How is geography different from all other social sciences?

The first chat of #worldgeochat year 3 was this past Tuesday night at 9pm. When I started moderating these chats two and a half years ago I never dreamed that the #worldgeochat crew would grow steadily into a forum that seems to be attracting more voices each week. It’s an unusual chat because it feels more like a conversation with peers than an echo chamber of people spouting their opinions and no one responding. In this chat I’ve seen many great side conversations spin off into long tangents (which is a good thing in education) and a few participants end up scrambling to catch up to the main thread ten or fifteen minutes later.

I’ve never done a reflection post about one of the chats that I’ve moderated but since this is a new school year, there is no time like the present to try.

The topic of the chat this week was:

Starting the year off right

I thought this topic was apt since it is (for most participants) the very first week of the year and what better way to get excited and pumped up for teaching that sharing what our top tricks-of-the-trade are. We usually try to think of four or five good questions on a shared Google Doc a week before and share it with the #worldgeochat crew to get comments and input so we can shape the questions into where we feel the conversation should or might head. After the chat, one of our moderators @cheffernan75 archives the chat so we have a reference point to go back to. If you’re interested in the archive for this chat, you can find it here.   

Let’s begin.

We started off with lots of hellos from regulars that have been with the chat from the beginning. These pros are some of the valued voices I trust and listen to on Twitter. Their knowledge and willingness to share information is not only appreciated but invaluable in creating a geography classroom that functions smoothly and generates curiosity and develops geographic knowledge. After a few minutes it was apparent that we had lots of new faces and even a teacher sharing her birthday with us (we were honored). New faces and perspectives are really important in a twitter chat. They provide fresh perspectives and insights that can only help us as we develop our craft and push our teaching into new spaces. Since this was the first chat of the year it seemed obvious to me that the first question should get the gang to celebrate why geography is different from other social sciences.

How is Geography different from other social sciences?

How did you introduce that difference to students?

Now that I’m thinking about it, I probably should have broken these ideas into two separate questions for the chat. Since each question runs for about ten minutes, there isn’t often enough time to flush out both thoughts to a meaningful conclusion. I blame myself. The chat did an amazing job coming together and discussing why geography is different from other social sciences and there were some great ideas put forth. My personal belief went out early when I tweeted:

It is my firm belief that geography is special. It is this overarching concept that binds all other disciplines together to try and answer ‘big’, unanswerable questions. The why of our current state of the world we live in. Some participants said it better than I could, such as:

Ed is one of the moderators in #worldgeochat and this thought that all disciplines go into geography is spot on. More importantly was the second part of his tweet. The idea that geography is different because it relies on a geospatial way of thinking, not memorization, to reach conclusions. Geography is so much more than maps and understanding that is key.

Another moderator, Chris Heffernan, posted this:

It’s the idea that many geography teachers hold, that all other studies of human societies spring from geography. What to learn about economics? Better learn your geography. Want to learn about why things happened in history? Geography tells you why. I usually start off by telling my students that geography is…. Complicated. Since they are 6th graders, that seems to be enough to get their wheels turning. One of the #worldgeochat gurus posted this about an ah-ha moment with her students earlier that day.

This about that for a moment. Geography is not a class. It is living and breathing in the world this very moment. Very powerful imagery for students to wrestle with on their first night home after school. If I were a student in that class, be sure that I would would be desperate to get back there tomorrow and find out more.

This last tweet was probably my favorite of this part of the first question in the chat:

To be a geographer, you can’t be a specialist in one thing over another. You NEED to know a little bit about everything. Maybe not an expert but you have to understand how science connects to economics to history to math, and on and on. Once you start putting all these little pieces together geography comes alive.

It’s true that geography is a ‘ton of awesome’.

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