Using the National Geography Standards to Integrate Children's Social Studies

J. R. Freese
The study of geography is fascinating. Perhaps more efficiently than many other parts of the curriculum, geography can be easily integrated with the core elementary subjects of reading, language arts, fine arts, science, math, and other disciplines of the social studies. The National Geography Standards1 contain essential elements that promote vital learning outcomes of knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, and dispositions. This article suggests applications of the National Geography Standards to integrated elementary social studies instruction.

Why Geography?
Sadly, too many students have an appalling lack of geographic skills. In study after study, many of America's students "lack basic geography skills and a working knowledge of geography. When places and issues come to their attention, nothing comes to their minds. They have no mental map; they have no geographic eye."2 More positively, "The power and beauty of geography allow us to see, understand, and appreciate the web of relationships between people, places, and environments."3 By becoming geographically literate, students learn to value people and the world around them. An increasingly global society requires individual and collective content knowledge, communication skills, multicultural appreciation, lifelong learning aptitudes, and analytical abilities. The meaningful study of geography can be a powerful component in achieving such outcomes, and can be fun.

Why Geography Standards?
The National Geography Standards address two imperatives for teachers and students. First, geographic understanding must become a process of lifelong learning that forms a seamless connection between formal preschool through college education and into adult life. Second, geographic understanding must be set into life contexts of family, school, society, and occupation.4 Using the Standards can help teachers: (1) achieve the imperatives of lifelong learning and contextualization, (2) inform and direct curricular discussions and decisions, (3) provide a framework from which classroom instruction can be suited to individual and local needs, and 4) develop "geographically informed" persons who comprehend that geography is the lifelong awareness of people, places, and environment.5

What are the "Essential Elements and Standards"?
Six essential elements and 18 standards have been developed to assist in giving form and substance to geographic instruction through the grades. This framework, derived from national and international resources, details the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, and dispositions of a geographically informed person. The six essential elements and 18 standards are detailed below.

Element One: The World in Spatial Terms
Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
1.How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
2.How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context
3.How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface

Element Two: Places and Regions
The identities and lives of individuals and peoples are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
4.The physical and human characteristics of place
5.That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity
6.How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.

Element Three: Physical Systems
Physical processes shape Earth's surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
7.The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface
8.The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface

Element Four: Human Systems
People are central to geography in that human activities help shape Earth's surface, human settlements and structures are part of Earth's surface, and humans compete for control of Earth's surface. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
9.The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface
10.The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics
11.The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface
12.The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
13.How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface.

Element Five: Environment and Society
The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth's natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth's physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
14.How human actions modify the physical environment
15.How physical systems affect human systems
16.The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources

Element Six: The Uses of Geography
Knowledge of geography enables people to develop an understanding of the relationships between people, places, and environments over time-that is, of Earth as it was, is, and might be. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
17. How to apply geography to interpret the past
18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future6
These National Geography Standards can effectively be used to assist in formulating geography instruction. Through deliberate analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, this framework can efficiently be integrated with other components of the curriculum.7 In the remainder of this article, applications for each of the six essential geography elements will be made to the other content disciplines in elementary social studies-anthropology, economics, history, political science, psychology, and sociology.

How Can the Geography Standards be Used to Integrate Children's Social Studies?
This portion of the article emphasizes the application of each of the six essential geography elements to teaching elementary social studies. Selected standards will be used as examples; however, educators are encouraged to go beyond these illustrations and apply the full range of standards to their own communities and classrooms.

Element One: The World in Spatial Terms
The first discipline of elementary social studies to be considered is anthropology. This discipline "examines the various ways in which people interpret and assign meaning to their social and physical world."8 Element One can be integrated with anthropology through Standard 2, "How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context." At the kindergarten level, in which an "awareness of self in a social setting" is emphasized,9 students can be made aware of themselves and their environment. Children learn that their home is one location while their school is another. They learn the separate school locations of the classroom, library, restrooms, lunch room, and playground. They also learn the associated patterns of behavior that are expected at home, school, and still other locations. Without using overly complicated terms, concepts of geography and, in this case, anthropology may be emphasized.

Element Two: Places and Regions
The next discipline of social studies integrated with geographic standards is economics, and "scarcity is the fundamental concern of economics."10 This element can be emphasized through Standard 4, "The physical and human characteristics of places." In 1st grade social studies, which stresses "the individual in primary and social groups-understanding school and family life,"11 children can be made aware of their individual and family's physical needs and where such required resources originate. Urban and rural concepts can be developed, along with the idea of "division of labor."12

Element Three: Physical Systems
A third component of social studies to be examined is geography itself. Savage and Armstrong define this as "one of the pillars of the social studies curriculum."13 This third element is a natural geographic concern because of its attention to the physical pattern of the Earth's surface and its interaction with plant and animal life. The thrust of grade 2, "meeting the basic needs in nearby social groups-the neighborhood," can constructively be united with this element of geographic awareness. Using the five Guidelines for Geographic Education,14 the teacher can combine location, place, human-environment interactions, movement, and regions with local physical processes such as climate. Comparing and contrasting the local neighborhood with neighborhoods in other regions around the world-how they communicate, how they produce, transport, and use resources-would be excellent ways in which to naturally extend learning activities.

Element Four: Human Systems
Political science, with its attention to citizenship and government, could be a natural content source to combine with this element of geographic instruction. For example, Standard 12, "The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement" would mesh well with the 3rd grade social studies emphasis on "sharing Earth and space with others-the community."15 Community services and government, human migration, and the interdependence of cities and communities are significant themes.

Element Five: Environment and Society
Savage and Armstrong note that "an important concept in sociology is socialization, or how individuals learn what is right and wrong."16 Other concepts, such as being a member of various groups and specific roles within those groups, or the idea of self from the field of psychology, are also crucial. The fifth element of being geographically informed functions well within 4th grade social studies topics such as "human life in varied environments-the region."17 The home state and its structure, function, and landforms seem a natural connection to the human actions and human systems associated with this element of environment and society.

Element Six: The Uses of Geography
Geography has contributed significantly to the final discipline of social studies to be examined, history. The 17th standard within this framework of geographic instruction, "How to apply geography to interpret the past," can be applied to the 5th grade social studies whose curriculum stresses this interconnection of history and geography-regions of the Americas, peoples of the Americas, complex issues facing our country, and decision making.18 The inclusion of geographic elements and standards as part of a seamless web throughout social studies instruction at this grade level, and indeed all grade levels, is of paramount importance to having culturally literate and geographically informed citizens.

The elements and standards of geography can be incorporated within and across the elementary social studies curriculum. "There is now widespread acceptance among the people of the United States that being literate in geography is essential if students are to leave school equipped to earn a decent living, enjoy the richness of life, and participate responsibly in local, national, and international affairs."19 Without trying to find separate class time or unique stand alone learning opportunities, the classroom teacher can effectively incorporate the elements and standards of geography into existing social studies instruction.

1.Geography Education Standards Project, Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994 (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1994).
2.R. Dulli and J. Goodman, Geography in a Changing World: Reform and Renewal (NASSP Bulletin 78): 19-24.
3.National Geography Standards.
7.D. A. Marra, "Teaching to the National Geography Standards through Children's Picture Books," Journal of Geography 95, 4 (July/August 1996): 148-152.
8.T. V. Savage and D. G. Armstrong, Effective Teaching in Elementary Social Studies, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996).
12.National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools, Charting a Course: Social Studies in the 21st Century (Washington, DC: American Historical Association, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, National Council for the Social Studies, Organization of American Historians, 1989).
13.Savage and Armstrong.
14.S. J. Natoli, R. G. Boehm, J. B. Kracht, D. A. Lanegran, J. J. Monk, and R. W. Morrill, Guidelines for Geographic Education: Elementary and Secondary Schools (Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers and National Council for Geographic Education, 1984).
15.Savage and Armstrong.
19.National Geography Standards.

About the Author
J. R. Freese is assistant professor of education at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee. Research interests include social studies education, global education, parent relations, and uses of technology.