Geo-Literacy and Why it Matters in Our Classrooms

National Geographic has begun an initiative to help our current students better understand the impact their decisions have in the world. The initiative was prompted by the lack of funding for geography programs and the resulting generation of students who missed the opportunity to learn about this invaluable subject. Understanding the importance of Geo-Literacy and exactly how to bring this information into the classroom falls directly in line with the high standards of the new Common Core. Plus, it’s fun!

In the past few years, our students have learned to make quick decisions and solve problems in record time. Solving problems quickly does not allow our students the opportunity to learn how to work through challenges. This type of activity can also elevate the frustration level when students do not see a quick solution to their problem and may even cause a student to give up too quickly on future problems. The complex issues our future students will face will not require “quick fixes” but long-term, thoughtful solutions with special attention to the results of their decisions. Geo-Literacy helps us to teach the process of analysis and how the results of our decisions impact other issues — some we would not have even considered. As our global economies have connected more closely and will continue to do so in the future, this becomes an important skill to develop. Any career chosen by future generations of students will most certainly require not only decision-making ability but also the knowledge of world cultures, geographic environments and analysis of the effects of decisions.

resizedimage241159-teacher-and-studentsHow can teachers incorporate Geo-Literacy in the classroom? Remember, it is not just geography, but teaching the process of how to make good decisions and the impact of those decisions. Sounds a lot like science, right? Science requires in-depth analysis, observations and of course record keeping skills. For example, if the focus of the lesson is pollutants in the water cycle, grading for the students could reflect the data collection and reporting on the consequences on a specific eco-system, including changes in water purity, insect, plant and animal systems. This type of activity is long and involved for a reason. Quick decisions are often not thought out and the results can be incredibly damaging. Think about the effects that a quick decision to build a dam would cause on the agriculture that depends on the water down stream. (Downstream could mean two states away!) Think about the decision made to use a certain pesticide that kills the pesky bug, but also the birds that feed on those insects. Once the birds die, no more insects can be eaten. Then, in addition to the immunity that the insects develop, in a few years, the farm could be overrun with stronger pesky insects and no birds to eat them! With a little research, this problem may have been solved naturally with the introduction of some ladybugs and amphibians. Our students need to understand how one decision can have an effect on a multitude of living creatures in our world. Again, with a little research, teachers can create hands-on relevant lessons that require real answers. Who knows, maybe one of your students will solve the energy crisis!

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Applying Common Core Standards in the Classroom


The National Common Core Standards provide a clear structured format of educational requirements to help prepare our students for college and careers. Developed by a variety of higher learning institutions including, colleges, special learners groups and corporations, the standards emphasize the application of higher-level thinking skills as well as making connections to acquire knowledge. The standards are clear and consistent and build on each other year after year, based on the evidence of the effectiveness of a spiraling curriculum. Parents and teachers now have a clear outline of expectations for their students and are given the freedom to deliver the standards in whichever way best suits the needs of their current student population. Right now, only math and language arts have been redefined in the Common Core Standards, but Common Core Standards for Science, World Languages and the Arts are in the works. The FAQs of Common Core Standards can be found at this website: http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions

The best practices already in place for Pennsylvania educators contributed to the development of the National Common Core Standards. Yes! Our fabulous education program already had high expectations for our students and benchmarks for measuring success. Even though we are great, that doesn’t mean we should stop striving to be better! The Common Core Standards will provide a nice guideline but real education (knowledge acquisition) occurs in the classrooms of effective teachers. The small teaching moments or the exciting, hands-on lesson plans will both be more effective when students (1) feel they are in a safe (making mistakes is ok) environment, (2) challenged and (3) motivated by the relevance of the information they are learning.

A classroom environment that does not accept mistakes will obstruct learning. Listening to how a student is answering a question – even if it is the wrong answer, can give you insight to how their brain is reasoning. From there, a teacher can provide guidance and direction so the student can positively manipulate the thought process. It does not need to take a lot of time ore energy or even thought. A simple acknowledgement of their effort and a quick redirection would work perfectly. An example response might be, “Wow, I really see how your brain is trying to work this out. Maybe if you tried this method…” Shutting down a student for a mistake does nothing to encourage taking risks, which leads to learning. Yet, this is still a common response in the classroom. With the introduction of the new Common Core Standards, should come a revival of best teaching practices. Here is the chance to begin a new era in effective teaching. Try new strategies, research different teaching methods that have been effective in other schools and practice! You may mess up once in a while, but hey, what better way to learn?

The PA Common Core Standards wants our students to acquire higher level thinking skills. The evidence they have provided shows students attaining higher level thinking skills through challenging activities and motivation to learn. There are lots of different ways to challenge and motivate students and effective teachers are always looking for new ways to reach students that do not seem to be motivated by anything. Other states are trying new ways to reach kids and the results are encouraging. Here are a few examples of some programs, which may help your students attain those higher level-thinking skills:

Jump Math ™” started out as a tutoring program developed by a math teacher in Canada. The purpose was to get struggling students up to grade level. The program had such amazing results so quickly, that it quickly became a sought after teaching method in many cities, where students are struggling. The founder of this program believed that all students, regardless of ability level, are capable of excelling in math

So, for all students to excel in math, they must master each small concept before they move on to more complex concepts. Mastering a concept means to commit the information to long-term memory. According to cognitive research, committing information to long-term takes time to practice the process or concept being taught along with making connections and finally reflection. Students move to the next concept with confidence! Even though Jump Math ™ has only been slightly introduced in the United States, it is important to know about programs that could possibly have a positive effect on our students. You can learn more about the Jump Math ™ program by going to the website: http://jumpmath.org/cms/

A math teacher in New York, recently won the $10,000 award for a math lesson he developed that incorporated the Modeling Math concept. Modeling Math is not a new concept but the way he was able to engage his students in a meaningful learning experience, is new and effective. His students used mathematic equations to create hats out of paper materials then displayed them in a fashion show. Other modeling lessons included a study of our country’s electoral college, housing markets after Katrina, the Iraq War casualties, etc. This program brings real life situations to the classrooms so students can relate to the concept and understand the relevance math has in our world. You can find more information about these specific lessons by going to the Gotham Schools website: http://gothamschools.org/

You can find more information on the common core requirements of incorporating modeling math by going to the website:http://thinkmath.edc.org/index.php/Model_with_mathematics

Most teachers would love to help all students “master” math problems and create lots of engaging, relevant modeling math lessons, but frankly time is an issue. Workshops are a great way to structure the math classroom. To set up a math workshop takes a lot of preparation and they need to be dynamic according to the changing abilities of the students. As students reach goals and master concepts, they can be pushed to the next project or workstation, specific to their increased ability level and without losing time. Workshops also allow time for teachers to spend extra time with struggling students. Students who are considered “average” can be pushed to achieve higher levels and the highest achievers can be challenged even further. Properly setting up the workshops ensures students’ math time is effective. Workshops can take on many forms from computer stations to hands-on building projects to small groups working through complex problems. Progress monitoring can be set up prior to the school year as well. Monitoring the students through each project ensures the teacher can intervene as soon as the student begins to struggle. Workshops have been around for quite sometime, but again, the content and activities can be updated to be more meaningful for students. There are countless books and resources on the web on how to set up effective workshops, here is one of several informative sites: http://investigations.terc.edu/overview.cfm

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts also requires students to obtain higher-level thinking skills through a “staircase” growth process, where students learn the first step so they can build on that knowledge and advance to the next step. The increase in complexity or “staircase” structure provides teachers with clear expectations of what students should be able to do by the end of each grade level. The trick for teachers is to make the content challenging and meaningful to their students. English Language Arts programs vary from state to state, district to district, classroom to classroom. The skill level of the students will determine how best to structure the time. Some classes have “blocked” scheduling which allows 30-minute time intervals to focus on specific skills. Others classes are set up with a workshop atmosphere and some are traditional teacher-led small groups.

Managing an effective reading and writing program takes lots of preparation but once the structure is in place, teachers and students will benefit from the actual time spent learning. The new Common Core Standards requires the development of meaningful, challenging activities for students to achieve high-level thinking skills. No matter how teachers structure the classroom the activities created must not only be interesting to students but also meet their individual reading and writing goals.

There are so many language arts programs already developed and many teachers have implemented programs to fit the time restraints and needs of their students. Having an established, effective language arts program already in place is going to make the transition to the new common core goals, easier.

Here are a few resources that may help establish an effective language arts blocks for the new Common Core classroom:

  •  Language Arts Workshop: Purposeful Reading and Writing Instruction by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher.
  • Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi
  • The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser

The purpose of sharing this information is to introduce the latest trends and to encourage new as well as experienced teachers to continually look for different methods of teaching. It is easy to get excited about the coming year when you are challenged and motivated to learn yourself!

*Act 48 Academy prides itself on researching the latest effective teaching methods and creating courses around them so teachers can acquire new information.