This blog post contains a topic discussion on spatial narratives within geography education, a recap of the month and goals for next month.  

Photo Source: Ellsworth Air Force Base |https://www.ellsworth.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000699470/

Spatial Narratives

              What is a spatial narrative? In Including Students’ Geographies, Schlemper et al. described spatial narratives as “a means of “unpacking” [interactions within one’s community] to promote critical and experiential learning” (Schlemper et al. 2018, p.607). Helping students think spatially has been a topic for educators in many school levels (National Geographic, nd.). Looking at a map helps with identifying spatial relationships that were not visible or did not seem significant without the visualization. Spatial thinking allows students to understand their connections to the places around them.

              Within geography education, spatial narratives can hold a meaningful place within the curriculum. Activities such as drawing by hand maps of their neighborhoods, schools or the places visited in a day or the weekend can be included to help student visualize their personal relationships to place. When we think about the neighborhood we grew up in or the grocery stores we frequent, what images or emotions come up with that thought? Do you think positively or negatively about these places and why? When thinking about a specific place that is familiar or unfamiliar, how we imagine a place can influence our interactions, or lack there of, with said place. To encourage understanding and openness among people and places near and far away from us, incorporating spatial narratives can be a interactive and educational activity for students to learn more about the places that they are and are not familiar with around their community and to learn more about their fellow classmates.

              Below, an example of how researchers incorporating spatial narratives into a study and the results that were collected is described below.

Incorporating Narrative Activities into Geography Education 

Schlemper et al. (2018) researched how mapping affected spatial thinking among students living in Toledo, Ohio. Focus groups took place in the form of summer workshops in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, the participant demographics include eight students who were all African American and from seventh grade and ninth through twelfth grade that completed the entire summer workshop. There were three female participants and five males. After enlisting the help of two teachers at the school to recruit student participants for the workshop, enrollment increased to seventeen student participants. 94% of the participants were African American with 6% being multiracial (Schlemper et al. 2018, p.615). The students were in eighth through twelfth grade.

Once the KWL approach originated by Ogle 1986 was modified, the researchers sought to help students’ understand “What questions could I ask?”, “Where might I find the answers to these questions?” and “Why is this important?” (Schlemper et al. 2018, p.615). Students conducted fieldwork and used existing data to create their maps. Students produced pre- and post- hand-drawn maps which showed changes in spatial awareness after group brainstorming sessions and interviews.

              Existing geographical data helped inform students of their belief systems. For instance, the researchers found that “the students made surprising discoveries when examining secondary data related to [abandoned] houses, resulting in the students’ decision to clarify the differences between abandoned and neglected houses in their research” (Schlemper et al. 2018, p.621). Furthermore, after conducting research, the students were able to recognize more familiar places around their communities and discover unfamiliar areas such as parks or community gardens (Schlemper et al. 2018, p.624).

Within geography education, spatial narratives can play a powerful role in allowing students to make connections with their social environment. Using maps in class activities, whether hand-drawn or designed using technology, visualizes the places that students thought they knew, the places that they disregarded based on their beliefs and the places that they have never been to but discover has always been a part of their communities. Spatial narratives in addition to fieldwork and research can help students understand their place within their neighborhoods, what locations are unknown to them and how their beliefs influence where they do or don’t frequent often. Including spatial narratives in curriculum has powerful benefits that can be received by students, and the results are only a map away.

October Recap

              The assignment for this month was to build off of a vision document that teams already created in September. We were to create a website that would detail aspects of the vision document. James, Zach and I worked on constructing the website.

              Getting started with HTML was a bit of  a lot of a challenge, but I respect the process. The amount of time and effort I put into writing code was not equaling results. However, I reckon that is true for most things when you’re just starting out. Next month will not be shy of challenges, but there will be time to break things and mend them and break them again. Whether I’m breaking or mending, I’m looking forward to the process.

Moving into November

              This November, I look forward to working on our next task, a web mapping project using javascript. I’m interested in learning other methods to show geographical data. We’ll have the better part of two months to work on this project, so there will be time to become acquainted with the process.

About the Author

Kyeesha M. Wilcox (wilcox49@msu.edu) is a second year Master’s student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University.

References

The National Geographic Network of Alliances for Geographic Education. (n.d). Spatial Thinking About Maps: Development of Concepts and Skills Across the Early Years [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://media.nationalgeographic.org/assets/file/SpatialThinkingK-5ExSummary.pdf.

Schlemper, M.B,  V. C. Stewart, S. Shetty & K. Czajkowski. (2018). Including Students’ Geographies in Geography Education: Spatial Narratives, Citizen Mapping, and Social Justice, Theory & Research in Social Education, 46:4, 603-641, DOI: 10.1080/00933104.2018.1427164