Living geography

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What is living geography?

'Geography is ... not just about knowing about places themselves, but understanding the interdependence and connectivity of places. It is about empowering tomorrow's adults to develop real global understanding and global citizenship so that they have the intellectual understanding to participate individually and collectively in shaping the world around them.'

 - Bell, D (2005) 'The value and importance of geography'. Primary Geographer, Spring 2005

'Living geography' is a term introduced by the Geographical Association to describe geography that is brought to life for children living in the 21st century.

There are several versions of the exemplification of the term and the version below is adapted for primary teachers. The areas identified form a natural connection between geography and the global dimension.

Living geography:

  • Is concerned with children's lives, their futures, their world
  • Builds on an understanding of children's 'everyday geographies' and helps to enhance geographical imagination and thinking
  • Is about change - recognises that the past helps to explain the present, but is also current and futures oriented
  • Has a scale 'zoom lens' so that local is set in a global context
  • Is 'deeply observant' - it looks beneath the surface to identify mechanisms that change environments and societies
  • Encourages a critical understanding of big ideas like sustainable development, interdependence and globalisation
  • Helps us to make connections with the wider world

- Primary Geography, Spring 2011

Living geography starts with me in my community

In recent years the work of Christopher Spencer and other psychologists has helped us to understand that our identity is shaped by the places in which we grew up. This idea is explored in more depth in another online CPD course My Place, Your Place, Our Place.

Work on identity starts with the children themselves: 'Who am I?' and 'Where do I belong?'

Imagine three Year 5 pupils on a single computer, using the web programme Quikmaps. They are considering places in their local area and put their feelings in 'hotspot' text boxes. These places, and the children's thoughts about them, help to shape who they are.

In turn - especially if they receive positive feedback - this shapes the kind of global citizens they become. Feeling good about themselves, they are more likely to feel good about faraway people and places.

Using Quikmaps, the children moved from their local area into wider regions, drawing on their trips to away games and visits to relatives. Later, with planned learning opportunities, their thinking will extend into the wider world.

Wendy North, Primary Subjects 3, 'Engaging with Globalisation' (GA members only)

Living geography is about change

It recognises that the past helps to explain the present, but is also current and futures oriented. It is 'deeply observant' - it looks beneath the surface to identify mechanisms that change environments and societies.

Not all work that links to the global dimension will start in a distant place. Ideas that help children understand how we can bring about change need to start in their own community.

Children at Oyster Park Junior School took part in a project about the regeneration of their home town Castleford in West Yorkshire. Find out more on the project website.

Living geography is concerned with the wider human world

Who decides on who gets what and why? What is fair? How do we handle differences of opinion? These questions set geography within the context of global citizenship though geography can help to explain why some of these things happen.

Perhaps the context that will be most familiar to primary schools is the issue of fair trade, though an alternative might be an issue of local community concern. For example the opening of a new supermarket which will lead to the closure of local shops or even the impact of the financial cutbacks on the local library or park.

Geography, me and the world - using key questions

As I developed as a teacher of primary geography I found 'key questions' very useful because they helped me to think geographically.

In the 1970s we used a set of place-based questions which were originally formulated by Michael Storm (ILEA). In 2006 David Lambert, Chief Executive of the GA, introduced a set of questions that address personal and human geography and as such reflect a curriculum more in tune with Global Citizenship. These are based on the writings of Howard Gardner and Boix-Mansilla 'Teaching for understanding within and across the disciplines', in H. Gardner (ed) The Development and Education of the Mind.

You will find these on slide 7 of the Living Geography PowerPoint presentation.They offer a constructive way forward when it comes to planning for geography and the global dimension.

  • Identity: Who am I? Where do I come from? Who is my family? What is my story? Who are the people around me? Where do they come from? What is their 'story'?
  • Place in the world: Where do I live? How does it look? How do I feel about it? How is it changing? How do I want it to change?
  • The Physical world: What is the world (and this place) made of? Why do things move? What becomes of things?
  • The Human world: Who decides on who gets what, and why? What is fair? How do we handle differences of opinion?

Activity: Where does living geography happen in your school locality?

On your own or with your colleagues as part of your staff professional development meeting:

  • Walk around the locality of the school. If possible walk through a residential area, your local station, your supermarket or a farm shop, the newsagents, your local tip, a recreation area etc., taking digital photos that link in some way to the statements on the living geography slide. How many connections can you find?
  • Buy a copy of the local newspaper - does it provide any additional ideas or identify issues that might be of local concern?
  • Take one of the ideas that emerged from your living geography photo-walk and try and plan a sequence of learning activities around it using several of the key questions we've just met.
    • Were the 'geography, me and the world' questions in the PowerPoint useful?
    • Did you find that certain questions were more appropriate for different age groups?


Planning and resourcing >>>

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