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: Climate Forcings
Sandra Penny, Russell Sage College; Eric Leibensperger, Ithaca College

5. Passive Designs
Randolph Chambers, College of William and Mary

6. Energy from and to the Earth
Randolph Chambers, College of William and Mary

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

Selected references