Geography is not everyone's favorite subject. But if it is taught well, it could be a joy to learn about. The great thing about geography is that it is always changing, and is much more significant that many people realize.
Geography isn't merely knowing where cities and countries are located, the heights of mountains, or where natural resources are located. In other words, learning about geography- and teaching it- shouldn't be a mere memorization of facts.
Such a presumption misses out on the true nature of the subject of geography: that it deals with dynamic change and the interaction of the human race and Earth. Geography is the study of spatial patterns and processes, the science of place. Terrorism, to the recent earthquake in Kashmir, to global warming, censorship, etc. It is current, it is news, and it is vital.
At its most basic, geography can be split into two forms: physical and human geography. Though the study of one inherently involves the study of the other, there are certain concepts that are particular to each "sect." Here are concepts important for teaching about human geography:
The most important to teach about geography is that everything is interconnected, and then give examples, such as how the opium trade in Afghanistan is by far the country's most profitable, if illegal, export, and how it creates conflict for the central government in Kabul and the local warlords, and how this effects American and NATO efforts in the country, America's War on Terror, and the War on Drugs. This is only one example, but point is that interconnectedness should be demonstrated to get students interested.
Hand-in-hand with interconnectedness is the growing importance of globalization: the increasing transnational influence on the world through the convergence of economic, political and cultural change. As technology speeds ahead in the 21st century, distance is becoming less relevant as regions are linked through commerce, speedy travel, and instantaneous communications. Globalization is a necessary concept because it forms the background for much of the study of the world through a geographical lens. The teaching of the concept of globalization can be further broken down into global communications systems, global transport, transnational corporations and market economies as well as free trade agreements and 24 hour financial trading through the development of new and more flexible ways of capital accumulation. Also imperative to teaching the concept of globalization in geography is to mention that not everyone benefits. A good way to help facilitate understanding of globalization is to have an in class debate about the pros and cons of globalization. Does globalization destroy indigenous culture? Does globalization help or hurt the gap between the poor and wealthy? How does the effects of the globalization compare with those of the Industrial Revolution? These are great questions to ask for a class discussion to help students figure for themselves the benefits and costs of globalization, and how globalization is creating change in the world.
Another important concept to convey is how geography is related to history. History taught with geography helps flesh out a region and gives character to abstract geographical concepts. History talks about concepts and development over time, where geography analyzes based on space. As Einstein taught us, space and time are connected, and so should the two subjects. History taught with geography is easily done when studying particular regions, a history of each region as it is studied by the class helps to put the current conditions into context.
Cultural coherence and development, cultural imperialism, cultural nationalism, and cultural syncretism are also concepts to talk about when discussing human geography. Ask the class provide examples of folk and popular culture in a particular region. Also ask for examples of cultural nationalism here. Is it the same as the concept of political correctness? Is it a good or bad thing?
Geopolitics and economics, is another fundamental area to discuss when learning about geography. A basic knowledge of communism, democracy, and dictatorships is helpful to students considering the diversity of the world's governments; as well as knowing how to differentiate between a command and a market economy.
As students study the physical make-up of various regions, they can connect what they are learning about the physical with the human by asking them these questions or having them write in-class or as homework on them: Where and under what conditions does the environment interfere with human activity? What populations are most susceptible to the forces of nature? How have human activities affected the environment and climate? What has happened as a result of theses activities?
As many students learn visually, maps can be a great help to solidifying concepts and helping students learn what is where on a map. A great idea is to have students receive blank political maps printed on cardstock and then color them and cut them up along political lines, label them, and have to reassemble them as a puzzle. This is an easier and interactive method of learning where countries or provinces are, than merely having them study a map. This also helps students who learn kinetically as well.
Current events are also great ways to keep students interested and focusing on the big concepts of geography. Ask them to find a current event and then write a report about it, relating it to concepts of cultural nationalism, globalization, human interaction with the environment, etc. This gives them current, real examples of geography and garners their interest, showing how relevant geography is.
But the best way to teach is to engage. Ask questions, encourage questions to be asked. Asking students for their opinions forces them to think things through and try to grasp the concepts being taught.
Geography doesn't have to be a hard subject to teach or to learn! Giving students a chance to discuss what they are learning, applying broad concepts to world regions, and relating the course material to current events all help teaching geography run smoothly. Best of luck to you!