Each year, teachers of all levels in all subject areas are given the same task: find a way to work literacy and math skills into your curriculum. And they do. We’ve seen an increase in writing in all subject areas. Physical education classes play games that involve math or vocabulary. Music and art classes have students discuss the math involved in each of those subjects. But with so many major events in the world, don’t we need to strengthen our students’ knowledge of the world and its people?

Geography or global studies need to be in just as many curricula. Just like it can’t be only the language arts teachers’ jobs to teach students reading and writing, it can’t just be social studies teachers who teach students about the world they are about to inherit.

So, here are three big ideas (and lots of little ideas) to add more geography into ALL classrooms.

Connect your curriculum

Rather than trying to artificially plug a geography unit into math, language arts, science, physical education, foreign language, art, technology, STEM classes, family and consumer sciences, or whatever else I’m missing, find a way to naturally work it in. The bullet points below are things that I brainstormed with my wife who teaches 2nd grade.

  • Really take a look at the setting of a book. Use real pictures from that place, or view it from Google Earth, or look at an actual map of that place. It will help the student understand more about the setting and give them a tiny bit of geographic knowledge.
  • In math class, use maps to teach scale. Rather than use the odd looking figures that are in the math textbook, show students a place where they will actually use scale factor. Take out the roadmap of your state and have students find the actual distance between two cities using the scale.
  • In science talk about the habitats of animals. Talk about the human-environment interaction’s that exist and how different species are impacted both positively and negatively by humans.
  • Locate the homes of artists, musicians, scientists, and other historical figures. Find where they lived on the map. Are they still the same country that they were when that person was alive?
  • Talk about and play sports that aren’t popular in the United States. Recently ESPN dedicated a day to “The Ocho.” It was a reference to the movie Dodgeball where the catchphrase for the frictional channel was “if it’s almost a sport, we’ve got it here.” Most of the sports were things I had heard of; bags, frisbee golf, trampoline dodgeball,  but there was one that jumped out at me because I never heard of it. A sport popular in South Asia called Kabaddi. I watched about a half an hour of it and I still can’t tell you exactly what the rules are, but that’s the point! It was different and therefore exciting for me to watch it it made me want to play it! Search for it on YouTube and you can find footage from the finals. (There’s another game that National Geographic wrote about called calcio storico which looks like a combination of street fighting and rugby. Probably not appropriate for PE classes, but still an interesting thing to talk about.)
  • When doing immigration units, plot out the countries of your students’ ancestors. That reminder on the map that all of us came from somewhere can help not just with geographic skills, but help the class culture as well.
  • Celebrate days like World Water Day (March 22) and World Toilet Day (November 19).
  • Talk about what is on your students’ families Thanksgiving tables (it’s not always turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing)!
  • Use those nonfiction periodicals! Whether it’s Weekly Reader, Time for Kids, Junior Scholastic, or Upfront they feature stories from around the world that are worthy of class discussion.

Connect your students

Find a way to connect your students to others. If we hope to have more understanding of others, it has to come from real connections, not just studying other places. So here are some easy ways to connect students.

  • iEARN is an organization that connects students through collaborative projects.
  • Mystery Skype is something that our own Sam Mandeville has written and presented on. Check out this post from Sam about the power of Mystery Skype.
  • The Global Read Aloud is an idea from Pernille Ripp that connects students around the world through literature. This year the Middle School level book is Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park which gives another geography connection to Sudan and the global water crisis.

Connect yourself 

Perhaps more important than anything else, connect yourself to other teachers around the country and the world. When I say “a teacher I know in Massachusetts,” or “a friend of mine who teaches in Georgia,” they perk up and listen. (Even more when I mention a teacher from another country.) We know our students learn a great deal from each other, it only makes sense that we do this as well.

  • The National Geographic Certified Educator program is one way to connect to other educators. While learning about the National Geographic Education resources, you are also expected to be a part of their Google+ community that connects you to educators and explorers all over the world.
  • #worldgeochat. Yes, it’s shameless self promotion, but I’ve become a much better teacher because of the connections I’ve made through our Twitter community. When you have a community of dedicated teachers from elementary to high school (and not all focused on geography) you are bound to learn something new about the world, and connect our students to it.

How do you make sure that geographic skills are front in center in your classroom? Comment below and join #worldgeochat each Tuesday starting August 29!

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