Social Education 58(2), 1994, pp. 114-116
1994 National Council for the Social Studies
The California History-Social Science Framework (1988) places great emphasis on integrating history and geography in social studies. As a member of the committee that helped create this dynamic curriculum document, I urged, along with geographer Christopher Salter, a strong integrated geography component. Many of us on the committee worried that geography would be relegated to one or two grade levels and that students would study geographic concepts and vocabulary apart from history and other social science disciplines. Although the framework recommends the infusion of geography at all grade levels, formal integration is placed within the sequential study of history in grades 4 through 11.
Integrating the Five Themes of Geography
An effective approach to designing integrated history and geography curricula and teaching strategies is to place a history unit in the context of the five themes of geography. The themes are all related-if you use one, you use them all. You might emphasize aspects of a theme at one point, but you must keep in mind their strong interrelationships. According to the Guidelines for Geographic Education (1984), the five themes of geography are location, place, relationships within places (human/environmental interaction), relationships between places (spatial interaction or movement), and regions (their form and change).
Developing an awareness of place
Historical and contemporary events have occurred in specific places, and often we can find geographic reasons for the way those episodes have unfolded. To understand historical events, students must be able to develop a sense of the physical and human characteristics of the places where the events occurred. Physical characteristics of a place include its landforms, water bodies, climate, soils, natural vegetation, and animal life. Human characteristics include population density and distribution, social traits, cultural traditions, and political institutions.
Developing locational skills and understandings
Map and globe skills should never be divorced from their geographical concepts. By developing these skills, students will be able to judge the signi&Mac222;cance of relative locations and begin to understand the effects physical characteristics (e.g., natural harbors, navigable rivers, fertile plains, and mountainous terrain) have on human settlement and use.
Understanding human and environmental interaction
People have always modified their natural environments. By demonstrating and providing local field observations, teachers can help students learn how people have modified their environments, how they continue to do so, and the effects these modifications have on life-styles, economics, settlement patterns, and the environment. They should also become aware of how humans have created environments and how they have learned to adjust to them.
Understanding human movement
Human migration has occurred from the earliest years of our existence on earth. Students will bene&Mac222;t from tracing migration routes and learning why these movements were necessary. They will then be able to follow the diffusion of ideas and technological artifacts, and judge their effects on the receiving areas.
Understanding a region-a more or less homogeneous area-provides a systematic basis for recognizing differences between areas by using characteristics such as landforms, rainfall, political affiliations, religion, agriculture, settlement density, and government. Students should also be able to understand the growing complexity of the interdependence of world regions and the changing global environment.
Building an Integrated Lesson Plan
Teachers can build integrated history and geography lessons for almost any historical study unit. Teachers must remember not to focus on just one or two of the &Mac222;ve themes of geography but, rather, to integrate all five themes.
Step 1: Formulate questions
One way of approaching integration is to ask questions about the places where a historical event occurred. Write down some basic questions about the places incorporating each of the &Mac222;ve themes of geography. Use these questions to prepare an exercise or activity designed to arrive at the answer. The teacher-generated questions should focus on the activity and provide a challenge and a purpose for students. For instance, in a unit of study covering the westward movement in U.S. history, a teacher might want to use questions prompting activities that enhance a geographic perspective on the Oregon Trail. For example:
1. Location. Where did the Oregon Trail begin and end? Name three rivers that pioneers followed on the Oregon Trail.
2. Place. In what ways did the Native Americans, landforms, and climates that pioneers encountered in each portion of their journey ease the passage or make the trip difficult?
3. Human/environmental interaction. How did the pioneers change the landscapes over which they passed? Were all of these environmental modifications negative or were some positive?
4. Movement. How did rivers, deserts, and mountain ranges influence their travel route?
5. Region. How are the Great Plains different from Oregon's Willamette Valley, the final destination of many of the pioneers?
Step 2: Planning and implementing the activity
Although maps can be valuable sources of information in this activity, do not hesitate to encourage students to use textbooks, other reference books, and magazines. Using primary sources (e.g., diaries and letters) can be especially rewarding. Refer to the list of organizations at the end of this article for sources of appropriate materials.
Exercises and activities should be based on what I call the "detective methodology." Supply students, either individually or in groups, with a variety of information. For example, provide students with a map of the Oregon Trail (Figure 1), an atlas of the United States that displays landform regions and climate, and a short narrative story of the Oregon Trail. With this information in hand, students should be able to answer several of the guiding questions.
Provide additional information by having students perform a dramatic reading of several diary accounts or letters. If available, show students historical maps or atlases that were sold to travelers and have them compare the maps with contemporary maps for accuracy. Finally, allow students to view one of the excellent videos available on the Oregon Trail, and have them pay close attention to the persistent influence of geography.
Step 3: Integrating the five themes
Students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the interrelationships of the &Mac222;ve themes and their combined effects on a historical event by offering a number of examples from the real world that exhibit such interrelationships. In groups of four or five, students should discuss and complete their answers to the guiding questions. As a &Mac222;nal unifying activity, have the groups integrate the &Mac222;ve themes by summarizing their answers in a chart and discussing how the themes are related. For example, they should be able to relate that much of the Oregon Trail (human-made) followed rivers (natural). After naming and locating several of the rivers, students should be able to discuss how humans interacted with rivers (by drinking water, watering their stock, irrigating plants, bathing, washing clothing, fishing, and boating) and moved along them (following trails, finding paths of least slope, and searching for sources that might provide a pass through a mountain range). Students should be able to discover why settlers moving west followed rivers. Using three-dimensional maps and topographic sheets, students will learn that rivers afforded the flattest terrain in any given area and provided a route having the least rise in elevation. As students learn about the size and weight of the wagons used on the Oregon Trail, they will discover why pioneers often looked for river routes, especially those with fairly wide floodplains.
Students should learn that although rivers provided water for drinking, cooking, and washing, they proved difficult to cross and pioneers began to pollute them as they trekked over the Oregon Trail. In the regions through which they passed, pioneers cut down trees to clear land for farming and to establish lumbering industries. Clearing fields accelerated runoff and erosion, even on relatively gentle slopes. Lumbering on steep slopes produced spectacular and ruinous cases of erosion.
Students should also realize that the Rocky Mountains separate three distinct regions: the Great Plains, the Great Basin, and the Pacific Northwest. In addition, the mountains serve as barriers to the prevailing westerly winds that drop their precipitation on the westward-facing slopes and create leeward zones of desert environments.
Sources of Information for Integrating Geography
Martorella (1991) recognized the need for developing integration strategies that would increase awareness within the social studies curriculum. He noted the importance of reinterpreting historical societies and events within an expanding regional, and later global, interdependence. Social studies teachers, then, must use spatial perspectives in all history lessons; without them, the events of history lack ties to real places on earth. Traditional geographic integration in the social studies, as displayed in textbooks, relied heavily on using maps to find and identify locations. Although this is certainly an important basic skill that should be part of every history unit plan, it should be viewed as a means toward the intrinsic geographical knowledge necessary to impart a spatial dimension to history and not simply as a skill.
With some exceptions, few published integrated history and geography lesson plans are available. Teaching Geography: A Model for Action (National Geographic Society 1988) provides both general ideas on integration strategies and speci&Mac222;c lessons. Strengthening Geography in the Social Studies (Natoli 1988) includes brief articles highlighting strategies and resources for blending geographic concepts and skills into social studies lessons.
If you live in an area served by a local Geographic Alliance organization, check to see if it publishes locally created geography lesson plans in its newsletter. Many local chapters of the Geographic Alliance are based at geography departments in nearby universities. These university departments can also supply valuable advice and resources.
The following national organizations can provide additional information and addresses of local and state contacts:
National Council for the Social Studies
3501 Newark Street, NW
Washington, DC 20016
NCSS has a Geographic Education Special Interest Group composed of K-12 teachers, curriculum developers, and researchers interested in developing and integrating geography.
National Council for Geographic Education
Department of Geography and Regional Planning
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
NCGE is the only organization for teachers devoted exclusively to improving geographic education. NCGE produces the Journal of Geography and many other publications, sponsors an annual meeting, and distributes geography education materials published by the Geographic Education National Implementation Project, a coalition of geographical organizations based at the Association of American Geographers, 1710 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. GENIP publishes a newsletter free of charge for teachers who request it from the GENIP of&Mac222;ce as well as other useful geography education material.
National Geographic Society
P.O. Box 2895
Washington, DC 20077-9960
In an effort to boost geography awareness and education, National Geographic has instituted the Geography Education Program offering teacher training and assistance through workshops and model classroom experimentation. Curriculum guidelines and suggestions and a quarterly newsletter keep teachers informed of classroom strategies and techniques.
Educational Resources Information Center
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education
University of Indiana
Bloomington, IN 47405
The ERIC clearinghouse is an outstanding source for books and articles relating to social studies and the social sciences. Copies of relevant literature may be obtained through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, VA 22153; (800) 443-3742.
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