Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Virtual Geography Convention 2014: Rethinking Mapping for Geography Teacher Education

Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2014!  If you wish to submit to the virtual geography convention please contact catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com.

Stacey Kerr of the University of Georgia is presenting at the AAG her topic of Rethinking Mapping for Geography Teacher Education.  The slides below have the text on her website and it is posted below as well.


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Presentation Outline

  1. 1. RETHINKING MAPPING

    FOR GEOGRAPHY TEACHER EDUCATION  

    The implementation of an effective geography education is dependent upon teachers who can successfully present and engage students with curricular content. Due to a lack of formal geography teacher education programs, most geography teachers are prepared in social studies education programs that rarely delve into geography’s complexity. Thus, many preservice geography teachers are often unprepared to teach a robust and thoughtful P-12 geography curriculum (Schell, Roth, & Mohan, 2013 p. 91). While eventually it may be important to drastically overhaul the preparation process of geography teachers, there are ways that teacher educators can act now in their existing classes to improve the readiness of preservice teachers to effectively teach geography. In light of this thought, this paper explores my own experience with unsuccessful geography modules in a teacher education program, and how the implementation of a reconceptualized hands-on mapping assignment provided unique opportunities for preservice teachers to interact more thoughtfully with geography content.
    Photo by J. Stephen Conn
  2. 2. RETHINKING MAPPING

    1. Context
    2. Theoretical Framework 
    3. Practice
    4. Implications 
    5. Final Words 
    Specifically, this presentation investigates: the context of the study; its theoretical underpinning; the specifics of the mapping assignment; and finally, the implications of thinking with this theoretical framework for geography teacher education and beyond.
  3. 3. (GEOGRAPHY) TEACHER EDUCATION

    CONTEXT

    Geography teachers in the United States are rarely prepared through formal geography teacher education programs. In most cases, they major in social studies education since there are very few geography teacher preparation programs in the country. In the social studies education major at many institutions, students take general education classes, courses in pedagogy, methods, and curriculum, and participate in field experiences and student teaching. During this course of study, it is usually only in the methods and curriculum classes that students have the opportunity to learn about how to teach geography (while simultaneously learning how to teach all of the other social studies disciplines). Therefore, in many cases, future geography teachers only have one to two class sessions containing explicit instruction on geography content and pedagogy. This preparation is often inadequate for a preservice teacher to become a successful geography teacher (Bednarz, Heffron, & Huynh, 2013; Schell, Roth, & Mohan, 2013). While systemic adjustments to geography teacher preparation practices might result in better geography teachers in the future, I have an interest in creating interventions within our existing educational structure. In my current position as a teacher educator in a social studies education program, I aim to make the most of the one or two class sessions in which we exclusively focus on geography pedagogy and content. The first few times that I worked with preservice teachers about geography in a curriculum course, I based most of the classroom activities around a discussion. I asked students what their previous experiences were with geography and their responses were what you might expect: they colored in maps, memorized state capitals, and looked at outdated world maps that hung from their classroom walls. In light of their experiences, many people in the class were skeptical of my own teaching when our readings and class discussions were based around the political and controversial nature of maps and the field of geography. The preservice teachers’ false preconceptions about geography were worrisome but not surprising. Research on geography education often cites that many P-12 classrooms have a focus on map work and seldom allow students to engage in critical thought or delve into the why of where (for examples of research, see: Brophy & Alleman, 2007; McCall, 2011; Sharma & Elbow, 2000). Thus, what I was asking students to do during this geography module was likely outside the realm of how they had previously thought about and interacted with geography content.
    Photo by Jill
  4. 4. ME@UGA

    CONTEXT

    After several of these minimally successfully geography modules, I decided that I needed to adjust my method of intervention. Instead of reading and discussing the controversial nature of maps and geography, I wanted the preservice teachers to experience it. I visualized an assignment where teachers would get outside of the classroom and “do geography.” Although few of the preservice teachers I generally work with have had a geography course past high school, I am of the belief that everyone is a geographer because they are engaged geographic thinking all the time; it is just that students with limited experience in academic geography do not have the language to discuss topics from the field in complex ways. Thus, I created an accessible assignment that used the preservice teachers’ already existing skills to create powerful maps.
  5. 5. WHAT IS "MAPPING?"

    THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

    In the activity that I will discuss in the next section of the paper, I see mapping as not only the plotting of points, but also the process of reading, taking photographs, moving through a space, interrogating and inquiring about point clusters on a physical map, discussing ideas with classmates, and forming new and different understandings. This idea is informed through my reading of poststructural and new materialist theory. In the first chapter of their most famous book, A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1980/1987) urge readers to make a map (p. 12). Yet, how they write about maps and mapping is not the same as the traditional sense.
  6. 6. DELEUZE & GUATTARI'S "MAP"

    THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

    A map, for Deleuze and Guattari, is not a stable, fixed representation of place, but is productive, performative, in flux, and has multiple entryways. Deleuzoguattarian maps do not aim to represent anything, but instead function as a way to think differently about something. A map can be placed in opposition to what Deleuze and Guattari (1987) call a tracing, or something like a traditional map, which aims to organize, stabilize, and neutralize. Tracings always “come back to the same” (p. 13) whereas maps are “oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” and is “open and connectible in all of its dimensions” (p. 12). When conceiving of a Deleuzoguattarian map, one considers the discursive, material, and social relations and formations to create “possible realities” (p. 12). Yet, tracings, fixed and stable representations, are always put back on the map to reveal “the dominant discursive and material forces at play” as well as those “forces that have been elided, marginalized or ignored altogether and forces that might have the power to transform or reconfigure reality in various ways” (Martin & Kamberelis, 2013, p. 671). In this sense, Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about mapping do not get rid of maps as we know them. Instead, these maps become part of a more inclusive and larger mapping project. This reconceptualization of mapping stems from Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking about ontology. Most people understand ontology as the nature of being, but these philosophers think about it in terms of becoming. Mapping, then, is as an active process that charts becoming(s) and not just the current state or something or somewhere. It aims to explore new realms and possibilities. It helps break down binaries and explores how things are not this or that, but can be this and that and many other things all at once. Mapping acknowledges the many entities, processes, and discourses that go into any single second, space, feeling, or thought.
    Photo by John Spooner
  7. 7. DELEUZE & GUATTARI'S "MAP"

    THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

    Perhaps the easiest way to imagine this is to visualize a computer screen. When you look at a computer screen, it appears to be stable. Yet, we know that this stability is created by thousands of electrical currents going through tiny LCD cells every millisecond to produce an image. These currents are always moving, but they move so fast that the image on the screen appears to be standing still. This is essentially indicative of Deleuze and Guattari’s idea related to ontology and mapping: everything is always in flux and always changing. Mapping accounts for these changes, versus tracing, which is fixed on the static representation of places and things.
    Photo by zen
  8. 8. "MAPPING" IN CLASS

    PRACTICE

    When creating this assignment, I not only wanted to experiment with Deleuze and Guattari’s reconceptualized notion of mapping in practice, I also wanted preservice teachers to do geography, and engage with geography content that would be relevant to their daily lives. I learned through various discussions that most of the preservice teachers in this class had a limited understanding of the social, political, racial, and economic structure of the city. Therefore, the goal for this assignment was threefold. Students would learn something about their local neighborhoods and the related geography content, do geography, and see a teaching practice that they could initiate in their future classrooms. I separated the assignment into three phases that would be conducted before and during our formal geography module. The phases were: reading and context building, exploring and photographing, and, analysis and inquiry.
    Photo by thejaymo
  9. 9. READING & CONTEXT BUILDING

    PRACTICE

    The first part of the assignment involved several short readings. The preservice teachers read chapters from Jeff Speck's (2012) book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, which introduced students to the idea of new urbanism while also discussing how mobility within a city (transportation, walkability, bikability) impacts the way that people exist in and experience a place. This text served as an accessible baseline introduction to new and complex geographic concepts for the students.
    Photo by A Walker in LA
  10. 10. EXPLORING & PHOTOGRAPHING

    PRACTICE

    Next, preservice teachers went out into the surrounding neighborhoods of our university to find concepts from Walkable City in real life. For example, if they were particularly interested in the idea of bikability in the reading, they might go to a certain area in town that had a bike lane on the road. Then, once they found a representation of that concept in real life, they took a photograph of the concept using Instagram, which not only takes pictures, but also collects geotags (data about the picture’s geographic coordinates). After they had taken the photographs, students included a specific hashtag in their caption of the photograph so that we could collect all the photos together in one collection. Since all of the photographs were geotagged and hashtagged with a specific caption, we were able to easily create a map of where everyone in the class took pictures using the website, Gramfeed. Once the students had explored the town, found concepts as they saw them in real life, took pictures, hashtagged and uploaded them, we had a rich data set and interesting maps that displayed where the preservice teachers saw the concepts from their reading in real life. The data set was not only rich because of the point data that the geotags generated, but also because of the collection of aesthetic images that represented concepts in space, as well as the students' narration of these concepts in place.
  11. 11. ANALYSIS & INQUIRY

    PRACTICE

    Through the first two phases of the assignment, students became geographers by creating this data-rich map without any formal instruction in GIS or dense theoretical topics. The students created the map by interacting with space and technology in familiar ways. When they returned to the classroom for the analysis and inquiry phase, they had another opportunity to think geographically. As a group, we worked together to review the map, the aesthetic images, and other points of discussion that individual students brought forth.
  12. 12. ANALYSIS & INQUIRY

    PRACTICE

    A surprising and unintended result occurred during our group review of the maps: students performed crude cluster analyses. They made connections between the clustering of points (and their connected photography), the concept that they represented, and the space in which those photographs were taken.
  13. 13. ANALYSIS & INQUIRY

    PRACTICE

    For example, students noted that many of the images that represented walkable places were clustered in white, affluent neighborhoods. Conversely, they noticed that the dangerous areas for walking and biking were often in neighborhoods that were largely African American and poor. When students made these comments, we were then able to have in-depth conversations about race, income, and space, which are certainly important to geography but also other social studies disciplines.
  14. 14. POST-ACTIVITY THOUGHTS

    PRACTICE 

    Mapping in this activity was not just the physical plotting of points. Mapping was the reading, movement throughout space, finding a concept in real life, creating an aesthetic object through photography, geotagging the photograph, reviewing the physical map, and engaging in the conversation that was prompted by the map, photographs, and narrations. Through this mapping activity, preservice teachers had the opportunity to experiment with and disrupt the apparent continuity and stability presented in traditional maps through the making of their own. They reconfigured, dispersed, and threaded the reading assignment, their photographs, the GIS map, and their narratives of all aspects together to create a map that focused on change (in perceptions and thinking) instead of stability. When these various texts (photos, narratives, maps) were presented in relation to each other and mapped out spatially and discursively, it helped them think in new ways about the town in which they live. Not only were new understandings achieved, preservice teachers had a platform to discuss their confusions which heightened the complexity of the work, thinking, and experience in which they were involved. Ultimately, this reconsideration of mapping in this assignment allowed us to explore “potential organizations of reality” in students’ daily lives and understanding of geography “rather than reproducing some prior organization of it” (Martin & Kamberelis, 2012, p. 671). It opened up a situation in which there is not just one route or destination, but several. It allowed for new modes of thinking and connections that may not have been possible using another assignment. Perhaps the biggest impact of the mapping was that some of the preservice teachers remarked that they would not have thought prior to this assignment that the daily activities they engaged in were relevant to geography. Some talked about being more interested in the subject area and even admitted that they saw geography in a different light after participating in an activity like this. As such, I see this type of activity, based on experience and already existent student ability, as a more compelling model for teaching geography to preservice teachers, especially within the current structure. When you have such a short time to discuss geography, it requires that you make a large impact and quickly. It is important to note that while this activity took place in a teacher education course, it would easily be extracted to other contexts in which instructors wish for their students to engage differently with geography content and do not feel like they have the amount of time to do the field of study justice.
  15. 15. NO MANUAL - JUST A TOOLKIT

    IMPLICATIONS

    Mapping in the Deleuzoguattarian sense is not only compelling for geography teacher education, but also for geography education at large. This type of activity opens up conversations about other ways that geography can be explored by thinking about the flux and change of places and spaces. Deleuze and Guattari give rise to this type of thinking and validate our questioning of norms and the apparently static and the stable. What is frustrating about poststructuralism and new materialism but potentially empowering is that thinkers from these theoretical frameworks do not tell the reader what to do. Instead, they provide the tools to experiment, produce, and interrogate new ideas. While many of these theories come across as dense and difficult, there are so many opportunities and ways to see new possibilities with these ideas in mind. This is similar to how some of the best teachers teach. They present tools to students instead of telling students exactly what to think, how to do something, or what to remember. These teachers give students a toolkit to make sense of the world, not a list of instructions. The want for explicit instructions challenges us daily in teacher education. Preservice teachers are often frustrated because they want teacher educators to give them specific pedagogical methods. They want to know what sorts of lessons and resources they can use in a classroom that will make them feel successful and promote learning amongst their students. While this is certainly a component of teacher education, a total emphasis on this is not practical in the long run. We want to empower students with the confidence to think for themselves so that when they are met with new and challenging situations in their classrooms, they can use critical thinking to deal with the problem, instead of reaching for a pre-fabricated method.
    Photo by JackBet
  16. 16. FINAL WORDS

    Although this paper features just one class assignment, the reconceptualization of mapping has relevance to a whole host of contexts related to geography education. While a teacher educator could go out and recreate this activity with other preservice teachers, this is not my intention. I instead wish to show how we can go about teaching geography in untraditional ways that students are already familiar with to come to new and complex understandings of space and place. Making things relevant to students is important and impactful on their daily lives and their future roles as teachers. If we can work with preservice teachers to do away with some of their false preconceptions of the field of geography, we might have the opportunity to have more thoughtful geography instruction at the P-12 level.

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