Monday, July 9, 2007

The Five Themes of Geography

In 1984, the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers jointly formulated the statement on the five themes of geography. The creation of the five themes of geography has since be supplanted by the National Geography Standards, but still provides an excellent base to facilitate and organize the teaching of geography in grades K-12.


The first of the five themes of geography is that of location. Location is the study of where the feature sits either relatively or absolutely. Absolute location can be described in a number of ways. It may be a listing of latitude and longitude or GPS system coordinates. Street address are also an absolute location, as is a township and range. The first of the five themes of geography can also be relational. The place is described by where it is in relation to something else. An example is the statement that "Seattle, Washington is north of Portland, Oregon."


The second element of the five themes of geography is that of place. This portion of the five themes of geography describes places in terms of both the humans and the physical characteristics of the site. The human side of the equation includes the effects which humans have had on the land and surroundings. This might be cultural, architectural, occupational and recreational use of the land and even transportation systems. The physical aspect of the five themes of geography describes mountain, lakes, rivers and deserts as well and the plant and animal life which occupies the space.


This category of the five themes of geography describes how humans both modify and adapt to their environment. Humans have reshaped the land, changed the flow of rivers, dug the Panama Canal. All these are examples of the human-environment interaction portion of the five themes of geography.


This theme of the five themes of geography studies the movement of humans across the face of the earth. It can include ideas, resources, communications as well as fads and durable goods. The entire picture and history of human emigration and movement across the surface of the planet forms the basis for the fourth of the five themes of geography.


Finally, the fifth of the five themes of geography describes a place in terms of its position on the surface of the earth. Regions can be formal, such as cities, counties, states or countries. The boundaries are wide known and generally understood. Regions can be functional, such as describing the coverage area for cell phone service. The third type of region does not have precise boundaries, but is generally understood from a mental map we have learned over the years. . An example is the Pacific Coast, or the Midwest.

These five themes of geography are useful as a framework for teachers involved in the study of the subject of geography. Different age and grade levels can absorb different levels of these themes at any one time. Typically the younger age groups will begin with themes one and will master the states of the United States, or the State Capital of their home state.

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