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Teaching, Learning and the Geographies of Education

Free Research EssaysWith the increasing of drawing the world together by modern technologies, geography not only keeps its positions but also raises its importance. Geography has been changing and evolving over years in order to meeting the interests of upcoming generations. Understanding the history of geography helps to sharpen the understanding of perspectives of the development of its methods in teaching and learning. Integration of communities of practice, the New Zealand Curriculum, constructivist methods of teaching and modern technologies can encourage both teachers and learners in their working in the field of geography. All presented evidences of thinking aids to define one’s position as a teacher and learner.

In spite of the term “community of practice” refers to the old phenomenon, it has appeared not long time ago. In true, communities of practice exist as long as human beings started to communicate. According to Etienne Wenger (2006), the communities of practice are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (p. 1). However, it is important to point out that not every community is a community of practice. For example, a group of artists who seek new forms of expression or a clique of pupils who define their personalities in the school form a community of practice, but the neighbors who watch the same show do not form it (Graven & Lerman, 2003, p. 186). The members of the community of practice can work together not every day; they always share their practice, not theoretical issues. Communities of practice are called by different names such as thematic groups, learning networks or tech clubs, and can be met in numerous forms, as well (Keown, 2009). The concept of community of practice is applied in government, business, organization design, education and civic life among others (Wenger, 2006, pp. 2-3). Because of the autonomy, informality, practitioner orientation and crossing boundaries of communities of practice, they meet the needs of government and business and help to adapt to changes. In education, every transformation takes longer (Wenger, 2006, pp. 4-5). The concept of community of practice needs to be applied in such fields as international development and the web among others to open new horizons in sharing practice.

Over years, the view of geography has been changing. For instance, in his article “The Education of a Geographer,” an American geographer Carl O. Sauer (1956) looks at the development of a geographer. He writes that they “are empty handed” without their maps wherever they are “in lecture room, in study, in the field”; that is why they need to squeeze their budgets “to get more maps” or to draw some by themselves (Sauer, 1956, pp. 288-289). His works played an important part in geography.

Few years later Ian Burton came up with his article “The quantitative revolution and theoretical geography” in which he discussed a modern geography as science. He points out the shift from Carl O. Sauer’s, “In the past decade geography has undergone a radical transformation of spirit and purpose, best described as the ‘quantitative revolution’,” however, “as the result of the impact of work by non-geographers upon geography” (Burton, 1963, p. 151). The author meant mathematics, statistics, and computers that began to be involved in geography or even became part of the science. Ian Burton emphasizes the importance of the changes and defends the view that the revolution had succeeded in geography. He proposes that the development of new theories in this field of science will succeed, as well (Burton, 1963, p. 159).

In 1987, Evelyn Stokes published her reading “Maori Geography or Geography of Maoris,” in which she identifies the importance of such notable aspects as place and culture. Different points of view should be noticed (in social science and humanities) in the discussion of literature, history, anthropology, sociology, and geography of the country. On the example of relationship between Maori and Pakeha worlds, Evelyn Stokes (1987) explains the role of geographer:

The researcher must play many roles – to lead, advise, support, reinforce, be directed, or whatever is appropriate. The researcher may be mediator, facilitator, catalyst, advocate, negotiator and cope with the stresses of cultural conflicts. In this process, the researcher must ensure high standards of accuracy, presentation and communication to retain credibility in the Maori world, and translate with the credibility for the Pakeha world, as appropriate (p. 121).

The representatives of the new generation of geographers, Peter Jackson (1997) and Doreen Massey (2004), share another new direction in geography. Nevertheless, these two readings are the opposite of Evelyn Stokes and Carl Sauer’s articles. The “cultural turn” in Jackson’s reading marks the changes of attitudes and beliefs of human geography’s interdisciplinary concerns toward the wide field of cultural studies (Jackson, 1997, pp. 186-188). Although Doreen Massey’s writing is looking at space (time and place) in terms of social relations and exchange (Massey, 2004, pp. 5-18). Massey’s imagination has opened up many creative and politicized ways in which we can take constructs, which are often used to see how they translate into the relational geographies of space, time and place in urban political discourse.

There always are the changes in every science, and geography is not an exception. It is necessary for it to adapt to changes in the world and see young people “as lifelong learners who are confident and creative, connective and actively involved” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 4). It points out the necessity of studying mathematics and statistic in order to developing the ability of creative, critical, strategic and logical thinking. Lex Chalmers (2013) adds, “The approach of the New Zealand Curriculum has been not to locate sustainability education in a learning area, but to promote sustainability education as pan disciplinary”, and, as a result, “the awareness of the importance of environment has grown” (pp. 5-6).

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The perspective most widely used in geography has been the positivist or “scientific method” one. This method works with “objective knowledge” (facts), replicable measurement and hypothesis “testing.” However, there are the other perspectives for National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA) such as, for example, scientific, Maori, postcolonial, gender, and environmental. Having different perspectives gives an opportunity of equally “true” interpreting of time and place.

All the changes presented above are necessary in the development of geography as an accurate science. There were myths that should had been broken in order to seeing as many problems as exist without seeing only a few of them and ignoring the others. The quantitative revolution was a turning point in geography that made a shift in the method of geographical research. It has made a huge impact upon the successors and on the fields of economic, physical, and urban geography. The use of computers has led to new developments in co-work of mathematics and geography. Thus, theoretical geography began to develop rapidly involving more and more people in the field.

Nonetheless, geography is still in the period of change. The exchange of ideas and methods is increasing, which results in the significant and beneficial transformations. As any other field of science, geography will change to meeting the needs of future generations, especially under the circumstances of changing climate. However, communities of practice could serve as a useful tool in the education of geography in the society’s move toward a technological way. Lex Chalmers and Paul Keown (1999) argue, “If we want geography teachers to feel comfortable about teaching a robust form of school geography for 2001 and beyond the profession is going to have to be prepared to do much of the training work ourselves” (p. 11). With growing globalization, the exchange between people from different parts of the world has become much easier. Lex Chalmers and Paul Keown (1999) continue,

“Teacher groups are beginning to realize that some of the ground lost in the post 1984 restructuring can be reclaimed” (p. 11). The poverty of the central state resources in the curriculum development area and inability of the contract model to meet curriculum development needs is apparent. While New Zealand is unlikely to return to the fully engaged era of the State-NGCC association, the prospects for teacher-led classroom change are brighter now that they have been for more than a decade (Chalmers, Keown & Kent, 2002, p. 11).

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Therefore, the co-work of communities of practice in education is becoming more and more effective. Thus, many problems in the education of geography can be solved or reduced in the future.

However, in true, the future of geography is still not clear. This scientific branch is becoming more and more successful. Nevertheless, at the same time, the world is adding newer geographies that can be studied. The variety of perspectives encourages school students to ask hard questions for better understanding of the world they live in. There is a lot of work ahead, but, it is what inspires the geographers and makes them love their job.

Based on the constructivist learning theory, constructivist teaching considers learners to be actively involved in a process of constructing the knowledge, which is opposed to passive receiving of information (Von Glaserfeld, 1989, p. 16). Learners themselves are the makers of knowledge and meaning. Constructivist teaching is responsible for the creation of independent and motivated learners. The theoretical framework of the method holds that learning is always built upon knowledge of a student, or a schema. Constructivist teaching suggests the effectiveness of active learning rather than passive as learning filters through pre-existing knowledge. A wide range of methods claims to be based on constructivist learning theory. Thus, the teachers avoid using direct instructions; however, attempt to lead their students through activities and questions to discover, verbalize, discuss, and appreciate their new knowledge.

In the constructivist classroom, students develop their communication and social skills by work primarily in groups; thus, the process of learning becomes interactive and dynamic. The constructivist classrooms pursue student questions and interests; consider the process of learning to be as important as product, and knowledge to be dynamic and changing with getting of new experiences. In constructivist classrooms, there are such activities as experimentation, research projects, films, field trips, and class discussions among others. In addition, constructivist approaches can be used in online learning, as well. For instance, such tools as discussion forums and blogs enable learners to construct their knowledge actively.

Moreover, technology empowers Geografical Information Scince (GIS). GIS includes statistical analysis, cartography, and the technology of computer science (Goodchild, 2010, p. 5). Modern GIS technologies are using digital information. For this purpose, different digitized data creation methods are in use. The most common method of creation of data is digitization. Thus, a survey plan or hard copy map can be transferred into a digital medium by the use of geo-referencing capabilities and a CAD program. In addition, as ortho-rectified imagery, both from aerial and satellite sources, are widely available, heads-up digitizing becomes the main source of geographic data. Thus, heads-up digitizing traces geographic data straightly on top of the aerial imagery in contrast to the traditional method, or heads-down digitizing that traced the geographic form on a separate digitizing tablet. Consequently, technology opens new horizons in the development of geography.

Integration of communities of practice, the New Zealand Curriculum, constructivist methods of teaching, and modern technologies can encourage both teachers and learners in their working in the field of geography, as well as help to define their position as teachers and learners. The creation of communities of practice and usage of constructivist methods of teaching with the involvement of modern technologies make the process of learning and teaching more interesting and useful. Teachers should not wait for the changes in geography, such as the New Zealand Curriculum, for years (Putnam & Borko, 2000, p. 5). They ought to better work as a team and create something on their own through the method of communities of practice. In addition, technology opens newer and newer horizons in the development of geography that is very encouraging. Geography is a changing and important science as the world itself, and that is what makes this field so attractive for the learners and teachers.

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