• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 4:05 PM


WERTHEIM, Jill and EDELSON, Daniel, Education, National Geographic Society, 1145 17th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036,

Although spatial thinking is a fundamental cognitive skill for numerous disciplines from geology to economics, formal development of this skill through K-12 largely has fallen within the domain of geography. In fact, despite the central role spatial thinking plays in understanding earth processes, the Earth Science Literacy Principles make no explicit mention of spatial thinking as a key element of the process of geological reasoning. Yet, while use of spatial representations, spatial analysis, and mental maps are all highlighted in Geography for Life, the national consensus document that is the basis for most state geography literacy goals, those standards tends heavily emphasize content, and cognitive skills are given little attention. As a result, textbooks, instructional materials, and large-scale tests tend to reflect this bias and provide little support for the teaching and assessment of skills such as spatial thinking. Here we present an overview of a major effort by the National Geographic Society, in collaboration with the Association of American Geographers, the American Geographical Society, and the National Council for Geographic Education to guide schools, policy makers, and funding agencies to reform geography education, particularly emphasizing how to better address the skills and practices essential to geography literacy.

One part of this multi-faceted approach focuses on assessments. The notion that assessment drives teaching and learning is widely accepted, therefore an evaluation of assessments can be considered an approximation of what is being taught. In order to identify the disparities between what geographers decide is crucial knowledge and what students are currently held accountable for, we are 1) analyzing what is being assessed in classroom, district, and in large-scale settings; 2) developing an assessment framework that clearly articulates learning goals for developing the skills and practices to prepare students for 21st Century decisions and a capable workforce; and 3) identifying exemplars of high quality items that assess geographic skills and practices in a variety of ways. The recommendations for reform resulting from this project will have implications for the numerous related fields that require similar cognitive demands, such as spatial thinking in geology.

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