What do you get when you put a bunch of highly skeptical school children, some of their parents, a medical doctor, the doctor’s parents, and a fanatical geographer?

Geographical learning that is fun and relevant!

That is exactly what happened.

The school children, the parents, teacher, and the presenter all learned some new things, some new approaches, and had a lot of fun in the bargain.

As for the doctor, he gave us medical insights that we needed. He also let us use the very special space he has set up, and his parents joined in to make us all feel very welcome.

This confluence of people was part of two days of TIIGS geography workshops conducted in Bengaluru on 13 and 14 December 2014, in partnership with AarogyaSeva.

We had a very interesting, curious, intelligent, and vivacious group of children. Some were slightly shy … new place, new people. Several were skeptical about … a geography workshop?? Oh, no … they will show some boring slides and may be some films and we will have to take notes … this all sounds very boring. But their care-givers and other mentors persuaded them to give it a try.

The adventurous, though skeptical, children gave it a go. We all ended up having such enormous amounts of fun and sharing so much knowledge.

Now you ask them what are the four important core questions that geography asks, and they will tell you … in increasing order of complexity! Ask them to give you examples for these, they will probably give you an example.

The group of six cousins came for the first day full of doubts about what boring stuff they would be in for. They had struck a bargain with their mother and aunt – if we like the first day, then we will go the second day also. Some of them were from Mysuru. In Bengaluru specifically for the workshops.

On Day 2, the Six Cousins did not just arrive … they barreled into SevaHouse, cheering and shouting, “HI! UNCLE!!”

One of their teachers came all the way from Mysuru by train (a little over 3-hour journey), another 30-minute bus ride to the venue, to attend a workshop that lasted 3 hours. He was so intense with his work. He reported to have started implementing some of the geography learnings from a previous workshop in his own teaching already.

We had four workshops:

Day 1, morning session: “Where on Earth? Latitudes and longitudes” – exploring the idea of a grid on a flat sheet of paper using the problem of locating five wells and communicating that information on that sheet. Then, we explored how that same grid idea works on a 3-dimensional globe structure. A LOT of fun followed with the participants looking at photographs of the “imaginary” lines.

Day 1, afternoon session: “The geographies of Ebola” – exploring the connections among geography and the various aspects of this deadly disease. We looked at how place matters and the many geographical concepts that are playing out in this phenomenon.

Day 2, morning session: “Mapping our neighborhood” – making a “sketch” map of the neighborhood, showing land use types, the layout of the area, using several concepts in the idea of a map, and learning about the nature of geographic perceptions and how they are expressed on a map.

Day 2, afternoon session: “The geographies of Edward Snowden” – looking at the story of the whistleblower and the geographies that his actions have set in motion. We discussed issues of national and international political and legal geographies, physical geography, power play among nations, size of aircraft, and many others … and how geography connects and directs all these.

As in the previous week’s workshops in Chennai, some parents participated along with their kids. This is a powerful experience as much for the presenter as for the participants – parents and children learning together is a very important process. Parents also reported that after the first day’s attendance, they had a lot of conversation at home about the topic of geography and the connections. This is one of the best ways for collaborative learning for all concerned and a great way of parent-child bonding.

The parents also want to organize geography field trips that take this kind of approach to geography to the field. So, we have decided to organize a trip along the river Kaveri for home-schooling children in the near future.

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Some scenes from the Bengaluru workshops of 13 and 14 December 2014 (still images; slide show)

Feedback from participants (unedited footage in a YouTube playlist).

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