.........................................What is geography?..........................................
1) Geography is the investigation and understanding of the environmental1 and human characteristics of the places that make up our world. It is described as the ‘why of where’. Geography answers our questions about why places are like they are, and how they are connected to other places. It explains how and why they are changing, and how and why their characteristics vary from place to place.
2) Geography provides the tools to analyse interpret and understand places and the meanings people give to them. Places are specific areas of the earth’s surface. They can be a locality, a town and its hinterland, a river catchment, a coastal zone, a metropolitan area, a major sub-national region or a whole country. Places are defined by people and consequently different people may perceive, name and define them differently. They have porous boundaries and are interconnected with other places through a range of links. These links include environmental processes, the movement of people, flows of trade and investment, cultural influences, and the exchange of ideas and information. A place’s character is influenced by the way local environmental, economic and social conditions interact with the outcomes of these interrelationships. Places are therefore both local and global, and constantly changing.
3) The characteristics of places studied in geography include population, climate, economy, landforms, built environment, soils and vegetation, communities, water resources, cultures, minerals, landscape, and recreational and scenic quality. Some characteristics are tangible such as rivers and buildings. Others are intangible such as wilderness and socioeconomic status.
4) Geographers are interested in both the similarities and differences between places. They seek to identify patterns that make sense of and give meaning to the world. To do this they mostly specialise in understanding one or a small number of the characteristics of places, through the different branches of thematic geography.
5) To investigate such phenomena, geographers often study their spatial distribution across many places (using space as an analytical tool). They look for regularities in these distributions. They also study the environmental and socioeconomic processes, such as vegetation clearance or migration, that help to explain these spatial distributions.
6) Geographers are particularly interested in place dependency. This means finding out how the same processes can produce different outcomes in different places through their interaction with local environmental, economic and social conditions. Geographers seek understanding through the operation of general processes. But they also emphasise the contingency of these processes and the resulting diversity between places. Order and diversity are equally important concepts in the discipline.
7) The study of interrelationships between the characteristics of places complements the approach of thematic geography. A key theme is the interaction between human societies and their biophysical environment. This involves studies of human impact on environments, both locally and globally, and environmental influences on human life. Other themes include the study of the relationships between the different biophysical characteristics of places. An example is the effects of rainfall on vegetation. Yet another is the relationships between the different human characteristics of places, such as the effects of local economic conditions on population mobility, or the effects of culture on local economies.
8) Geography responds to student’s curiosity about places. It nurtures their wonder about the world and its diversity. It develops a geographical imagination that enables them to relate to other places and the lives of people in those places. It equips them with knowledge of the world that allows them to understand, debate and make informed decisions on a range of current local, state, national and global events and issues.
9) Geography is essential to an understanding of key aspects of Australia’s environment, population, economy and society. For example, by studying their own place, and the places to which they are connected throughout the world, students gain insight into the factors that influence their locality, their community and their lives.
10) Geography teaches students about the resources and services that the biophysical environment provides to support their life. They learn how these are produced and maintained by environmental processes. They also discover how people perceive and use these resources and services, and change them through this use. They investigate the opportunities and constraints that these resources provide for human life and economic activity, and examine current challenges such as the ability of the Australian environment to support a much larger number of people. They also explore the sustainability of these resources.
11) Geography teaches students how to view the world spatially. It enables them to understand the significance of location. As well, it provides insights into how location is mediated through infrastructure, technology, and economic and social relationships.
12) Geography teaches students how spaces are organised and designed, and the consequences of this for different groups of people. It explores the spatial distribution of phenomena and investigates the causes and consequences of economic and social differences between places. This provides an opportunity to teach students about inequalities between places in Australia (an important contribution to national citizenship) and between nations (an important contribution to global citizenship).
13) In addition geography provides opportunities for students to learn how they can have an influence as active citizens. It encourages them to question why things are the way they are. It prompts them to imagine other ways in which their world could be organised, and to investigate and evaluate alternative futures. Through their exploration and discussion of such issues, students can develop an informed view of their responsibilities towards the biophysical and built environments. Importantly, too, they gain insights into their responsibilities towards people throughout the world.
............................Aims of the K–12 geography curriculum...........................
14) The geography curriculum should contribute to the general educational aims set out in The Shape of the Australian Curriculum. It should also achieve specifically geographical aims.
These aims include:
� helping students to make sense of their own experience of the world
� developing their knowledge of and sense of wonder about the world’s variety of places (and their environments and peoples)
�developing their understanding of why places are like they are, and how and why they are changing, including a sound knowledge of their own place
�developing their spatial awareness and understanding of locations, spatial distributions and flows, and their consequences
�nurturing their fascination with places through fieldwork and the use of new technologies in and beyond the school grounds and the local area
� fostering their interest in, and valuing of, the ways that the environment supports their life, and helping them to understand why a sustainable approach to the future is vital but contested
�developing their understanding of the visual, spatial and written representations of places and environments
�encouraging them to be thoughtful local and global citizens when making decisions that affect their lives and the lives of others
�helping them to develop the intellectual capabilities, knowledge, and awareness of their place in the world that will allow them to function effectively in that world, and to make informed choices about how to live
� learning the process of geographical inquiry, how to use it to discover new geographical knowledge and make sense of new situations, and how to be confident and creative users of geographical skills and communicators of geographical knowledge (adapted from Catling & Willy 2009, p. 18).
15) Above all, the curriculum should produce students who are enthused by geography – students who want to learn, who can ‘think geographically’, who have a well-developed understanding of geography as a way of investigating the world, and who can use this understanding to influence their own and their community’s future.
16) To achieve its aims, the curriculum should be engaging and intellectually challenging, and focus on depth of understanding rather than breadth of content. It should provide opportunities for teachers to connect with young people’s present and future lives, to use their experiences to make them active agents in their own learning, and to ‘challenge and excite them with content that might be beyond their immediate horizon’ (Geographical Association 2009).