Friday, August 24, 2012

Geography is beautiful...a sense of place through photography

     The 4th graders in my school district have a unit titled Understanding Region: Africa. In this unit, students learn about the geographic concept of region by exploring the different natural regions of Africa. While on my own "digital road trip," I managed to find a website that led me towards the title of this post.  I found the photography of George Steinmetz. WOW!

Let me tell you why photographs 
are essential for young geographers...     
     To many kids, geography is a word, not something that stirs excitement.  As I reflect on how I became interested in geography, I recognize that it evolved over time through experiencing places, their landscapes (both built and unbuilt), their cultural differences, and the sense that I experienced the world differently because I was in a different place
     While not a master of geography, I've come to understand that having a strong sense of place creates a conduit for understanding our world; it creates a connection to different locations and what those places in the world look and feel like.  If you read about Paris, the Grand Canyon, Tokyo, or Iguazu Falls, you never truly know what those places are like.  You have words that create your sense of place for these locations...but that changes when you are given the chance to visit a location where you can finally see, smell, and experience.  It is at that precise moment when your sense of place begins develop substantially.
     In a nutshell, because of our world's vastness, the majority of people will never truly know what most places in the world are like. I knew I wouldn't...and I decided to do something about it.  
     As a way to connect with the world and develop my sense of place, I started to regularly view LENS, a photography, video, and visual journalism blog from the New York Times. I decided that if I couldn't travel everywhere in the world, at least I could see these locations.  What astonished me is that over time, I began to have a better sense of place for locations that I might never be able to visit.  In talking about the world, my ability to picture these places and feel a connection is better (even if just a little bit).  Go ahead, take a look at LENS and JUST TRY to tell me that you don't have a better sense of global places after spending 10 minutes looking at the pictures!
    Why is this important to geography education? Not only are these ideas important, I'd venture to say that these ideas are absolutely essential for young geographers.  If we want our students to feel the tug of geography and how it connects them to their world, we MUST help them to develop a sense of place.  And when we can't transport them everywhere we'd like, we have to use whatever tools and resources we have available. In this case, I'm suggesting that photographs should be used, especially those created by "photographers", when possible.   
     As an experiment, pause and try to picture what Africa looks like and feels like.  Ask yourself, why do you have these pictures in your head? How did you develop your sense of place for Africa?  Now...WATCH THIS and experience how your sense of place for Africa is changed.
     For those in my school district about to engage in learning about regions of Africa, consider hooking students into their learning by helping them to develop their sense of place for Africa.  Take the time to look at this video with your students and talk about what they see and what they "thought" Africa was like.  Study these pictures (click VIEW STORY) and ask students to write down what they think Africa would feel like and look like if they were there.  Look at the pictures of other photographers.  Have students connect the pictures to their location on maps, mark those locations, and talk about what else is around those locations by analyzing maps of physical features.  Think of it like getting ready to take a learning trip...pack their brains with some mental images, organize their sense of place by using maps...and then start the journey towards where you are going.  You might just find yourself amidst students who are thrilled to make the journey with you! Sometimes the most important part of learning is in setting students up for what is just around the corner. 

Africa photos and videos:
  • Resource: Michael Fay, a conservationist, did a 6-month aerial survey flyover of Africa.

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