How do you define geography to your students?

Here we go. Question two of #worldgeochat on August 30th was fairly straightforward. Or at least it appeared to be at first glance. It was another two part question that I regretted using the second half…again. I should’t have included the second part because it made for a rushed, hurried conversation. The two part question was:

How do you define geography to your students?

How should that definition evolve from K-12 grade?

My issue with the two part question that I put forth was that the responses varied from grade to grade, making it difficult to come up with a working definition that could be used or adapted for all grade levels. In a perfect world that is what I would like to see, a definition that can be modified, slightly, so that a kindergartener or a senior in high school could both be in the same room and understand (mostly) what the definition meant. The closest anyone got to that was our amazing worldgeochat guru, @geteach. If you don’t follow this guy, you should. He has created an amazing website called which allows you to create two side-by-side google earths with overlayed demographic information (there’s more, too) so students can compare and make inferences and judgements about what they are seeing. But I digress…@geteach used a definition by Dr. Brock Brown:


I love this way of defining geography. Most students and teachers usually say something to the effect of “The study of the earth, its’ resources, and how humans interact with it.” or some variation on that. They are not wrong. If you look up a definition in any online dictionary you will find something similar and I have seem many students adhere to that definition like flies on sh*t. But what @geteach has done by incorporating Dr. Browns’ idea is shifting students thinking from one of geography being a thing to one of geography being a way of thinking. It’s not just a study of the earth et al. It is a PERSPECTIVE, a way of looking at all the interconnected processes happening on the earth and how those interconnected processes are affected by one another and how humans benefit and/or suffer from their own actions within it. My lame attempt at trying to define geography went something like this:


When I tell students this I say it with a hint of humor but I’m also being deadly serious. The first activity I do with students is a game called: Name that Geography. In groups of three, they have five minutes to write down as many things (words or phrases) as they can think of that have to do with geography. The obligatory terms like map, earth, culture, and latitude/longitude always come up first but then I press them to think outside the box (they don’t know that the box is really, really big) and come up with something ‘no one else is going to think of’. Jaws often start dropping when they realize that everything that they can think of can be related to and brought back to the student of geography. Through the lens of geography, one can understand the world and the problems/issues humanity faces.

Another great definition that I would like to exhibit is by contributor extraordinaire @GeoJo22. She has been participating in #worldgeochat since its’ inception and she broke it down so simply that I was dumbfounded by the profoundness within it:

Chew on that for a minute and let it sink in. Why something happens where it does. My immediate thought was to think of Jared Diamond and his book Guns, Germs, and Steel. His question was “Why is it that the king of Spain and other European powers were the ones to sail across the Atlantic and subjugate and conquer the native peoples of the Americas and not the other way around? Why didn’t the Inca sail to Spain and put Charles V in chains and plunder the coffers of all the European nations? The answer lies in Geography. Good stuff right there…

Finally I want to give a shout out to fairly new participant to #worldgeochat. @le_reitz got to the heart of why I asked to question in the first place. What’s the point of defining geography anyways?

She hit the nail right on the head with this one. It’s all about trying to figure out how it all fits together. How it all works and why the earth is the way it is. How our own perspective shapes how we choose to see the world and how that bias influences the decisions we make about tough questions such as:

Who decides or what determines who gets to control or access the world’s’ resources?

How does where you live affect how you live?

How do you live as a global citizen?

These are not easy questions to answer because it all depends on your perspective, on your definition of geography, on the way in which you and the culture you live within sees the world.
Like I said…. It’s complicated.

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