Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography Paper

Hi all,

Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography Paper

Backgound Thoughts

I’ll stamp my colours to the wall – personal thoughts.  I am backing the process of the National Curriculum and the  direction of the Geography Shape Paper.

I have been professionally involved in Geography for 30 years.  I am increasingly of the opinion that geographers are conservative by nature. This includes five years full time study in Geography including an Honours degree. At least one article research and published each year since I have left university on either straight geography of the integration of technology into the teaching of Geography.  I have been involved with the GTANSW since the 1980s and have been on the Council in a variety of capacities since the early 1990s, in addition I have 10 years experience on the Council of the Geographical Society of NSW. Finally,  I have taught Geography every year of my teaching career.  I am not sure if all this experience is an advantage or not and I know others have more experience – at least I am partially informed and what follows are my personal thoughts.

It is clear that Geography as a discipline has been struggling in terms of school student numbers and identity over the past few years. At university I believe   a lot of students are studying  geographical content and skill though not under the heading of Geography.  Some argue there  is little comfort to geography school teachers to argue the discipline is represented when schools  feel the subject’s viability is  at issue.

I attended the meeting in May to discuss the Advice Paper and I can say that our ideas were listen to as I compare the Advice Paper to the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography Paper.  Those who have entered the consultation process  now would not know this because I/we were  not allowed to air publicly what we  were given to examined in May.  In the same way changes would have been made  in the process leading up to what I saw in May.

I would like to identify two examples.

There appears to be concern from a range of quarters about the regular issue of competing for hours with History and the nature of the knowledge and skills to be taught in Geography.  The former issue was raise in May and we were told the state of affairs. My interpretation – the horse has bolted in relation to History .  For me it  did when History got into Phase 1 and Geography in Phase 2 of the National Curriculum.

In relation to the nature of the knowledge and skills,  the university experiences I have heard about indicate that in many Faculties there is a division between physical and human geography. So I am not surprised that  parts of Geography of have been split between Geography and Sciences.  This is a trend that has been around for a while which we have not being able to  fix up.

I feel it is time for geography as a school discipline to move on and embrace the more integrated nature of Geography rather than specialising on the fields of physical/environments and human geography.  After all there are a heap of geographical  jobs in the Sydney Morning Herald on a Saturday but only the education  section of the employment pages have the term Geography in them.  In addition, I feel there is a need to show students that there are careers in Geography that they do not know about because they cannot get past their understanding of what Geography is – ie: the knowledge and skills are bigger  than the term/subject Geography in schools.

Thoughts on the Draft Shape of the Geography Curriculum: Geography

Firstly, the format of the Paper takes a while to get used to with the consecutive numbers.  I understand why this was the case as we moved between sections of the paper during the May meeting.

The definition of Geography with  seven points seems a bit too much.  Surely we can get it down to one statement of a couple of sentences. We need the equivalent of a 30 second media grab to sell the subject to students.  I think the order of what is Geography and why Geography has been changed around – that makes more logical sense.  I just think there is too much in the definition and justification of Geography.

Then we come to the Aims of the K-12 Geography Curriculum.  The last one in (14) on geographical inquiry is the telling Aim,  because  it is the only one with an academic reference. I wondered why this is the case?

I like the  use of cross curricular dimensions (17-35) though there seems to be a lot in the last one. They include indigenous history and culture, sustainability, Asia and Australia’s engagement  with Asia and  Geography’s contribution tot he general capabilities.  Once again these are driven at a higher level and apply to all subjects in the National Curriculum.  The conservative side of me questions  the too much focus on sustainability though I do acknowledge that is a most important issue.

How the Geography curriculum is organised starts at Number 36.  The two  key strands are geographical knowledge and understanding and geographical inquiry and skills.

This seems to cover all avenues of concern for Geography though how it is implemented (48) is interesting because of the focus on inquiry based learning ( hence the referenced point in Number 14).  I am by no means an expert on pedagogy and I wonder why this approach is the focus. Though I do like the way there are no prescribed case studies and thus you can integrate local content where appropriate – ie: curriculum flexibility (56).

The suggested scope and sequence is worthwhile breaking into sections, though I feel more qualified to speak about the secondary schools.  The progression of higher order thinking as the years progress suggested to me that you cannot do higher order thinking in the younger years.  Of course in practice this would not be the case but it seems to be implied otherwise in the document  (57).

Jumping ahead to Years 7-10 (63).  The fact that the course can be taught by non geography teachers (64) is a good thing because the reality is that there are not enough geography teachers and if we can bring on board more teachers to understand and appreciate geography then  I believe this is a good thing. The environmental stream (65) will be easy to engage the students with though the spatial  distributions and their consequences theme (66)  could be hit and miss depending on examples and how well taught. The comparative case studies (67) will work well.  The  conceptual focus of place environment and space is clear and the examples are workable and provide some substance for the curriculum writers.

The Senior Secondary (69) has the aims: further develop students’ knowledge  of and the ability  to apply geographical inquiry and enable the students to  deepen their knowledge through studies that extend the themes of place, environment and space.  The unit on the environment is good and I cannot not see why physical geography cannot be included in this section (73).  I am not sure of the need to specifically single out climate change  in relation to the study of natural hazards.

A whole unit on an independent geographical project (74) appears to be quite substantial.  I feel it would be wise to see how this pans out because  there are a number of courses with major projects and I know students think about course and whether they have a project or not. Also a whole unit – presumably half a year is a long time for a project so there will be a need for time spent teaching methodology of research. The third unit (75) and the fourth unit (76) to me seem to overlap a fair bit and thus might cause confusion unless the fourth unit is meant to be more on a regional scale while the third unit  is more global.

Final thoughts

I like the document and think there is enough for the curriculum writers to work with.

1. I have raised  questions about the inquiry methodology.  This not so much that I disagree rather II would like to know the reasons why and what perhaps identify the other options.

2.  The two strands are a good organisational framework.  Geographical knowledge and understanding  and geographical inquiry and skills can be independent enough to be covered any where in Australia or globally. The allocation of the  skills along the way in year groups is good but I would like to think that previous skills are able to be  taught and used in later years not just in the allocated years when it comes to assessment.

3. The focus on sustainability  is specifically addressed even though it is a cross curricular goal as well – why not specifically address an other  areas such as indigenous issues.  I would like to know the reasons why sustainability. It is an important issue but is it more important than other issues.

4.  These are just personal thoughts and even now I can pick holes in my argument but I need to get on with other things.

cheers  Martin


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