There are many new approaches in the new Australian Geography curriculum (Version 5.0; May 2013), and I am thrilled to be teaching it all. Here, though, I will talk about the emphasis on place knowledge and particularly world place knowledge. The fact that by the end of the primary years of schooling students are expected to have a basic knowledge of all continents of the world and their location on a map is a good thing, and long overdue. I have published elsewhere1 my concerns about young Australian children being ignorant of world geography, while at the same time being attuned to global issues, particularly frightening world events (bombings, wars, tsunamis, earthquakes). One young student struck a chord with me when, in response to my question as to where the Bali bombings took place, she replied, ‘near Tommy’s place’. She knew about the catastrophic events, but because she lacked a perception of just how large the world is she thought that the bombings must have occurred in her neighbourhood somewhere. How terrifying that must have been for her!
I am excited about how much scope and imperative there is to explore the wider world in the new Geography curriculum. Starting in Year 2, teachers are encouraged to use students’ already acquired connections to other places, then build on this by introducing new places through varied, interesting activities. Building on students’ pre knowledge makes so much sense, as it motivates and engages them. One website I have used recently is Australia Post’s. The stamps, which often feature exotic Australian locales, provide a beginning point to examine places, and associated themes, in Australia and overseas: students can locate them on large wall or floor maps. Arts activities can also be developed to tie in with this. By the way, do you know you can print off large maps from the National Geographic website for free? Also from National Geographic, check out the educators’ ideas pages that include ideas to make your classroom geography-rich across the curriculum.
Our Australian children do tend to know more of the world many thousands of miles away than they do of our closer neighbours, but resources for teaching about the Pacific and some of our less well known neighbours are starting to emerge. Start with this Global Education’s resources, which will help you as a teacher, and also look at the World Vision resources for classroom teaching ideas.
Lastly, an idea to link primary Geography with primary History. After its very popular 2013 exhibition of rare maps of Australia, the National Library of Australia produced a great reference book of old historical maps of Australia. You can purchase the book (named Mapping our World: Terra Incognita after the exhibition), but the Library also sells packets of postcard sized historical maps. These are ideal for stimulating discussion about how others may have viewed our world in the past and what these countries look like now on our various world maps. Great fun for map buffs and good for teachers and students!
Ruth Reynolds is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle with over twenty years’ teaching experience in primary classrooms and author of Teaching Humanities and Social Sciences in the Primary School.
1 Reynolds, R. (2004). Children’s attitudes to the world. The Social Educator, 22(3), 52–62; Reynolds, R. (2005). What do our children think of the world? Ethos, 13(4), 6–14.