Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Is it too much to ask to know a country from a continent?

I teach World and U.S. History to 7th and 8th graders.  During the first couple of weeks of school, I hit them pretty hard on reviewing basic geography... for good reason.

It seems that every year, the students I receive - who were in 6th and 7th grade last school year - know less and less of what they should be expected to know by the time they reach these grade levels.

I mean seriously, how difficult is it to memorize the names and locations of 7 continents and 5 oceans?  And yet, by and large, my students haven't.  You can say that they are young yet, and shouldn't be expected to know this, and that is what I am there for... but you would be wrong.  They should know this basic information by the time they have reached middle school - and don't get me wrong; many have learned it.  But not nearly enough.

For example, last Friday, I put a two-part Bellwork question up on the whiteboard for the students to complete upon entering the classroom:

A. What are the three largest countries on earth in land size?
B. What are the three largest countries on earth in population?

I chose students randomly to see what their answers were; I did not choose volunteers with their hands raised.  I only wish I had a dollar for every time a student answered with Africa, Asia, South America, and North America.

As you can see, they don't even know the difference between a country and a continent.  I would even take a timeout and go over with them - multiple times - the names and locations of the continents and discuss the difference between a continent and a country, and when I asked for more answers to the Bellwork question, it was as if they hadn't listened to a word I said, as their guesses were again Africa and North America.

Kids used to just automatically know this stuff, but nowadays, it is almost as if ignorance is not only a sought condition, but an exalted one.

Remember, I am responsible for their state test scores!

By the way, the answer to A. is Russia, Canada, and the United States.  The answer to B. is China, India, and the United States.


Anonymous said...

Someone once said that the best way to learn geography is on foot. Wouldn't it be great if you could teach it that way, too? I would do the job for free: just pay my way around the world!

Dan Edwards said...

you are not alone.....I could tell you some geographic location horror stories.... and I'm sure you'll enjoy hearing that on their Chpt 2/Spanish Colonial No. Am. Test, several of my 8th Grade US History GATE indicated that it was Pocahontas who led the New Mexico Pueblo tribes in their revolt against the Spanish Colonizers.....

Henry Cate said...

One of my favorite geography stories was a short video I watched a couple years ago. It was like a Jay Leno man on the street episode, but it wasn't done by Jay. Someone took a map of the world and shuffled the names. For example the name South Korea was put on something like Australia.

Random people were approached and asked questions like "Why do you think North Korea and South Korea are still at war when they aren't on the same continnent?"

Most people never mentioned that the names of the countries were wrong.