Activity – Mapping Ideologies


An important skill for any student of social studies, and geography in particular, is mapping. This doesn’t have to be terribly complicated, because I know most of my students will not go on to become professional geographers or cartographers, but an awareness of the world around them (whether physical, human, cultural, or political) will help then make sense of the many people, events, and ideas they will meet in their adult lives.

One way I’ve tried to add to my students’ general knowledge of the world is through mapping activities. These can range from identifying mountain ranges, cities, nation states, or other geographic features on a map to creating their own by hand or using digital software to do so. Again, this can be as complex as desired. I prefer to scaffold learning, so beginning with something a little less involved may be best.

In Geography 3211, my class and I have just begun a unit on geopolitics, which itself can be a daunting subject. The goal at this point in the unit is to help students understand what nation states are and appreciate differences in ideology among them with the eventual goal of understanding how these ideologies can lead to cooperation or conflict on the global stage. Below is a short mapping activity I created to help students make sense of the differences between democratic, authoritarian, and communist states:

Students begin by identifying the locations of nations and colour coding them by type. They then make inferences about connections between location, level of development/globalization, and ideology. Finally, with a little research, students consider strengths and limitations of these ideologies.

This activity can be easily completed within an hour long class, and this includes some upfront introductory instruction. My class had a ball doing this and it got them thinking about some geopolitical issues we will be continuing with after the Easter break.


Activity: Population Implosion


Here’s an activity I put together for my World Geography students, who are currently completing an outcome that asks them to analyze issues countries face when population growth rates decline significantly. This situation is called the birth dearth, and is becoming more and more common in developed or highly globalized countries, but will also be experienced by emerging economies in the coming decades.

This activity scaffolds analytical skills and starts with the lowest level of learning, or knowledge, which is addressed through students finding the definitions of key terminology requires for a discussion of population implosion. From here, they delve a little deeper and explore how quality of life may be affected in countries with low fertility rates (i.e., changing family structures, aging populations, labour shortages, etc.).

This is where the activity gets fun: students are given three sources and are asked to interpret the sources to determine predicted population problems for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The idea here, as question number 3 shows, is that students should determine the consequences of declining birth rates on quality of life. Once they have completed this, they are asked to use the knowledge they have gained thus far to suggest possible responses to these population problems. Finally, they should select one of these responses that they feel would be the most effective and justify this choice with a reasoned argument.

I think that these are the kinds of tasks that challenge students and require more than rote memorization of content. Such tasks build critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which should be at the root of any social studies curriculum. These kinds of skills, through a task such as this activity, can be easily transferred to a test or exam format.