Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Teaching Geography: Workshop 3

North America

Readings for Workshop 3

The following material comes from Chapter 4 of Geography for Life. You may read it here or in its complete form in your text. For additional readings, go to Resources.

The National Geography Standards for Workshop 3

The National Geography Standards highlighted in this workshop include Standards 1, 4, 10, 12, and 16. As you read, be thinking about how the standards apply in lessons you may have taught.

Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

Geographic information is compiled, organized, manipulated, stored, and made accessible in a great many ways. It is essential that students develop an understanding of those ways so they can make use of the information and learn the skills associated with developing and communicating information from a spatial perspective.

The study and practice of geography require the use of geographic representations, tools, and technologies. Geographic representations consist primarily of maps, and also include globes, graphs, diagrams, aerial and other photographs, and satellite-produced images. Tools and technologies consist primarily of reference works such as almanacs, gazetteers, geographic dictionaries, statistical abstracts, and other data compilations.

Maps are graphic representations of selected aspects of Earth's surface. They represent compilations of geographic information about selected physical and human features. Using point, line, and area symbols, as well as color, they show how those features are located, arranged, distributed, and related to one another. They range in appearance and purpose from a simple freehand line drawing of how to get to a friend's house to a complex multicolor depiction of atmospheric conditions used in weather forecasting. No single map can show everything, and the features depicted on each map are selected to fit a particular purpose. Maps can depict not only visible surface features such as rivers, seacoasts, roads, and towns but also underground features such as subway systems, tunnels, and geologic formations. They can depict abstract features such as political boundaries, population densities, and lines of latitude and longitude.

In the classroom, maps serve both as repositories of many kinds of geographic information and as an essential means of imparting that information to students. Maps constitute a critical element of geography education. However, they do have limitations. One major limitation is that it is not possible to accurately represent the round Earth on a flat surface without distorting at least one Earth property, such as distance, direction, or size and shape of land and water bodies. Therefore, different map projections are used to depict different Earth properties (e.g., equal area projections show landmasses in correct areal proportion to one another but with distortions of shape). No single map can accurately depict all Earth's properties, so it is essential that students know how to look at a given map and know which properties are rendered correctly and which are distorted.

As scale models, globes constitute the most accurate representation of Earth in terms of the properties of Earth's surface features; area, relative size and shape, scale and distance, and compass direction are proportionately and therefore correctly represented on globes. Globes present an essential overview of Earth, and they can be very useful in the teaching of such concepts as location, spatial patterns, Earth-Sun relationships, and time. However, globes have limitations: They are cumbersome to handle and store and small in scale, and only half of Earth can be observed at once.

In addition to maps and globes, graphs, diagrams, aerial and other photographs, and satellite-produced images also provide valuable information about spatial patterns on Earth. They are very diversified in the kinds of information they present and, under certain circumstances, have classroom value as both supplements to and substitutes for globes and maps. However, they also have limitations: they may not be immediately understandable to students, who may need special instruction in their use.

The tools and technologies used in geography encompass a great variety of reference works, ranging from encyclopedias and other multivolume publications covering many topics to single reports on specialized subjects. Some of these works are in narrative form; some are primarily compilations of data represented in tabular form. Some are easy to understand and use; some are not. Students need to develop an understanding of the kinds of reference works that are available to them, as well as learn how to obtain information from the works, how to gauge the general reliability of that information, and how to convert information from one form to another (e.g., take data from a table and present it in a written narrative).

Traditionally, reference works have been available solely in printed form. Currently, however, more and more of them are also being made available in the form of computer-based databases and computer-based information systems. This development is a result of computer systems becoming an essential tool for storing, analyzing, and presenting spatial information. Because of their speed and flexibility, such systems enable the geographically informed person to explore, manipulate, and assess spatial data far more effectively than do conventional printed materials (see appendix E of Geography for Life). Furthermore, current developments in multimedia techniques, such as animation, sound, and interactive learning procedures, promise an even more flexible and creative approach to geographic learning.

Throughout their K-12 schooling, students should continue to have direct experience with a wide variety of geographic representations, especially maps. Maps can become increasingly abstract with each succeeding grade level, reflecting the developmental changes in students' abilities to represent and manipulate spatial and symbolic information. In the early grades, students should come to see maps, like the written word, as a source of information about their world. They should be given opportunities to read and interpret different kinds of maps and to create maps of their classroom, school, and neighborhood using various media (e.g., pencils, cutouts). Subsequent experiences in map reading and mapmaking should become more sophisticated and abstract as students develop a more comprehensive understanding of the knowledge, skills, and perspectives involved in maps and mapping activities.

In addition, students should be given an opportunity to become familiar with computer systems and computer-based geographic information systems. As such systems become increasingly common in the home, school, and workplace, for many different purposes, people will learn to use them as comfortably and as effectively as they have traditionally used printed materials. Therefore, it is essential that students of geography be exposed to as many forms of geographic data processing as possible and come to understand the role of computer systems in both the study and practice of geography.

Knowing how to identify, access, evaluate, and use all of these geographic resources will ensure students a rich school experience in geography and the prospect of having an effective array of problem-solving and decision-making skills for use in both their other educational pursuits and their adult years.

Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of places.

People's lives are grounded in particular places. We come from a place, we live in a place, and we preserve and exhibit fierce pride over places. Our sense of self is intimately entwined with that of place. Who we are is often inseparable from where we are. Places are human creations and the geographically informed person must understand the genesis, evolution, and meaning of places.

Places are parts of Earth's space, large or small, that have been endowed with meaning by humans. They include continents, islands, countries, regions, states, cities, neighborhoods, villages, rural areas, and uninhabited areas. They usually have names and boundaries. Each place possesses a distinctive set of tangible and intangible characteristics that helps to distinguish it from other places. Places are characterized by their physical and human properties. Their physical characteristics include climate, landforms, soils, hydrology, vegetation, and animal life. Their human characteristics include language, religion, political systems, economic systems, population distribution, and quality of life.

Places change over time as both physical and human processes operate to modify Earth's surface. Few places remain unchanged for long and these changes have a wide range of consequences. As knowledge, ideologies, values, resources, and technologies change, people make place-altering decisions about how to use land, how to organize society, and ways in which to relate (such as economically or politically) to nearby and distant places. Out of these processes emerge new places, with existing places being reorganized and expanded, other places declining, and some places disappearing. Places change in size and complexity and in economic, political, and cultural importance as networks of relationships between places are altered through population expansion, the rise and fall of empires, changes in climate and other physical systems, and changes in transportation and communication technologies. A place can be dramatically altered by events both near and far.

Knowing how and why places change enables people to understand the need for knowledgeable and collaborative decision-making about where to locate schools, factories, and other things and how to make wise use of features of the physical environment such as soil, air, water, and vegetation. Knowing the physical and human characteristics of their own places influences how people think about who they are, because their identity is inextricably bound up with their place in life and the world. Personal identity, community identity, and national identity are rooted in place and attachment to place. Knowing about other places influences how people understand other peoples, cultures, and regions of the world. Knowledge of places at all scales, local to global, is incorporated into people's mental maps of the world.

Students need an understanding of why places are the way they are, because it can enrich their own sense of identity with a particular place and enable them to comprehend and appreciate both the similarities and differences of places around their own community, state, country, and planet.

Standard 10: The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.

Culture is a complex, multifaceted concept. It is a term used to cover the social structure, languages, belief systems, institutions, technology, art, foods, and traditions of particular groups of humans. The term is used to define each group's way of life and its own view of itself and of other groups, as well as to define the material goods it creates and uses, the skills it has developed, and the behaviors it transmits to each successive generation.

The human world is composed of culture groups, each of which has its distinctive way of life as reflected in the group's land-use practices, economic activities, organization and layout of settlements, attitudes toward the role of women in society, education system, and observance of traditional customs and holidays. These ways of life result in landscapes and regions with a distinctive appearance. Landscapes often overlap, thus forming elaborate mosaics of peoples and places.

These cultural mosaics can be approached from a variety of spatial scales. At one scale, for example, Western Europe's inhabitants can be seen as a single culture group; at another scale they consist of distinctive national culture groups (e.g., the French and the Spanish); and at yet another scale each national culture group can be subdivided into smaller, regionally clustered culture groups (e.g., the Flemings and Walloons in Belgium).

As Earth evolves into an increasingly interdependent world in which different culture groups come into contact more than ever before, it becomes more important that people have an understanding of the nature, complexity, and spatial distribution of cultural mosaics.

Given the complexity of culture, it is often useful—especially when studying the subject from a geographic point of view—to focus on the languages, beliefs, institutions, and technologies that are characteristic of a culture. The geographically informed person, therefore, is an individual who has a thorough grasp of the nature and distribution of culture groups.

Language both represents and reflects many aspects of a culture. It stands as an important symbol of culture. It is seen as a sign of the unity of a particular culture group. It can be analyzed—in terms of vocabulary and structure— for clues about the values and beliefs of a culture group. Language is also a visible marker that provides a way of tracing the history of a culture. The complex and often tense relations between French-speaking and English-speaking people in Quebec illustrate and reflect the importance of language to culture groups and also the value of studying the geography of language.

Beliefs include religion, customs, values, attitudes, ideals, and world views. A person's point of view on issues is influenced by cultural beliefs, which in turn influence decisions about resources, land use, settlement patterns, and a host of other geographically important concerns. The complicated and often difficult relations of Hindus and Muslims in India demonstrate how the spatial organization of a country can be shaped by the geography of the region.

Institutions shape the ways in which people organize the world around them; for example, sets of laws, educational systems, political arrangements, and the structure of the family shape a culture region. The Mormon culture region of the western United States shows how institutions are embodied in a distinctive place, demarcating it and influencing practically every aspect of daily life.

Technology includes the tools and skills a group of people use to satisfy their needs and wants. Levels of technology range from the simple tools used by hunters and gatherers to the most complex machines and information systems used in modern industrial societies. Technologies can be usefully understood as either hardware, meaning the tools themselves, or software, the skilled ways in which a society uses tools. The Amish of south-central Pennsylvania have created a distinctive landscape that is simultaneously an expression of technology, institutions, beliefs, and language.

Whatever characteristic of culture is considered, it is clear that the mosaics of Earth's cultural landscapes are not static. Culture changes as a result of a variety of human processes, such as migration and the spread (diffusion) of new cultural traits—language, music, and technology—to existing culture groups. The processes of cultural change accelerate with improvements in transportation and communication. Each culture in the world has borrowed attributes from other cultures whether knowingly or not, willingly or not.

Students should be exposed to a rich appreciation of the nature of culture so they can understand the ways in which people choose to live in different regions of the world. Such an understanding will enable them to appreciate the role culture plays in the spatial organization of modern society. Rivalry and tension between cultures contribute much to world conflict. As members of a multicultural society in a multicultural world, students must understand the diverse spatial expressions of culture.

Standard 12: The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement.

People seldom live in isolation. Most reside in settlements, which vary greatly in size, composition, location, arrangement, and function. These organized groupings of human habitation are the focus of most aspects of human life: economic activities, transportation systems, communications media, political and administrative systems, culture, and entertainment. Therefore, to be geographically competent—to appreciate the significance of geography's central theme that Earth is the home of people—a person must understand settlement processes and functions and the patterns of settlements across Earth's surface.

Settlements exercise a powerful influence in shaping the world's different cultural, political, and economic systems. They reflect the values of cultural groups and the kinds of political structure and economic activity engaged in by a society. Accordingly, the patterns of settlement across Earth's surface differ markedly from region to region and place to place. Of great importance to human existence, therefore, are the spatial relationships between settlements of different sizes: their spacing, their arrangement, their functional differences, and their economic specialties. These spatial relationships are shaped by trade and the movements of raw materials, finished products, people, and ideas.

Cities, the largest and densest human settlements, are the nodes of human society. Almost half of the world's people now live in cities, and the proportion is even higher in the developed regions of the world. In the United States, more than three-quarters of the people live in urban areas. More than two-thirds of the people of Europe, Russia, Japan, and Australia live in such areas.

Cities throughout the world are growing rapidly, but none so rapidly as those in developing regions. For example, the ten largest cities in the world in the year 2000 will include such Latin American cities as São Paulo and Mexico City. In some regions of the world there are concentrations of interconnected cities and urban areas, which are known as megalopoli. In Japan, the three adjacent and continuous cities of Tokyo-Kawasaki-Yokohama make up such a megalopolis. In Germany there is another, consisting of the Rhine River Valley and the cities of Essen, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, and Wuppertal. The corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., is also a megalopolis (sometimes called "Megalopolis" because it was the first one to be designated).

Cities are not the same all over the world. North American cities, for example, differ from European cities in shape and size, density of population, transportation networks, and the patterns in which people live and work within the city. The same contrast is true of cities in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. For example, in North American cities wealthy people tend to live in the outskirts or suburban areas, whereas lower-income residents tend to live in inner-city areas. In Latin America the spatial pattern is reversed: wealthy people live close to the city centers and poor people live in slums or barrios found at the edges of urban areas.

In North America, Europe, and Japan urban areas are linked to one another by well-integrated, efficient, and reliable transportation and communications systems. In these regions, even the smallest villages are linked in a web of trade, transportation, and communication networks. In contrast, in developing regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia, a single primate city often dominates the life of the country. A primate city such as Buenos Aires or Manila is preeminent in its influence on the culture, politics, and economic activities of its country. Nevertheless, in terms of transportation and communications links it may be better connected to the outside world than it is to other regions of the country it serves.

Settlements and the patterns they etch on Earth's surface provide not only data on current economic and social aspects of human existence but also a historical record. Today's settlement patterns, evident on a map, provide information about past settlement patterns and processes, and the boundaries of counties and other political entities indicate how people organized the land as they settled it. In all such cases, the surviving evidence of past settlements can and should be amplified by the students' use of research materials to develop a fuller understanding of how settlements relate to their physical setting over time. It is valuable, for example, to know about life in a German medieval town and the town's relationship to the surrounding countryside; life in a typical North Dakota settlement along a railroad line in the 1890s; and life in the walled city of Xian and the city's importance in north China in the second century B.C.

Students must develop an understanding of the fundamental processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement across Earth's surface, and thereby come to appreciate the spatially ordered ways in which Earth has become the home of people. They need to acquire a working knowledge of such topics as: the nature and functions of cities; the processes that cause cities to grow and decline; how cities are related to their market areas or hinterlands; the patterns of land use and value, population density, housing type, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and age distribution in urban areas; the patterns of change, growth, and decline within urban areas; the process of suburbanization; and how new types of urban nodes develop. Geographers ask these questions to make sense of the distribution and concentration of human populations.

Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

A resource is any physical material that constitutes part of Earth and which people need and value. There are three basic resources—land, water, and air —that are essential to human survival. However, any other natural material also becomes a resource if and when it becomes available to humans. The geographically informed person must develop an understanding of this concept and of the changes in the spatial distribution, quantity, and quality of resources on Earth's surface.

Those changes occur because a resource is a cultural concept, with the value attached to any given resource varying from culture to culture and period to period. Value can be expressed in economic or monetary terms, in legal terms (as in the Clean Air Act), in terms of risk assessment, or in terms of ethics (the responsibility to preserve our National Parks for future generations). The value of a resource depends on human needs and the technology available for its extraction and use. Rock oil seeping from rocks in northwestern Pennsylvania was of only minor value as a medicine until a technology was developed in the mid-nineteenth century that enabled it to be refined into a lamp illuminant. Some resources that were once valuable are no longer important. For example, it was the availability of pine tar and tall timber—strategic materials valued by the English navy—that in the seventeenth century helped spur settlement in northern New England, but that region now uses its vegetative cover (and natural beauty) as a different type of resource: for recreation and tourism. Resources, therefore, are the result of people seeing a need and perceiving an opportunity to meet that need.

The quantity and quality of a resource is determined by whether it is a renewable, nonrenewable, or flow resource. Renewable resources, such as plants and animals, can replenish themselves after they have been used if their physical environment has not been destroyed. If trees are harvested carefully, a new forest will grow to replace the one that was cut. If animals eat grass in a pasture to a certain level, grass will grow again and provide food for animals in the future, as long as the carrying capacity of the land is not exceeded by the pressure of too many animals. Nonrenewable resources, such as minerals and fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), can be extracted and used only once. Flow resources, such as water, wind, and sunlight, are neither renewable nor nonrenewable because they must be used as, when, and where they occur. The energy in a river can be used to generate electricity, which can be transmitted over great distances. However, that energy must be captured by turbines as the water flows past or it will be lost.

The location of resources influences the distribution of people and their activities on Earth. People live where they can earn a living. Human migration and settlement are linked to the availability of resources, ranging from fertile soils and supplies of freshwater to deposits of metals or pools of natural gas. The patterns of population distribution that result from the relationship between resources and employment change as needs and technologies change. In Colorado, for example, abandoned mining towns reflect the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources (silver and lead deposits), whereas ski resorts reflect the exploitation of renewable resources (snow and scenery).

Technology changes the ways in which humans appraise resources, and it may modify economic systems and population distributions. Changes in technology bring into play new ranges of resources from Earth's stock. Since the industrial revolution, for example, technology has shifted from waterpower to coal-generated steam to petroleum-powered engines, and different resources and their source locations have become important. The population of the Ruhr Valley in Germany, for example, grew rapidly in response to the new importance of coal and minerals in industrial ventures. Similarly, each innovation in the manufacture of steel brought a new resource to prominence in the United States and resulted in locational shifts in steel production and population growth.

Demands for resources vary spatially. More resources are used by economically developed countries than by developing countries. For example, the United States uses petroleum at a rate that is five times the world average. As countries develop economically, their demand for resources increases faster than their population grows. The wealth that accompanies economic development enables people to consume more. The consumption of a resource does not necessarily occur where the resource is produced or where the largest reserves of the resource are located. Most of the petroleum produced in Southwest Asia, for example, is consumed in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Sometimes, users of resources feel insecure when they have to depend on other places to supply them with materials that are so important to their economy and standard of living. This feeling of insecurity can become especially strong if two interdependent countries do not have good political relations, share the same values, or understand each other. In some situations, conflict over resources breaks out into warfare. One factor in Japan's involvement in World War II, for example, was that Japan lacked petroleum resources of its own and coveted oil fields elsewhere in Asia, especially after the United States threatened to cut off its petroleum exports to Japan.

Conflicts over resources are likely to increase as demand increases. Globally, the increase in demand tends to keep pace with the increase in population. More people on Earth means more need for fertilizers, building materials, food, energy, and everything else produced from resources. Accordingly, if the people of the world are to coexist, Earth's resources must be managed to guarantee adequate supplies for everyone. That means reserves of renewable resources need to be sustained at a productive level, new reserves of nonrenewable resources need to be found and exploited, new applications for flow resources need to be developed, and, wherever possible, cost-effective substitutes—especially for nonrenewable resources—need to be developed.

It is essential that students have a solid grasp of the different kinds of resources of the ways in which humans value and use (and compete over) resources, and of the distribution of resources across Earth's surface.

The above material is from Geography for Life: The National Geography Standards, 1994, The Geography Education Standards Project. Reprinted with the permission of the National Geographic Society.