We are attempting to study geography and current events together this year. The plan I have devised is based upon the book Why Greenland Is An Island, Australia Is Not-And Japan Is Up for Grabs: A Simple Primer For Becoming A Geographical Know-It-All by Joyce Davis. I really love the idea behind this book though I am struggling to implement its ideas practically. My simple summary of the book would be that it provides steps for looking at news stories and using an atlas or other geographical tools to gather more information thereby allowing one to gain a deeper understanding of world events. I went through for myself and wrote down the basic steps. They are:
- Identify the geographical issue
- Study maps
- Compare with more detailed maps
- Look at large area maps
- Combine geography and other facts
- Picture the scene you have been studying
While I love this idea, I am wishing that the book had more examples, more detailed examples, and more contemporary examples of how all this plays out. The first example given is of the break up of the Soviet Union. Davis gives a brief blow by blow account of the events, sends us to look at more detailed maps, and then gives her own conclusions. But I am left wondering how exactly the geography played into it all. She supplies in her conclusions information we could not have gathered on our own from simply studying maps which makes it all a bug useless in terms of teaching how this process it to be carried out. We did to start off out studies begin with her Soviet Union example, however. It was somewhat useful. I did not feel like we achieved any ground breaking insights, but we could see, for example, how the mountain range on Russia’s southern border separates it from the countries below. We also talked about why Finland, alone of all the nations surrounding Russia, was never absorbed. I don’t know if our conclusions are historically accurate, but they made sense to me. And, because every good post needs a picture, my older daughter doodled this cute image of the Baltic states while we talked:
For our second endeavor, I picked a news story that seemed liked it would be relatively easy to understand and have a natural connection with geography: the plight of refugees in Slovenia.** These refugees have come from the Middle East and are hoping to get to Germany and have been pushed off into Slovenia by neighboring Hungary. We read the story, looked at our atlas, and then talked about where the refugees came from, what their easiest means of travel would be (sea travel across the Mediterranean), why they would choose the Slovenia area, and the like. I think it was a somewhat fruitful conversation. I would like to gain the ability to delve deeper and deeper into such stories and to get more out of our studies but it felt like not a bad beginning. My goal is to do such studies once or twice a month. I will try to post here about how they are going.
**Side note (well, footnote, really, I suppose): My source for this news blurb and a magazine I really love is The Week. If you are not familiar with it, is is a news summary magazine. Issued weekly, it purports to be “all you need to know about everything that matters.” If you are like me and can’t always keep up with everything in detail, it is a great way to make sure you are not completely out of the loop, current events-wise. Plus I think it will prvide great fodder for these sorts of studies.