Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yearning for Geography.

I've never been good with geography lessons. Why not? Let me take you back about 16 years to my remembrance of Geography in high school. (This is a vignette from my life, but I'm sure you've been there too.)

(Insert Wavy Lines here...)

"Ok Class," the teacher say, "take out your maps and label Europe.

I look at my blank map of Europe and begin to feel bored. I'm not bored because of a lack of interest. I'm good with maps, and I know that Europe is some place I want to visit, but this outline is... well... boring... Black lines on a copy... Zzzzz...

I'll open my book and start thumbing through a few pages. I know I'm going to fail the Geography section on the unit test, so I'm not too concerned with filling out this page. The teacher starts checking work, so I make it look like I'm doing something... Oh no, here he comes.

"What do you have done, Jonathan?"

"Well, I figured I should look in the book, but I haven't found all the countries yet." I always knew what to say to get the teacher to move on to the next person.

He leaves and I go back to looking like I'm doing something without doing anything. I finish some countries... England is that Island... No, the big one... France is over near Russia... I think... I wonder what's for dinner tonight...

(More wavy lines bringing us back to today.)

Gosh, what a terrible day that was. NOT ANYMORE! Now, with just a few clicks and a few squiggles on the internet, I can find exactly what I need! Teachers can too.

While I was reading the articles for this week, my mind was filling with ideas for lessons to help students engage Geography in an entirely new way. If we use the timeline feature of Google Earth, we can go back to 1942 Europe and follow Hitler through some of the battles of the middle of the War. We begin to get an idea of the scope of the war and can start to understand that the caricature of Hitler as a long raving lunatic causing massive problems is somewhat flawed. How did one man take over such a large part of Europe? He wasn't alone.

We can also begin to understand some of the problems faced by Axis and Allies alike. How were soldiers from the Axis forces supposed to get supplies while they were invading Russia? How long do you think it would take for soldiers to walk from one place to the next? If you were going from Berlin to Moscow, how would you go? Give the reading on the Nazi's invasion of Russia, would you follow the same path, why or why not?

Students can engage in the text in a completely new way, exploring various parts of the world; looking at pictures and images from around the world to help them associate events with places. Students can create a WWII trip-tick to help explore what happened and where.

I really like the stuff at Students can participate in this world-wide experiment and learn more about local culture at the same time. I think that I'm going to offer this as a Bonus exercise in my AVID classroom this up-coming week.

The exercise will look like this:
Please make a drawing, painting or artistic representation of a place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When you are done, write a reflection that answers the questions:
-- What exactly did you make a picture of?
-- What does the original image tell you about the Culture you were representing?
-- Does this original image look like where you live? Why or Why not?
-- How does your representation reflect yourself and your culture?

When I'm done, I think I'll see how the students feel about knowing where Nova Scotia is, and what they think they've gained from the exercise... Maybe it won't be bonus, I think I'll make it a whole-class activity. The bonus will be if the students want to digitize and upload their images.

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