might not understand how where they are came to be where it is. Palaeogeography, which includes plate tectonics, is covered under physical geography (or earth science?).

 

Having said that, my youngest daughter invites all her university friends from Maine to California to come up and visit. We live in Central New York. I’ve threatened to pull out her old U.S. and world map placemats.

 

The internet offers many websites with geographic games and quizzes, though some of the questions can be as arcane as those found in trivia games.

 

Kids can quiz themselves on locations of countries and cities and physical features with National Geographic Kids, World Exploration, World Map – Countries of the World, and Geosense.

 

Internet games tend to be solitary experiences. Board games let students learn together. Game of the States teaches location of states and their capitals, Global Pursuit is a map and trivia game, and Where in the World? helps teaches the names and locations of countries and world regions, the distribution of natural resources, languages, and religions, and ties all to current events.

 

Students can find a number of tutorials at Sheppard Software’s geography games.

 

And National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive lets helps students create thematic maps.

 

A good first stop website for geographical information is the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website. USGS provides education materials for grades K-6, 7-12, and higher education.

 

Physical Geography covers Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The Encyclopedia of Earth has articles, multimedia, teacher guides, learning modules, and lesson plans in physical geography.

 

Human geography covers spatial patterns of interactions between human beings and their physical environment. Two good videos are available.

 

NOVA’s World in Balance: The People Paradox (2004) is a two hour program that examines social and economic forces in India, Japan, Kenya, and China. The companion website has a teacher’s guide with classroom activities, interviews and inquiries, and interactives. The site provides a transcript of the program. The DVD may be in your local library.

 

The Annenberg Foundation’s Learner.org offers Human Geography: People, Places, and Change, (1996) a 10 half-hour video series on geography for high school and college classrooms. The series helps students understand events within the scope of clearly recognizable trends and realize the impact that government, corporate, and individual decisions can have on people and places near and far.

 

Leaner.org also has an eight part professional development video workshop for 7-12 geography teachers: Teaching Geography. The site provides supporting materials in PDF format. Workshops cover Latin America, North America, North Africa / South West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, Europe, and Global Forces / Local Impact.

 

I’ve been far from exhaustive, but I hope these suggestions and links are useful.

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