Chapter 4 Learning and Teaching
4.6 Approaches and Strategies
As set out in Chapter 1 of this Guide, senior secondary Geography curriculum is focused, on the one hand, on disciplinary knowledge and skills for students going into further study or the workforce. On the other hand, this curriculum also helps students to develop generic skills and the general intellectual capacity for lifelong learning. Of equal importance is the cultivation of positive values and attitudes as senior secondary students grow into early adulthood. The following are the three common and intertwining pedagogical approaches that can be employed to facilitate the delivery of this curriculum.
Teaching as direct instruction
This approach, which involves the transmission of knowledge from teacher to student or the modelling of a skill, may be most relevant in contexts where explanation, demonstration or modelling is required to enable learners to gain knowledge and understanding of a specific aspect of the subject. Examples include the teaching of map skills and the formation processes of physical features that involve explicit procedures, concepts, or a body of knowledge.
Teaching the concept of “sustainable development”
using a “direct instruction” approach
A teacher from a secondary school in Sai Kung introduced the concept of sustainable development. She prepared a brief outline of the work she intended to carry out with the students and gave it to them at the beginning of the lesson. Using the news about the damage done by visitors to the “Wishing Tree” of Lam Tsuen, the teacher explain to the class the meaning of sustainable development, summed up the principles of sustainable development and put them on the blackboard. She then made use of these principles to analyse other tourist destinations in Hong Kong that had suffered similar physical damage caused by visitors to ensure that the students had mastered the principles satisfactorily. At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked the students to prepare a checklist of the principles at home and matched these against their behavior in the recent school picnic to see if they complied with these principles. Students were also asked to suggest at least three ways to make the school picnic more environmentally friendly.
Teaching as enquiry
This approach engages learners in finding answers for themselves. It requires the use of higher-order thinking to investigate issues, suggest and evaluate alternatives, and communicate ideas, views, experiences and feelings appropriately. It may take place through interactive whole-class teaching or through peer interaction in pairs or groups.
Enquiry-based fieldwork or role-playing how environmental decisions are made by those concerned is a typical example of this approach.
Class debate for enquiry
A class debate was organised by a Geography teacher at the end of the unit on “climate change”. The motion was “Global warming is nothing but a scientific myth”. Teachers asked the students to form their own teams and decide whether they were for or against the motion. Instructions on how to prepare for a debate, relevant information sources for the motion, and a simple worksheet to guide students to develop their arguments were provided. Students then collected further information for the debate before the next lesson which focused on group discussion and preparation for the event. When the debate was held, the teacher selected two teams from the class to carry out the activity.
To involve the rest of the class, the teacher designed another worksheet for them as
“judges”. The students had to jot down the main arguments put forward by the two sides.
Each “judge” had to note on his/her worksheet which team he/she supported at the end of the debate, with justifications. Each student also summed up the arguments he/she had heard and wrote a short essay explaining his/her views on the motion.
Teaching as co-construction
This approach involves providing opportunities for students to discuss, to act and thus to learn together in a group. It stresses active interaction among students and between students and teachers. It enables students to learn how to “think for themselves” through contributing to the work of a group. Group discussions and role-play activities usually involve the use of this approach.
Using group discussion to conduct geographical enquiry
A teacher from a secondary school in Kowloon East made use of the topic “transport problem in Hong Kong” to facilitate her students to carry out geographical enquiry through group discussion. The lesson began with the reading of newspaper clippings, photographs and information sheets collected by different groups of students. Each group then discussed the information and extracted the key ideas of the materials. The teacher then identified and defined the issue, and this was followed by a class discussion on where and how further information could be found. Based on the articles, graphs and data prepared in advance, the whole class worked out the major causes of the transport problems in Hong Kong through interactive discussion. The lesson ended with the teacher summing up the points students developed in completing the last part of the worksheet which asked them to suggest possible solutions to the problems and evaluate their suggestions. During the lesson, the teacher did not dominate the classroom
dialogue; instead she became a partner of the students in the entire enquiry process and engaged in active interaction with them.
The suggested learning and teaching strategies set out in the following paragraphs seek to cater for the various modes of learning and teaching mentioned above. They are also considered to be appropriate for achieving the major roles of geographical education at senior secondary level.
Teachers are encouraged to consider adopting them in senior secondary Geography lessons, where appropriate.
4.6.1 Learning through maps
Maps are an important tool for geographers, as they provide an effective medium for storing, displaying, analysing and communicating information about people and places. In geographical education, maps are used to help students study relationships between people, places and the environment. Students need to be able to read and use maps for presenting, describing and explaining spatial information, patterns and processes they observe. During their studies, students should be provided with ample opportunity to work with a wide variety of maps drawn for different purposes and of different scales.
The teaching of map skills should not be treated as a separate topic in Geography, but should be integrated into the learning and teaching of geographical issues and themes. Teachers should develop a planned and structured programme to familiarise their students with the following four essential properties of maps:
plan view (perspective and relief)
arrangement (location, direction and orientation)
proportion (scale, distance and selection)
map language (signs, symbols, words and numbers)
Also, in designing their map work activities, teachers should bear in mind that their tasks should enhance students’ competency in one or more of the following aspects of map reading and interpretation:
map drawing, to support description of the site and situation;
route-display, to show how to get from one place to another;
storing and displaying information, being able to isolate and sort information from a wide range of different items, and to identify patterns and relationships in selected information;
solving problems by interpreting or inferring from the information provided in maps and being able to “see” meanings behind the spatial information, patterns and processes stored in maps.
The example below from a local secondary school illustrates how the above principles and competencies of map reading and interpretation can be incorporated in map tasks. In addition to basic map skills, the example also demonstrates how map work can be an integral part of the learning and teaching of geographical concepts and knowledge.
Example: Developing Sham Chung into a golf resort
Refer to the map of Sham Chung and carry out the following:
(1) Measure the distance of the footpath from Sham Chung (209842) to Yung Shue O (214826).
(2) Calculate the time required for the villagers to walk from Sham Chung to Yung Shue O.
(Assume the speed of walking is 4 km/ hr.)
(3) Draw a cross-section from the trigonometrical station 180 (grid reference 204848) to 210836 with a vertical scale of 1 cm to 50 m.
(4) Based on your cross-section and map evidence, describe the relief of Sham Chung and its surrounding area.
(5) A local developer plans to develop Sham Chung into a resort with a golf course and villa guesthouse. Can you explain why?
(6) What will be the positive and negative impacts on Sham Chung if the resort is developed?
Do you support this development plan? Explain your answer.
4.6.2 Learning through enquiry
Enquiry learning can provide students with the capacity and motivation to become active learners, team workers, critical and creative thinkers, problem-solvers and decision makers. Through enquiry, students can acquire geographical concepts and knowledge in a challenging and authentic way. In this process, students are encouraged to ask geographical questions and to seek answers independently. The information and experience they gain enable them to look at issues or problems from different perspectives. Students are provided with opportunities to discuss and collaborate with one another in carrying out investigations and solving problems, which helps
them to become more open-minded, and to respect different views. They also learn to be more self-directed in their own learning.
Geographical enquiry starts with identifying an issue, a problem or an interesting phenomenon / pattern with a strong spatial and/or ecological perspective. Through using the five “W”s of geography – “What”, “Where”, “How”, “Why” and “What if” — to examine issues, students establish a strong geographical perspective; and key geographical concepts and knowledge are then introduced to help them understand, interpret and analyse the issue. In the enquiry process, students have opportunities to develop a wide range of skills and abilities, clarify attitudes and values, and engage in an open exchange of ideas and opinions. Figure 4.1 shows a possible route for a geographical enquiry on the issue “Disappearing Green Canopy — Who should pay for massive deforestation in rainforest regions?” as an example.
Through using a real-life context, which makes learning more meaningful, a geographical enquiry on issues and problems strengthens students’ learning of geographical concepts and knowledge. It involves them as active participants in a sequence of meaningful learning through enquiry in which there is a balance between teacher-directed work and more independent, self-directed student learning. In this process, students acquire geographical concepts and knowledge in a systematic way, and see meaning in the knowledge they have gained.
Experience in Hong Kong junior secondary Geography lessons and in overseas countries suggests that meaningful knowledge consists of more than just a body of content. The activity of knowing, in which one tries to find answers to questions, is of fundamental importance.
Learning derived from active participation in seeking answers is likely to be more easily retained and more meaningfully re-applied than knowledge acquired passively.
Figure 4.1 Route for a geographical enquiry
Clearer and Deeper Understanding
Belief and Action
What is the issue about?
Where: Equatorial / Tropical Humid Region / Less Developed Regions
Why: Population Growth / Development / Globalisation / Multi-national Corporation Demand for land / Demand for timber ...
How: Commercial Farming / Mining /Urban and Transport Development What if: Conservation versus Development
Pedagogical Focus Geographical issues/problems
Disappearing Green Canopy - Who should pay for the massive deforestation in rainforest regions?
What areas of Geography will help us to interpret?
Systematic Knowledge and Understanding
Concepts and knowledge related to
Concepts and knowledge related to
Concepts and knowledge related to
Concepts and knowledge related to
Applying geographic concepts and knowledge to interpret and analyse the issue to obtain deeper understanding
Geographic Skills Map interpretation Fieldwork enquiry
Generic Skills Critical thinking Problem solving
Previous Experience and Belief
In the learning and teaching of senior secondary Geography through geographical enquiry, teachers extend their role from being knowledge transmitters to learning facilitators. As facilitators, Geography teachers:
help students to formulate appropriate learning goals and identify the most appropriate means of achieving them;
assist students to develop positive learning habits, master learning strategies and develop metacognitive skills to steer their learning;
create a stimulating and motivating learning context so that students are intellectually curious; and
develop a supportive, tolerant and mutually accepting learning community to allow students to participate actively in learning without the fear of being criticised.
Instead of being passive receivers of knowledge, students should:
set meaningful and realistic goals for their own learning;
collaborate closely with others and treat suggestions positively in conducting enquiry or other learning tasks;
take the initiative to consult teachers, to share learning experiences with peers, and to gain feedback and insights into the ways of succeeding in further higher-order learning;
develop a positive attitude towards learning Geography by engaging actively and confidently in learning, despite the risks of making mistakes or encountering difficulties;
reflect on their learning experiences, and monitor and evaluate their own learning progress.
4.6.3 Learning in the field
Fieldwork is a distinctive attribute of geography and has a long tradition as an established component of geographical education. It provides students with opportunities to apply the knowledge/concepts learned in the classroom to the real world, and through this to acquire new knowledge/concepts. In addition to knowledge acquisition and application, different subject-specific skills (such as field sketching and land use plotting) and generic skills (like problem-solving and critical thinking) can be developed through fieldwork. In the affective domain, fieldwork stresses the development of self-awareness and awareness of the needs and skills of others in the context of working cooperatively in a new environment.
To actualise these values and purposes, fieldwork should be viewed as a mode of “learning to learn” in addition to providing an opportunity to learn about a unique place or feature. The aim of fieldwork is to gain knowledge and enhance understanding. A focus on skills does not exclude knowledge and concepts; skills cannot be learned in a vacuum. Fieldwork activities should involve students in applying a range of practical, organisational and intellectual knowledge and skills to a “real world” problem or issue. Fieldwork should not be limited to be purely “field excursions” and “guided tours”, in which the teacher dominates most of the talking and students concentrate solely on listening, observing, note-taking and photo-taking. Fieldwork should be enquiry-based as this aligns with the aims and objectives of the SS Geography curriculum. The starting point for such an approach is the identification of an issue or a problem related to the interaction of people and their environment in a specific locality. Strategies for identifying causes, processes and consequences are established by negotiation between students and teachers, leading to appropriate data collection, data analysis and presentation, and identification of possible management strategies / solutions. This approach involves the application of knowledge to real-life issues, and supports students in individual work. An example of enquiry-based fieldwork and a few student comments on this type of fieldwork can be found in Appendix 1.
Fieldwork may take the form of a large-scale, whole-day activity in a distant location. But, small-scale fieldwork conducted near the school premises should also be considered. The latter has the advantages of lower cost and risk, is easier to manage and can be completed within a short period of time. The value of fieldwork depends on whether it can help students to learn how to identify, observe, collect, apply and analyse, rather than on how long it takes or how much work the students have to complete.
4.6.4 Using information technology in learning
Information technology (IT) can be used to promote interactive learning both inside and outside classrooms. Students must be given appropriate opportunities to apply IT. With multimedia-enriched learning, abstract concepts, such as those of weather and climate, can be understood more clearly. IT links students to a vast network of knowledge and information outside their classrooms (e.g. through the Internet). Information in various websites provides updated data for discussion and research, which can greatly facilitate self-directed learning and enquiry learning.
Also, students can share ideas, discuss various geographical issues and communicate with their teachers through the school intranet system and e-mail. Learning is thus no longer confined by time and space.
Of the many IT tools available, Geographic Information System (GIS) is perhaps the most geography-related. Geography is about understanding the Earth, and GIS is a technology that helps in organising, analysing and disseminating such information. It connects geographical information to location, and layers the information to give understanding of how it all interrelates.
GIS organises geographical information to bring out spatial patterns. Some of the ideas and practises of GIS are not new; geographers have been using “GIS” for years on paper and transparent overlays. However, the recent rapid advances in information technology have turned GIS into a powerful IT tool.
At senior secondary level, GIS provides an aid to integrating maps. It allows learners to handle spatial data faster and more easily than before. Lesson time can be spent on the higher-order analysis of spatial patterns. Every student taking senior secondary Geography should know how to use this tool in studying the subject. Students who are competent in using GIS can also employ it for modelling and mapping of the world. GIS allows users to model scenarios, add in variables and conditions, and test hypotheses. It can help to answer the “What if” questions in geographical enquiry.
Virtual fieldwork is another use of IT in studying geography. By capturing the field environment on video, digitising relevant materials and uploading them onto a website, virtual fieldtrips allow student to experience the field environment, observe and identify geographical features, phenomena and patterns, and collect and interpret data — all in front of a computer screen. Virtual fieldtrips save time and cost compared with real fieldwork, as well as avoiding the demanding processes of risk assessment and care of students in potentially hazardous settings. They also permit the possibility of experiencing a wider range of field environments, including those distant and remote places that are inaccessible to students.
Nonetheless, while some of the investigative phases of fieldwork can be accomplished through
“virtual” strategies, the sensory and emotional experience of whole landscapes and real people can never be replaced by any electronic simulation or representation. Virtual fieldwork takes place in an environment detached from the elements of the natural world, in a setting which is physically passive and often socially isolating. In view of this, virtual fieldwork should only be treated as a substitute when it is not possible to organise real fieldwork.
4.6.5 Concluding remarks
It is essential to reiterate that there is no single approach or strategy that can fit all learning purposes and all students. A wide repertoire of pedagogical approaches and strategies should be employed to suit different situations and different students. However, teachers need to understand clearly the rationale behind their choice of a particular approach or strategy and consider carefully whether there is a better alternative.
Traditional pedagogical strategies like “talk-and-chalk” and “mass lecture” can be effective for certain areas of learning. The key question in choosing a learning and teaching approach and strategy will always be: “Does this approach/strategy best fit my students and are there any better alternatives?”