From the New York Times: All Over the Map: 10 Ways to Teach About Geography
Geography frequently takes a back seat to history in the social
studies classroom, but teaching geographic literacy is essential if
students are going to understanding the challenges and opportunities of
our complex world.
We have created 10 activities for teaching about geography using Times content, all related to the National Geography Standards, which were produced by the Geography Education National Implementation Project.
list is a grab-bag of ideas — from designing maps to analyzing border
conflicts — and teachers can use the activities in any order, or as a
road map for tracking ongoing coverage of geography-related issues.
1. Start with Geography Bingo: Use this BINGO card,
which lists many of the geography standards, and find examples of
stories from The New York Times that take on topics like migration,
culture and ecosystems in various ways. When you have a diagonal,
horizontal or vertical row of examples, you have “Bingo!” Students can
search either a print copy of the paper or the online archives. (Each of the concepts in the squares was taken from the National Geography Standards.)
2. People use mental maps to understand the world.
Every time you memorize a route to the grocery store or plot a route
through the subway, you’re using a mental map. It’s one of the key tools
a geographically skilled person uses to navigate their world. Read
these stories on the science of mental mapping and the risks of losing such skills
because of technology. Then ask students to think of a time when they
got lost or figured out how to find something, drawing and annotating
their own mental maps to tell the story. Post them in a classroom “Atlas
of the Mind” exhibit.
3. Some maps are better than others. What exactly is a ‘map,’ and what does it do? Ask students to define the term. Then look at these examples of maps
in The New York Times that use technology, symbols or images to broaden
our understanding. Ask students to explain what each map shows, and how
it conveys more information than a simple road map. Then students can
brainstorm and design their own maps of a place they know well, a
location described in a film or novel, or an imaginary place, using
similar methods to convey detail and enhance people’s understanding.
4. Groups struggle over boundaries.
Palestinians and Israelis have struggled for generations over the
question of borders. Earlier this month the United Nations General
Assembly voted to grant Palestine nonmember observer status, just a week after the latest cease-fire
in the conflict and 65 years after the U.N. first called for the
creation of separate Jewish and Arab nations in the land then known as
Palestine. Why has it taken so long
to draw one map? Ask students to brainstorm the factors that have kept
Palestinians and Israelis from reaching a final agreement on territory
and borders. Then watch this series of five videos, noting the arguments and obstacles cited by each side. Does the conflict seem intractable, or do you see signs of progress?
As a culminating activity, ask students to look for other examples of boundary conflicts in the Borderlines
blog at The New York Times, and hold a class contest to find the most
interesting or compelling examples that no one has ever heard of.
5. Culture affects perceptions and stereotypes of other places?
Everyone holds opinions about other cultures, and they can easily lead
to misunderstandings or disputes. Lead students through a safe
introductory discussion of stereotyping. Then read highlights from this
interview of a business executive who has learned from his mistakes working in Asia and this story about perceptions about immigration in Europe, and discuss the main points or lessons of each story. Ask students to search the archives
and track coverage in The New York Times for examples of stereotyping
in all cultures, gathering examples and making presentations on how
people can resist or counteract this all-too-human tendency.
6. The world’s economy is interconnected, for good and ill.
It’s old news that globalization has sent many American jobs overseas.
But how exactly does the process work, and what happens when there’s a
glitch? Watch this video on the iPhone economy, which explains what happens when the United States gains (or loses) 1,000 manufacturing jobs. Then read stories about how floods in Thailand and an earthquake and tsunami in Japan threw a monkey wrench in the global supply chain.
Ask students to make up a fictional American company that produces a
very desirable electronic product, and appoint themselves to the job of
vice president in charge of logistics and supplies. Write a memo to your
boss recommending a long-term strategy for ensuring that your supply
chain is never interrupted for long by an international disaster.
7. Geography isn’t just about places on a map; it’s about the people, culture, history and landscape of those places.
And every vacation or travel story provides an opportunity to gather
information and describe those places. Read some examples of colorful,
descriptive writing in the Travel Section of The New York Times, like
the Frugal Traveler blog and the Journeys
columns. Then ask students to write their own travel stories about a
place they’ve visited, either locally or farther from home, using vivid
examples and description to help readers fully imagine that place.
8. People change or modify the environment for better or worse. Since the dawn of time, populations have grown and expanded. Read about the growth of cities within the Brazilian rain forest, and watch a video about efforts in Paraguay to protect similar woodlands. Then explore the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times to find more stories about the effort to balance environmental and human needs, like this project by scientists to map gas leaks
in cities. Ask students to pick a topic related to humanity’s
management of the environment and global resources, track coverage and
identify the most promising solutions, presenting their findings in a
9. Physical systems affect or threaten people.
From storms and earthquakes to global warming, it’s clear that the
physical environment exerts a powerful effect on people. Sometimes, as
with Hurricane Sandy,
the impact is destructive. But environmental challenges also offer
opportunities for people to create new industries and systems to provide
a safer future. Brainstorm with students on whether the New York City
metropolitan region ought to take steps to prevent future storm-related
flooding, or simply move the city to higher ground. Then read this story
on floodgates in Connecticut, a proposal for inflatable subway-stoppers and this Room for Debate feature. As a culminating activity, students can write letters to local officials suggesting the wisest policy.
10. People settle or migrate to new places. People
make decisions on where to live for all kinds of reasons; some are
pulled to a new destination, while others are pushed or blocked from
leaving by factors beyond their control. Divide students into small
groups, and assign each group to read one of these stories about
migration trends within the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America, or find their own stories in the archives
of The New York Times. For each story, students can fill in a Post-it
note under the heading “Pushed,” “ Pulled” or “Blocked,” summarizing the
situation and posting it on a class map of the world. Each group can
then present their findings to the class.