Teach the Earth > Complex Systems > Courses > IB/AP Geography

IB/AP Geography

Ann Linsley,
Social Studies/Natural Sciences, Bellaire High School


IB/AP Geography is a survey course which integrates human and physical systems in a spatial perspective. The course addresses the physical world and the anthropogenic relationship through a complex systems approach between the two realms.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
High School

Course Context:

This is a two semester course that blends the College Board Advanced Placement Human Geography and the International Baccalaureate Geography systems curricula. Students are 11th and 12th graders who are all college bound and seeking introductory college course credits. The course is a social studies elective. Most of the students have completed a World regional geography course in their 9th grade or are taking this course for the required district geography credit. Labs are completed during the course of study. Each semester requires a detailed data collection and field study with an extensive spatial evaluation of the data.

Course Content:

The physical Earth section focuses on anthropogenic affects on atmospheric and ocean systems, changes to the biosphere through agricultural practices, uneven global development, and resource extraction. The impact of human actions on natural capital are examined at multi-levels of scale and development. The Human Systems section focuses on how culture and development alter, adapt and are impacted by physical systems. The course has five underlying themes that transcend the entire course of study: globalization, diffusion, natural hazards, biogeography, and anthropogenic relationships. Fieldwork is required in the physical and human realms. Students can participate in a field study to the Yellowstone Region to evaluate the impact of tectonic, glacial and fluvial morphology. They collect stream data to analyze the impact of geothermal activity on water quality and the riparian environment. A study of coastal erosion and deposition on Galveston Island is also conducted to evaluate the role of human construction in the coastal environment. This study evaluates change over time and the impact of seasonal weather systems. Field work in the human systems section is conducted to evaluate various patterns of human behavior including spatial distributions and cultural habits.

Course Goals:

Students will:
  • be able to use a variety of maps and graphs to interpret and analyze data and draw conclusions.
  • recognize and interpret the associations between and among elements in situations and among processes.
  • describe lithospheric processes and the relationship to natural hazards and human development.
  • develop an understanding of the relationship between humans and the coastal environment to evaluate the potential impacts.
  • understand the atmospheric processes that impact human survival and the hazards associated with climatic events.
  • evaluate the anthropogenic role in climate change are local and global levels of scale.
  • understand how culture and development is shaped and influenced by environmental attributes.
  • interpret how human development and resource extractions are interrelated on local and global scales.
  • evaluate how economic and political systems influence development potential and global participation
  • develop an appreciation and understanding of the fragile balance between humans and the natural world.

Course Features:

Each semester this course centers around a data-based field study that requires students to evaluate the data in respect to the environment, physical and human conditions, positive and negative factors altering the system studied and ultimately the spatial distribution of the data studied. Students use data, maps, interviews, and observational research to arrive at their conclusions.

Course Philosophy:

The integration of these curricula allows for structuring the course through the study of complex systems so that students better understand the cause and effect and co-dependent relationship of Earth and Human systems. My students like a Socratic-discussion method of learning content information because it allows for developing a better understanding of the relationship between events, ideas, processes and systems and then applying those to real world events and situations. It allows them to be active participants in their education while extending learned information to larger functioning global systems.


Students are required by the school district to take the Advanced Placement and/or IB exams. Scores sufficient for college credit placement are used by the district to determine mastery of the course goals.


IB/AP Geography (Acrobat (PDF) 150kB Mar29 10)

References and Notes:

  • Elemental Geosystems by Christopherson, Human Geography by Fellmann
  • Planet Geography
  • Annual Editions (variety of topics)
  • Ethical Issues in Environmental Studies