Geography research is fun!
Project work. Chart paper. Wikipedia, copy, paste, get marks. Topic something mundanely boring, usually not related to where you live. This is very common.
Instead, try something different. And get recognized and encouraged for it. This includes marks and a lot more. And, in the process, learn how geography works. Then you can also see the potential geography has as a field of study and a career option. (This is Part 1 of 2)
In today’s column, I deal with this important topic.
The usual class geography project is a tired old topic selection (usually the teachers tells students what topic to work on), first stop: the internet, specifically Wikipedia. Then, the student – possibly with some help from parents, teachers or other adults – copies some text, prints it out . Then, add some pictures, also downloaded from the internet. Paste it all on a chart paper of KG cardboard. Finally, put nice decorative designs in the empty spaces and along the border, and write “Done by” with the names of the students.
What’s wrong with this picture?
- The topic that is not really connected to you or you are not able to express what the connection is.
- It does not express your understanding of what geography concepts you have actually understood and applied.
- There is no acknowledgement of the precise sources of your information. This makes your information stolen information – this is called plagiarism and it is the cardinal academic sin! Always, ALWAYS, cite your sources in projects. Cite = acknowledge where you got the information from. This is part of academic ethics. If you don’t cite your sources, it means you, personally, have come up with the information you are presenting! Unless you have done so, you have to cite!
- There is nothing of you in the project except the mechanical process of pasting things.
- You have a project.
- You get marks for it.
- These marks count towards your final grade.
- Learning? Insignificant, if at all. Certainly not much geography is learned.
What is really needed?
- Understanding how to identify a topic of interest to you.
- Learning how geography actually approaches a topic.
- Learning what geography questions to ask. (I will deal with it soon).
- Learning to apply geography concepts, principles, and ethics to a topic. This is how you design and conduct your research yourself.
- Identifying and using resources intelligently. Yes, you certainly can use Wikipedia and other online resources, but you should question the quality of your sources. Using resources that support and question your own research is an important skill. This helps you understand where your own research fits in.
- Preparing and conducting your research in a way that makes sense.
- Presenting your research in a way that will not only help you learn, but help you explain to others what you have learned. This need not be only as a poster or a paper or essay! You can choose to present in almost any form you like: story, cartoons, photographs, video, theatre (drama), song, painting, dance, etc. That is the beauty of geography – it lets you express ideas in so many different forms!
- Taking feedback from others and addressing their questions. This is a crucial part of the process. It helps you learn to say, “I don’t know”, if you don’t know the answer to a question.
Finally, this process should focus on your learning and your enjoyment of it. These are very important aspects.
I am not saying that all school geography projects are poor! Sadly, most are. It need not be that way.
If you conduct your research in a systematic (and creative) manner, you will find that you are also a geographer. There is no such thing as a non-geographer. We are all geographers – some of us are formally trained in it while others may not be. You can’t live without having some geographical awareness and skills. A good research project will help you discover the geographer within you and connect with that.
Earlier, I had written a column about two high school students who conducted their own research. They presented it at the National Geography Youth Summit – 2014, held in Bengaluru.
Why don’t you also do your own geography research for the “project” component of your social science class? Check with your teacher if this is option is available to you. Your teacher can guide your work. You can also get a good start at this separately in addition to your school’s help.
In next week’s column, I will share with you how to identify your topic, how to ask geography questions, and how to conduct your research. After that, I will share with you some simple guidelines that will help you present your research in interesting ways at your own school and elsewhere.
Things you can do (for now):
- Visit the websites I have given in the article.
- Think of topics you might like to do research about. For now, I recommend that you identify a topic that you can, yourself, study in your own neighborhood.
- Discuss the topics you are interested in with your teacher and share that list with us. Your teacher and TIGS can help you identify a suitable topic from your list.
- Read next week’s column and start thinking about your topic using those points.
A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition of 16 June 2016.
Join us for the International Geography Youth Summit – 2016
(links to details are on the left)
Featured image: Students mapping the neighborhood, Kolar, 2015. © The Institute of Geographical Studies, 2015.