I am a seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher at John S. Martinez Magnet school in New Haven. My student population consists of 13 to 14 year old children of Latino and African-American descent. The background knowledge of the majority of my students is severely limited. This creates an environment in which every objective to be taught must be accompanied by preliminary lessons to facilitate student comprehension and allow scaffolding to the larger world as a whole.
One of the central concepts of World Geography is the application of the Five Themes of Geography (location, place, region, movement and human-environment interaction) and their impact on societies. Location answers the question of where something or someone is. There are two types of locations, absolute and relative. Absolute location uses latitude and longitude lines to identify or pinpoint the exact location of something or someone. A relative location is described by a particular place, landmark, time, direction or distance from one place in relation to another. Instead of giving the latitude and longitude of Hartford, Connecticut, one can say it is a half hour north of New Haven, Connecticut.
Place answers the question of what a place is like. It describes certain features or characteristics that an area has. These features can be either man or nature made. Rivers, climate, human population, mountain ranges, and proximity to oceans are all descriptions of place via nature. The Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China are two examples of manmade features.
Region answers the question what makes an area like another one. Region can broadly be defined on the similarities derived from commonalities of a particular area. Examples of region vary and can be defined by a geographic landmass such a mountain range. It can also be something intangible, representing an aspect of culture such as language or religion. An example of a region defined through language would be Latin America where Spanish binds the area together through a common history of events and expression of words. Region can also be defined through religion such as Islam in Southwestern Asia and Northern Africa or Christianity in North and South America.
Movement describes how people, goods and ideas get from one area to another. Examples of movement would be the settlement of Europeans in the Americas. Movement also can be used to illustrate how trades goods such as bananas or clothes can come from one area of the world and be brought to another. Movement can also show how ideas like religion or technology such as gun powder can travel from one culture to another.
Human-environment interaction describes the relationship that people have with the world. It explains how people are shaped by their environment and how people also shape their environment. These interactions could be a singular event or a series of smaller events which effect a more dramatic change over time. An example of how environment affects human society is the Inuit people of Alaska living in shelters made of ice or people living near forested areas living in shelters built out of wood. Examples of how people affect their environment are pollution and logging both of which would have a potentially negative impact on the larger world.
Attempting to teach these concepts in an abstract setting without direct student involvement has proven to have minimal effect on student comprehension. Earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes will facilitate a more concrete setting where major themes of geography can be explored through student initiative, rather than solely in a teacher driven lecture format. Many students with similar backgrounds share a lack of background knowledge which can hamper their desire to put the "pieces together," therefore it is important to have an approach that can pull the students in. People seem to be fascinated by the havoc, death and destruction brought by natural disasters. It would be through this venue that student interest could be peaked, therefore allowing for individual research on specific instances throughout history.