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Geography: It's Value and Use as a Unit Study

by Linda Foster

The word “geography” comes from the Greek words “Ge” or “Gaea”, both meaning “Earth” and “graphein” which means “to describe” or “to write”. Geography, then is the study of the Earth and its characteristics and of the distribution of life on the earth. It has long been the subject of books extolling tales of distant lands and dreams of great treasures. The Greeks were the first known culture to explore geography as a science. Aristotle was the first to demonstrate that the world was round and Eratosthenes was the first to calculate the earth’s circumference. Romans used extensive mapping as they explored new lands and the information from these mappings allowed Ptolemy to construct atlases and to develop the concept of dividing the world into 360 degrees with latitudes and longitudes.

The Age of Discovery during the 16th and 17th centuries, the era of Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and James Cook led to a new increased desire for accurate geographic detail as well as solid theoretical foundations. In the 18th and 19th centuries, geography became recognized as a viable academic discipline and was incorporated into the typical university curriculum in Europe.

The field of geography was originally divided into two primary segments: Cultural or human geography and physical geography. Cultural geography focuses primarily on “built environment” including how space is created, viewed and managed by humans and how they influence the space they occupy. Physical geography focuses on “natural environment” and includes the study of climate, vegetation and life, soil, water and landforms and how they are produced and interact. A third segment of geography, environmental geography, has emerged, which combines aspects of both cultural and physical geography and focuses on the study of the interactions between the environment and humans.

As new nations are created, natural disasters strike populated areas and climates change, the geography of these affected areas is changed and, therefore, the field of geography constantly needs to be re-evaluated to reflect these changes.

In addition to being the study of physical and cultural aspects of the earth and its population, the field of geography is an interdisciplinary discipline involving math, language, history, literature and numerous other study topics. The opportunity to use one subject to improve student skills in so many other areas makes the study of geography essential for all students.

The Rand McNally Neighborhoods Study Unit provides materials for use in helping students to develop map skills and learn about their neighborhood and community. The “My Neighborhood and Community” map covers an approximate 2 mile by 2 mile radius surrounding the student’s home, allowing the student to see where s/he fits into the neighborhood and community. State, US and World maps allow the student’s neighborhood and community to be related to the rest of the world. Included with the StudyUnit are the Rand McNally Primary Atlas and the books Children Around the World, Cities Then & Now, and The First Americans. Used in conjunction with each other, these resources can intertwine geography with the other disciplines essential for the development of a well-rounded homeschooler.

LESSON 1: MY NEIGHBORHOOD
Concept: Using the Rand McNally “My School and Neighborhood” maps, students learn about their own neighborhood and community. The lesson focuses on the location of local landmarks, businesses and services and invites the student to explore the underlying rationale for these locations. The student learns the basic concepts of reading maps and identifying locations.

Lesson: If possible, take a walking or a short driving tour of the neighborhood, pointing out some of the local landmarks, businesses and community services. After the neighborhood tour, provide the student with a “My School and Neighborhood” map and a list of street addresses for local businesses and landmarks such as the Fire Department, Police Department, bank, schools, etc. Using a water soluble marker, have the student locate and mark his/her house or neighborhood and then mark the locations of the listed businesses and landmarks. Have the student mark the route s/he would take to get from one location to another.

LESSON 2: US AND WORLD GEOGRAPHY
Concept: Students will learn to identify basic map coordinates, longitudes and latitudes and map scales. Students will also begin to learn where their neighborhood/community is in relation to their state, the US and the world.

Lesson: Using information from the Rand McNally Primary Atlas define the terms longitude and latitude and explain basic map coordinates. Using the State and US/World maps, the student will find latitudes and longitudes and locate various continents and countries. Give the student specific map coordinates and have him/her determine what is located at those coordinates. Using the map from Lesson 1, have the student identify his/her city and location on the state map and then locate his/her state on the US Map.

LESSON 3: MATHEMATICS AND GEOGRAPHY
Concept: Mathematics is interwoven in the field of geography with the study of longitudes and latitudes, distances, travel times, etc.

Lesson: Have the student plan a road trip within the United States, determining the starting point and final destination. The student will map out the route between the two points and will identify stopping points (cities, landmarks, etc.) along the way. The student will determine the map coordinates for each stop and will calculate the distances between the stops. If travel within the US is chosen, have the student calculate the travel time between each stop (based on an average of 60 mph).

LESSON 4: CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY:
Concept: This develops the student’s ability to conduct research.

Lesson: Review the book Cities Then and Now which documents how fourteen of the world’s great major cities have changed throughout history. Give the student the name of a country and have him/her prepare a mini research paper on the country including longitude and latitude, bordering countries, physical features, climate, population and culture.

LESSON 5: WRITING SKILLS:
Concept: Students learn to use information gathered from prior lessons to develop their writing skills.

Lesson: Review the book Children Around the World. Using the information from the book and from Lesson 4, have the student write a short story about a trip to the researched country. The story should include at least one character from the other country and should offer some type of comparison between the two cultures. L.F. ■