Examining the National Geography Standards for Presence of Spatial




Marsh, Meredith J.

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


The publication of Geography for Life: National Geography Standards (GESP, 1994) proved to be a milestone event in the recent history of geography education in the United States. While this document is certainly comprehensive in scope, early analyses of its effectiveness and implementation has revealed areas for improvement. Building on these concerns, a content analysis of Geography for Life was conducted using a comprehensive list of 22 geography concepts developed in a 2005 Ontario, Canada standards study by Sharpe and Huynh. The research was performed in two parts: Part 1 applied the expanded set of 22 Ontario concepts to Geography for Life with the aim of discovering the degree of emphasis in U.S. standards between basic "object and process" geography and concepts associated with higher levels of "spatial thinking." A secondary goal in Part 1 was to observe the extent to which differences might exist between Ontario and U.S. standards. Part 2 investigated a different set of 16 geospatial concepts - developed from the author's experience in teaching a college-level introductory human geography course, and by reviewing other related materials - to examine the extent to which these 16 concepts might also be found in various grade levels in the national standards. Part 2 questioned the assertion that simple concepts appear more often in early grade levels, while more complex ones appear later in the K-12 continuum. The content analysis of Part 1 revealed definite strengths in the U.S. geography standards in terms of its areas of emphasis on higher level spatial concepts, as well as, basic geography concepts. The Ontario standards differed with an emphasis on concepts related to "geomatics," (geographic information science) which did not appear in the U.S. standards. Findings from Part 2 were generally as expected, encouraging for instructors of higher education geography courses; however, findings from this research also indicate that more research is needed on the effectiveness of the national standards, not only for K-12 education, but for the geographic and spatial knowledge that students carry on to higher education.



geography, U.S. geography standards, national geography standards, Ontario geography standards, spatial concepts, content analysis, K-12 geography education


Marsh, M.J. (2011). Examining the national geography standards for presence of spatial. Research in Geographic Education, 13(2), pp. 79-101.


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