Introductory Physical Geography’s Place in General Education Science and Scientific Literacy




McGlinn, Lawrence

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


Introductory Physical Geography is a unique course, a natural science course that is usually housed in geography departments which are dominated by social science offerings. More important, Introductory Physical Geography fits the three fundamental goals of scientific literacy: 1) science should be for a broad population; 2) science should be cross-disciplinary; and 3) science should be integrated with society. Introductory Physical Geography’s qualitative methodology, synthetic focus, and close ties to human geography make it an appropriate vehicle for scientific literacy, but it is still too often taught as a collection of loosely connected concepts. It must be taught with an emphasis on synthesis to be effective. Introductory Physical Geography is a cornerstone of most Geography Departments, which means it is offered frequently with many seats available for registration. Nevertheless, its role is not clearly defined across all departments that offer it. For instance, most consider it a natural science, but some call it a social science. For some, it is a laboratory course, but not for others. Regardless of its differing meanings, Introductory Physical Geography is a strong entry in general education, and it should be advocated by geographers, not as a broad combination of concepts from climatology, geology, and biology, but as a unique, synthetic geography course.



physical geography, general education, scientific literacy, science literacy


McGlinn, L. (2002). Introductory physical geography’s place in general education science and scientific literacy. Research in Geographic Education, 4(1), pp. 100-115.


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