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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Flipping Bloom's Taxonomy in Geography/GIS

Bloom's Taxonomy

I didn't learn about Bloom's taxonomy until I started teaching in a graduate program. I liked the idea of  classifying skills from least to most complex - with remembering/understanding at the bottom and evaluating and creating at the top. In the graduate program we aimed for the upper regions of the pyramid used to visualize Bloom's thinking. But as Shelley Wright writes at Powerful Learning Practice, that vision may restrict educators to think, and thus teach, with the idea that to achieve those higher skills, the lower ones must be mastered first. She argues that makes little sense and that it's time to flip the pyramid and start at the top. In particular, she suggests starting with a top level skill: creating.

She offers examples from media studies, chemistry, and English. I'll describe the chemistry one since it has some geography in it (wait for it!). Students build simple testers to determine if different solutions (NaCl, HCL, sugar, etc.) conduct electricity. After experimenting with a dozen or so solutions they try to figure out why some conduct and some don't. By looking at the compounds' makeup, students might determine that those solutions that do conduct electricity have elements from from different sides of the periodic table. (Geography!) Further exploration may indicate that all of those that do conduct have metal as one of the elements and a non-metal as the other. Hmmm. Only then does the instructor start to introduce concepts like ionic and covalent bonds. Students do some research on their own (online, in textbooks, etc.), then revisit their own observations. That sounds like a great chemistry lab, full of evaluating and hopefully some creating in the form of making new solutions to test and predict the results.

Flipping Bloom's Taxonomy in Geography/GIS Lessons

Now, how might we use creation as the first step in a geography or GIS lesson? Here are some "off the top of my head and not fully thought through" ideas:

Cartography (Objective: learn basic parts of a map)

Have students draw (by hand, on paper) maps of well-known routes in school or in the area such as the route from the school's main entrance to the football field or the route from their locker to the lunch room. Have them pair up and swap maps. The assignment is to give advice to make the map better. A student might consider these questions about the partners map: Do I know what it's a map of? What's missing? What's extra? Each pair then offers the class one thing they agree needs to be on all maps. Hopefully, across the groups most of the key components of maps will come out (legends, title, scale bars, symbols, labels, etc.) Then the class can discuss whether all are needed on every map or not.

Analysis (Objective: learn basics of setting spatial criteria)

Either on a GIS or on with paper maps, have students spend a short period of time, in groups perhaps, do a site selection (though you need not call it that just yet!). Depending on what datasets are at hand, it might be finding a spot for a new Starbucks or where it'd be best to plant a certain crop or where one is most likely to find Indian artifacts. You should give them no guidance whatsoever, just tell them to do their best with the data they have. Have each group present its solution pushing them to answer "why" that location was selected. Write down all the criteria mentioned (even those that are seemingly irrelevant) on the board. Now have the class pick out the five most important criteria. Then have them weight them. Then, if possible, run that newly developed model on a GIS. The students can research site selection, learn the vocabulary and explore some of the functions used to do site selection via GIS (vector or raster).

Scale (Objective: learn the basics of scale, small and large and when to use each)

Hang a simple geometric black and white pattern (2' x 2') at the end of a long hallway. Give students a paper border (2" x 2") to look at it through. Give each pair a square piece of paper (maybe folded to have four quadrants). Have each pair stand different distances from the pattern (1', 2', 5' 10' 20' etc.) hold up their border and look through it to the pattern. They are to draw what they see through the border on the square piece of paper. The idea is to full up the paper with what is in the border. Tack the drawings in distance order (1', 2', 5' 10' 20' etc.) on the wall. What happens as you step away? Do you see more or less of the pattern and/or what's around it? Do you see more or less detail? Depending on the accuracy of the drawings (and the nature of the pattern) you might even be able to determine the scale (RF) for each drawing by comparing the length of a line on the original to one on the drawing. Following the exercise, students can research the concept of scale and perhaps suggest more accurate ways to scale the maps they made.

Does flipping Bloom's Taxonomy sound like a good idea for geography/GIS teaching and learning? Have you taught this way in the past? Did it work? Do you have any other "create first" types of geography/GIS lessons to share?