A common misconception about geography is that it’s all about maps and where things or places are located.
Next week is Geography Awareness Week, and it’s set aside to observe how humans, things, and places are connected. The theme this year is “Declare Your Interdependence.”
Geography, or the study of the Earth’s features, is the relationship identification of everything sharing space, said Northeastern State University Assistant Professor of Geography Dr. Christine Hallman.
“It’s more than just locating a place on a map. Usually that’s what you think geography’s all about – countries and rivers, and that’s part of it, but that’s just a small part of it,” she said. “Geography is everything, spatially – anything from studying weather patterns to urban sprawl, to studying past climates to politics and economics. Geography, really, is everything in a spatial way.”
One of the activities NSU is conducting in conjunction with Geography Awareness Week involves a geocaching exercise with seventh-graders at Tahlequah Middle School, said Hallman.
“I and several assistants – a retired professor and a few NSU students – will be teaching seventh-graders to use GPS units to find coins from all over the world [strategically placed on their campus],” she said. “All seventh-graders at Tahlequah Middle School will get the opportunity to participate in this treasure hunt.”
Geocaching is a recreational activity wherein participants use a handheld Global Positioning System, or GPS receiver, to hide and seek containers that will hold a designated item selected by the participants. Position coordinates are used to trace a route that will present other points, or map numerical designations, to follow until arriving at the end destination. The exercise teaches a person how to consider start and end points, while exposing the him or her to land features along the anticipated route.
An activity suggested by National Geographic includes students investigating their interdependence by completing a global closet calculator, which is an interactive game that collects the contents of their bedroom closets by origin to generate a map showing individual global footprints.
Maps have changed greatly over the years, and whether using an electronic device or a compass to determine direction when going from point to point, today’s technology has helped geographers see everything spatially in great detail, said TMS geography teacher Austin Elliott.
“Satellite images have increased the accuracy of maps, but they still show some distortion on a large scale,” he said. “The most reliable map is the Robinson Projection. It still has distortion, but shows the least amount.”
Hallman said technology influenced the changes in how maps are created, but noted that how people viewed or used the map also provided a change in direction of its use.
“Thousands of years ago, humans still created maps – they were just on cave walls. It’s sort of interesting how humans have always been thinking about their environment spatially,” she said. “At first, they might have thought about star patterns and then how it relates to them. So you’re going all the way from there, to pen and ink maps, to today, where it’s dynamic computer maps.”
Keys geography teacher Amber Kinney said hers is a subject that can open the mind and ears of a student who otherwise may think the class is simply about pinpointing places on a map.
“Geography is such a broad field that includes all elements of education: history, culture, government, economics, math, science, literacy, language,” she said. “The amazing thing about teaching geography is getting students involved who aren’t usually that responsive in other social studies classes, and then learn about all these other subjects without even realizing it.”
This year, Kinney’s classes conducted activities similar to the global closet calculator suggested by National Geographic.
“We are continuously looking at ways that we are all connected throughout the world in my geography classes. This week, we are focusing on China, and our connection with China historically, culturally, and economically,” she said. “[On Thursday] for example, we took a virtual tour of a Walmart in Shanghai as part of our global connection discussion.”
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