Geography is such a fantastic subject – there’s always something that appeals to everyone. If it were up to me, classroom curriculums would revolve around geography. In fact, as a preschool program teacher, I did just that. Each month, we focused our activities and learning around one of the continents of the world. Children enjoyed smelling Asian spices, exploring objects from around the world, counting African animals, singing about penguins, making dream catchers and much more. It was a great way to learn concepts in all subject areas. Along the way, students did mini-projects related to each continent. As you can see, this versatile subject is the perfect choice as the topic for Project Based Learning and self-directed learning for any age or grade. How can you do it?
Pick the Skills
As with any PBL project, you’ll need to decide what skills you’re hoping to work on with the students in order to focus your work. Choose the skills and practice them with the class using shorter activities and small projects. With geography projects, some great skills to work on are:
Finding information and picking out the important parts is a useful skill to develop throughout schooling. Even preschoolers can start understanding the concept by looking at picture maps showing animal habitats on a given continent or books with lots of photos. Older students can be asked to find specific information – for example the language spoken in a country or the five highest mountains in the world.
Information can be shared and displayed in so many ways, knowing how to do so in a way that’s easily understood by others is a great skill. From maps with legends to reports, models or posters – many formats can be used to practice organizing and communicating information.
Mapping Skills and Spatial Orientation
In geography, maps are used frequently. Students can practice their spatial orientation by plotting routes, drawing maps of areas they know well, using a map to find a location, show animal populations or economic activity, show landmarks and much more.
Cultural Awareness and Appreciation
Apart from fascinating, students who have a broader understanding of the world will be more accepting of others. This teaches not just tolerance, but embracing other cultures.
Present the Project Assignment
When presenting the project assignment, one way to go about it is to suggest a number of projects and have students pick from them. That way you’re sure to strike everyone’s interest and give them an idea to go with. In the interest of self-directed learning, let your students know that if they have ideas for other projects, they should let you know. You can then discuss what the project might involve to ensure that it’s going to fulfill the requirements and skills you’re hoping to address. It’s also a good idea to use a rubric so students will know how the project will be assessed. You can include factors such as organization, neatness, length of text requirements, image requirements, etc. Also remember to lay out the timeframe with your students and put checkpoints along the way to see how students are progressing.
With the above skills in mind, here are a few project ideas that can be modified or tweaked for just about any grade:
Make a Model
This is a versatile project and can be used for physical or cultural geography. Students can make models of anything from a lake or island to a city, map, landmark, or house type. Dioramas also fall within this category. Along with the model, it’s useful to have students do a short write-up about their model to explain what their model is of and anything interesting they’d like to share about it.
A report for a young child could be a country study including the flag, language spoken and an interesting picture from the country. For older children doing a country study, more information may be required, such as economic activities, money type, map, flag, languages, and some of the country’s history. Of course reports can also cover many other topics including landforms, natural disasters (a favorite among many students I’ve found!), animal migrations, etc.
This project is loads of fun to present to other students and parents. It’s also best when done in groups, otherwise the project is too big! For this project, each group picks a region or country in the world and creates a booth to represent it. Each booth should include scenery, students in costume and a food to share. Students must also come up with some sort of performance. It could be a dance, song, poem or short play that explores the area of the world in question. Parents and other students are invited to school to see the performances and visit the booths where they can speak with the “locals” and try the foods.
Plan a Trip
A great project for mapping, organization and planning, having students plan a trip is a great project topic. Have students plan every last detail, from what they’ll need to take with them, to prices and plotting routes on the map. The end location can be as near as the local library or as far as Antarctica. When planning trips abroad, have students consider how they’ll get to the hotel from the airport, what route they’ll take, etc. They can plan sight-seeing as well. Then, instead of taking the trip, they can investigate the sights and make a trip album with pictures they “took”.
Geography is a great way to enjoy learning about the world and acquire important skills along the way!
Inspired? Let us know what geography focused PBL project you’ll be working on next with your students.