Four Things Your High-Schooler Should Learn in Geography ...Beyond How to Label a Map

I have a horrible sense of direction. I’ll just admit it. And, you would think that with the GPS on my phone, I’d be okay. But, sometimes, ya’ll, she just tries to lead me wrong. I’m sure of it. When we end up disagreeing, I somehow get lost, and then the kids blame me for not following the GPS. She’s just trying to sabotage me.

Four things that high school students should learn about geography

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My lack of understanding directions extends to the big picture of navigation as well. Too many times I’ll read a news report and have to scramble for a map to place the country being talked about. (Is that in Europe or Asia? Ohh. Neither one. It’s actually an African country. ) Sadly, I’m not kidding (too much). But, as I posted about at the beginning of our school year, my oldest daughter is taking geography this year.

Kathryne is using North Star Geography from Bright Ideas Press this year. When she first asked to take geography and I looked at this curriculum, my thinking was that at least she would learn to label a map and be aware of where countries in the news are located. That was her main reason for wanting some kind of geography class because it’s something she felt that she has lacked in her history curriculum.

But after we started looking at the curriculum- a book and a companion CD with all kinds of printable resources- we realized that this was waaay more than just labeling a map, folks. With this curriculum, she’s learning so much more. She’s really appreciating the depth of the course and finding out that there are things to learn in geography besides just labeling a map.

It’s important to learn the names of countries all over the world- even smaller, less well-known countries.

Have you ever been listening to the news and heard the name of a country and had no idea where it was. You know, if it’s an North American country, I’ll probably be able to figure it out. And, if it’s a country that’s frequently in the news, I probably have at least a general idea of where it is. But if I hear the name of a lesser known country, I’m lost when I try to look it up on a map. I don’t even know where to start.

With each of the North Star Geography lessons, Kathryne has a memorization list. The lists contains names of countries in each continent. By the time she completes the course, she’ll have memorized the names and locations of over two hundred countries around the world- not to mention bodies of water and other topographical features. Knowing these will help her to be able to place that obscure country that comes up in a news report.

It’s important to learn notable historical events or current facts about countries throughout the world.

I have had the opportunity to get to know many people from all over the world through contacts with family members, friends of ours, and missionary families, and it’s always surprised me how Americans seem much less knowledgeable about other countries in the world than people from other countries.

I definitely fit this description. Whether it was a lack of history/social studies in high school or whether all Americans just tend to be more ethnocentric than citizens of other countries, the fact is that I’ve been sadly lacking in much knowledge of the notable events or political situations in other countries.

One thing I noticed right away about the North Star Geography curriculum is that Kathryne is not just learning where these countries are located, she’s learning about the countries- facts, political events, historical moments. With each chapter in the book, she’s answering research questions. These are questions she has to look up answers to by doing external research. In these questions, she’s learning factual information about countries in each continent. This is giving her the opportunity to look beyond American history and culture to know and understand people groups all over the world.

It’s important to learn more about the structure of the earth- its topography, atmosphere, landforms.

I have another confession. (It seems as if this post is becoming more and more about what I don’t know. Hmmm.) I didn’t learn loads of science in school either. It was my least favorite subject- tied with math- and a subject in which we had rotating teachers in the small private school I attended. In some years, we had good teachers and actually learned science, but, overall, I feel as if I only ever knew enough to get by in high school and college.

But a basic understanding of earth science and learning about the structure of the earth is important. And a knowledge of the earth’s structure ties in with learning about geography because knowing the landforms and climate of a location is often key to understanding more about the culture and history of the location. Knowing that northern Russia is full of ice and freezing cold weather in the tundra can really help to explain why the Nazi invasion of Russia during World War 2 failed. An understanding of climate and topography helps to tie everything together.

In North Star Geography, Kathryne is learning some basic- and sometimes beyond basic- earth science. She’s going to cover  information like the structure of the earth, topographical features of the earth, and information about the earth’s land, water, and atmosphere. Each week she has a hands-on activities that will involve making a lava lamp, creating a topographical map with salt dough, distilling salt water, building a storm surge box, and many other great projects. Through these she’ll have a better understanding of how the structure of the earth influences the people groups who live on it.

It’s important to learn navigation and map reading skills.

You know why I sometimes argue with my GPS? No, it’s not because I’m crazy. It’s because I don’t have a very good basic sense of direction. These conversations happen in our house occasionally:

Me:“But I didn’t want to turn where she said. I knew that I could turn into the next neighborhood and go that way, but I wasn’t sure where that road would come out. You know, the one near the McDonalds? And so I went her way, but it turned out to be lots longer because of that awful red light. You know the one at Earth Fare? If I could have just gone my way but had her tell me where the road would come out, it would have been okay!”
Jason:” Um, you know if you just start driving that way, the GPS will recalculate.”
Me:“But what if I start to go that way, and she just keeps telling me to turn around.”
Jason:“Just continue to drive in the direction you want to go, and eventually the GPS will recalculate and give you the precise directions.”
Me:“That’s the problem. I’m not sure of the direction I want to go!”

It would help if I had some basic understanding of direction. And let’s not even talk about navigation skills, because if my GPS ever dies, I might as well just crawl in a hole somewhere and pray I’m found because I can’t even begin to read one of those paper things that you unfold that supposedly tell you where to go. You know…a map.

The North Star Geography curriculum has chapters devoted to maps and navigation. Some of the activities for those chapters include going orienteering- which basically involves finding a designated spot using only a compass and no GPS-making a to-scale map from scratch, and going geocaching or letterboxing. (I can do some mean geocaching IF I have a good GPS, and I don’t argue with it.)

I’m thinking that if I had had the opportunity to learn more about some of these things in high school, I might not have quite the navigation problems I have now. Let’s just go with that idea, anyway.

I’ve often said that one of the most interesting parts of homeschooling for me has been learning how much I don’t know. Looking through the North Star Geography course and helping to prepare it for Kathryne has really brought to light how much I haven’t learned when it comes to geography. I’m glad she’s having the opportunity to learn it. (And I’m still thinking that I’ll use the curriculum myself one of these days…in all my free time.)

What high school students should be learning in geography

If you want to know more about the North Star Geography or purchase the course as a hardback book and CD companion, an audiobook, or an online course, you can find it on the Bright Ideas Press site.

More about North Star Geography…

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