Integrate > Teaching for Sustainability > Strategies and Teaching Themes > Expert Ways of Thinking About Earth > Teach Geoscientific Thinking > Geographic Facility

Geographic Facility

Earth scientists are constantly putting events and processes into the context of geography. If a large earthquake occurs, we want to know where at the same time we want to know how big - the geographic location gives critical context for assessing if that earthquake is expected (Japan) or unusual (Oklahoma). When students bring us rocks to identify or photographs of features, our first question is probably, "Where did this come from?"

Geography is inherently tied to spatial thinking, but it includes the element of familiarity with the planet. We expect our students to know where major subduction zones and mountain ranges are, where deep ocean currents rise to the surface, where atmospheric circulation cells rise and descend, and maps are a critical component of our teaching. We also often expect students to become intimately familiar with a particular place through field work.

Common challenges and misconceptions

  • Students tend to think of geographic features such as coastlines and river courses as unchanging, rather than as features subject to both slow and rapid change.
  • The geography that they may be most familiar with is often at odds with the scientific description of these features
  • Students often experience discomfort being taken out of their environment for field work

Activities that address temporal reasoning

Unit 8: Thermohaline Circulation
David Bice, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

Unit 2: The Lead Problem Still Exists: Challenges and Gaps in Understanding Exposure
Katrina Korfmacher (University of Rochester), Richard Gragg (Florida A&M), Martha Richmond (Suffolk University), and Caryl Waggett (Allegheny College)

Unit 1: Use of Lead in the Environment and Health Impacts on Human Populations
Katrina Korfmacher (University of Rochester), Richard Gragg (Florida A&M University), Martha Richmond (Suffolk University), and Caryl Waggett (Allegheny College)

Unit 2: Application of Concepts to Case Studies
Patricia Stapleton, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Lisa Doner, Plymouth State University; Lorraine Motola, Metropolitan College of New York

Browse the complete set of spatial thinking activities »

Learning outcomes and assessment for geographic facility

Learning outcomes for geographic facility may be focused on local, regional, or global contexts. Consider incorporating resources such as Google Earth and GIS software to allow students the opportunity to manipulate data in a geographic context. Learning outcomes that addresses this habit of mind might be something like:

  • Students will be able to name the world's major deserts and describe why they are located where they are.
    • Assessment: Give students a blank world map with continents outlined. Ask them to sketch in the boundaries of major deserts and any other indications they need to describe why they are there (wind patterns, ocean currents, etc.).
  • Students will be able to deduce relationships between the distribution of a given natural resource (copper porphyry deposits, oil and gas, geothermal energy) and plate tectonic processes.
    • Assessment: After learning about the distribution of types of plate boundaries, give students a map showing the world distribution and age of copper porphyry deposits and ask them to use what they know about the distribution of plate boundaries to interpret the origin of copper porphyry deposits.

Resources for teaching about geographic facility

Big ideas, essential principles, and fundamental concepts about geographic facility in the geoscience literacies

  • Earth Science Big Idea 7. Humans depend on Earth for resources.
    • Fundamental concept 7.1. Earth is our home; its resources mold civilizations, drive human exploration, and inspire human endeavors ...
    • Fundamental concept 7.2. Geology affects the distribution and development of human populations.
    • Fundamental concept 7.4. Resources are distributed unevenly around the planet.
  • Climate Literacy Essential Principle 4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.
    • Fundamental concept A. Climate is determined by the long-term pattern of temperature and precipitation averages and extremes at a location. Climate descriptions can refer to areas that are local, regional, or global in extent. ...
  • Atmospheric Science Essential Principle 4. Earth's atmosphere changes over time and space, giving rise to weather and climate.
    • Fundamental concept 4.1. Weather is the state of Earth's atmosphere at a particular place and time. ...
    • Fundamental concept 4.3. Both weather and climate vary by region based on latitude, altitude, land use, proximity to physical features such as the ocean and mountains, and ocean currents.
  • Ocean Science Essential Principle 1. The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
    • Fundamental concept a. ... There is one ocean with many ocean basins...
    • Fundamental concept b. ... Earth's highest peaks, deepest valleys, and flattest vast plains are all in the ocean.

Selected references