The Return of the Native? Questions About Geographical Knowledge and Spatial Thinking




Milson, Andrew J.

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


The labor of Philip and Carol Gersmehl (2006) toward the development of a taxonomy of spatial thinking skills is commendable. Geography education serves to gain from the effort to apply innovative research, such as the latest in neuroscience, to the development of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the field. As the Gersmehls point out, the assessment component of geography education has been weak. It is an unfortunate truth of schooling in America today that high-stakes standardized assessments have served to marginalize important subjects and experiences in K-12 schools. Educators in the social sciences, humanities, and fine arts have all found themselves arguing for the value of their disciplines. One of the commonalities of these disciplines is that their most cherished outcomes are often difficult to measure in a standardized assessment format. If the standing of geography is to improve in American schools, then attention to the presence of geography on standardized assessments is crucial. More important than mere presence on the exams, however, is the nature of the geographic knowledge that is tested. One rule of standardized assessment appears to be that that which is measurable will trump that which is meaningful. While it is true that measurability and meaningfulness are not mutually exclusive, geography educators nevertheless must take care to maintain the focus on meaningful learning outcomes in the struggle to increase the prominence of the discipline in K-12 schools. It is in the spirit of collegial academic discourse and a desire to ensure meaningfulness in geography education that I offer a few questions about the list of spatial thinking skills presented by the Gersmehls in Research in Geographic Education.



geography, geography education, spatial thinking


Milson, A.J. (2007). The return of the native? Questions about geographical knowledge and spatial thinking. Research in Geographic Education, 9(2), pp. 18-22.


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