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Why is geography not given more attention in the elementary curriculum, and what is the best way to teach it?
No Child Left Behind has left a huge gap in our teaching of geography and other subjects in the social studies. New schools are not providing maps and globes, but relying on technology to fill the gap. It is not the same. Sometimes, students make connections looking at a map that they wouldn't make from a short presentation from the computer.
The best way I found to teach geography is to deliberately teach the five themes of geography-- Location, Place, Human/environment Interaction, Movement and Region--so that students know and understand the terminology of geography. Then I integrate these themes into my science, social studies, literature and writing.
I believe there are two main reasons why geography receives little attention in the elementary curriculum today. First is the narrowing of the curriculum in recent years, due to increased classroom emphasis on the federally-mandated tested subjects of reading/language arts and mathematics. This has affected all of the social studies. Second is that many of our elementary teachers have received little, if any, substantive training in geography as part of their college education. They do not feel as confident or comfortable teaching it as they might other subjects. They also may not understand the breadth of the study of geography; that it is much more than reading maps and memorizing facts. It is the study of earth's landscapes, peoples, places and environments; and it is essential knowledge for our students to have in order to be successful in the 21st century.
We know there is little time for geography in today's elementary classrooms. But the good news is that geography is a discipline that can easily be integrated with many other subjects and by doing so, teachers can more often include it in their students' course of study. Perhaps the easiest integration is with literature, but mathematics, science, history and writing can all be connected to geographic concepts. Free elementary lessons and resources are available through the Internet at sites such as National Geographic Education.
Perhaps you, as a teacher, do not feel comfortable with your own knowledge and understanding of geography. The lessons and resources are helpful, but you would like to have the knowledge to be able to readily teach and integrate geography into your classroom. If you can't take a geography course, then check out the National Geographic Society's network of state geography alliances throughout the country. Many offer low cost or free professional development for teachers. Check your state to see what might be available to you.
Some alliances have also created ready-to-use materials to help teachers add geography to their curriculum. For example, the Arizona Geographic Alliance has over 250 geography lessons that also teach reading, writing, mathematics, and history concepts. They also offer maps for classroom use and a bibliography of geography-related books that can be found in most libraries. The alliances were created to strengthen geography education and they can be a wonderful resource for teachers.