Sunday, October 13, 2013

Is the Exotic, Far Away Place a Goner Today?


Looking at a travel poster of the South Pacific hanging over my desk, it struck me that today's student differ from older generations in that the far away and exotic appealed and took us away from "here" in previous times. But today the close by is the focus of excitement given the communities of the smart phone age. Prior to starting, I should point out I am high tech. have a smart phone. have had computers for decades now. and can text, tweet, and that old email thing.SouthPacific Poster 1

"High tech-High Touch" was a phrase I recall hearing more than a decade sgo to remind those getting into the computer world of the time to spend some time in that real world. The computer world was not real, it could not fulfill the needs of people for touching real things--whether that be working with your hands, being active outdoors, or just being with people. Those of Baby Boom age understood this concept as they were raised with less high tech to draw them away from high touch. They went to the park. They had limitations on how much television was a part of a day. Stations actually went off the air at night and you only had a handful or less choices. You did other things. Even a long conversation with a friend on the phone was not to happen given party lines and the presence of only one phone for all to use.

Mentally you joined the generation that preceded you and its tradition to get out of this place (epitomized by Eric Burdon and the Animals "We've Got to Get Out of This Place". To do this you had to become familiar with other places and what they offered you. These messages could come from books, movies, school lessons; but you identified with favorite places someplace else. Hence much tourism was to get away to those places and not theme parks.

I, myself, got caught on the South Pacific by the music of the musical on that first album my parents owned on that first stereo they bought. That led to James Michener and his stories of the South Pacific, being in South Pacific twice in high school and college, and purchasing two record albums, one audio cassette, two video tapes, and two DVDs of it to keep the music going over the years. "Bali Hai" called me. "Some Enchanted Evening" was a hope and dream.

While all this is available on the smart phone and computer/tablet, it is that personal communication that drives these. I have witnessed class after class of people ignoring what is in their best interest to answer a text. To ignore the person in front of you talking to you at your cost in favor of a text message is answered by the statement it is rude not to text back right away. The importance attached to these communications is understandable in young people, but the real world is slowly shifted to a secondary status in life. The implications of that could be staggering. Just in depression medications and other costs. If I had a nickel for every student who used depression as an excuse over my career, I could own one of those South Pacific islands. They isolate themselves then wonder why they are depressed.

If you couple all this with a general isolation of so many from the larger national life of the country, and a growing disrespect for that life, you begin to pile factors deeper and deeper in a heap that marks alienation from the real world, isolation from it, disrespect for it, and a collapsing civic community. If that text is more important than me, why should I care about you? You bought isolation from those around you for the engagement of the text message.

In terms of geography, the world of these folk is on the screen. While you can watch the whole nature and history of the world on a screen, that is hardly what is being watched. Geography in your life is a disjointed map of online contacts, without the benefit of personal touch. The touch is to be dissed, while the tech is god.

We should engage in a field wide discussion of how to romanticize places to where they were. How to make those places relevant parts of the student's life. This is an uphill trek because those concepts have to break into the socially enforced world of isolation from such things the smart phone brings. Another problem is that this interest is so personalized. In a room of 30 there are 30 times, places, events, feelings, needs that must come together to spark that interest. The world geography course can search for that combination, but does the work of a course get in the way. If memorizing those countries or mountains is required for various reasons, does this inhibit the generation of interest in a place or places?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Northern Ireland Map Issue

One question Northern Ireland's geography raises, is why those parts of Ireland were kept when Ireland was given its independence in 1921 [see earlier post]?
The simple fact is Northern Ireland was separated from Ireland because of its Scot-English majority. The basic rule of thumb was to get majority Scot-English areas in the United Kingdom and majority Irish areas in Ireland. On the map the majority Protestant areas give a basic outline of the territory.
Factors involved in the green areas on the map, where Irish Catholics are in the majority, are several. 1. Islands of Ireland within Northern Ireland would not be strategically acceptable. 2. The big sort of thumb up the center would also raise strategic problems. 3. The areas along the southern border have near Scot-English Protestant majorities and have significant ownership of land and business by that group. 4. Urban areas, like Derry/Londonderry were too valued to cede.
We should note that getting ethnic peoples in their proper area, nation, country was a major theme in post World War I Europe. Making sure the Germans were in Germany and Italians in Italy, etc., was part of the peace process. committees in the process went down to the farmstead level to ensure people were in the right nation. That this cannot be done perfectly is one of the issues leading to World War II. Hitler saw Germans in ethnic areas outside Germany as deprived and bringing them into the German state was a major goal. The Sudetenland is a prime example of this concept being used. Especially islands of another group, or minorities of another group, became a battle cry.

Lawrence of Arabia and Deserts


David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia [1962] is the top movie for capturing the nature of the desert. While desert varies, the dry desert that people take to mind upon hearing "desert" s found in scenes from this film. Shot on location, Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) has just met Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) in the desert of Western Arabia (Saudi Arabia now). In this scene we see the dryness of the desert and the vast sands that the dry desert will tend to have. David Lean (Director) captures these feature in this single scene.

Do play it to the largest screen you can show it on. That vastness just stands out.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ireland and Northern Ireland


When one looks at Ireland, one notices that the Northeast corner is not a part of Ireland. It is in fact part of the United Kingdom (as are England, Scotland, Wales and several islands). This separation has a long history going back to 1169 when Henry II of England became involved in a battle between two Irish tribal groups. After receiving some right to claim land, the English lightly settled the area around Dublin in an area known as The Pale. In 1541 Henry VIII proclaimed himself King of Ireland as the Irish were rather disorganized tribes at the time. Just into the 1600s Elizabeth I began settlement programs moving Scots and English into Ireland. The Catholic Irish could not be trusted during a time when catholic versus Protestant was the rule of battle in Europe. Much of this program displaced the Irish farm from his/her land.

irelandThe building of a sense of being Irish and Irish unity begins to build over the next century. This is a bitter period for the Irish as they are Britain's first colony. The Irish basically lose ownership of their own land to the English and Scots. They are subjected to hardships including the Potato famine in the 1840s which leads many to flee to England or the United States. One issue in this is that the British insist that the Irish become Protestant. In refusing to convert this takes on a religious tone of Protestant versus Catholic.

The Irish gain freedom for the currently Ireland part of the island in 1921 after a rising against the British. The British kept the Northeast part known as Ulster because they had settle an English and Scot majority in that area over the years, and had major investments in industries around Belfast.

Attempts to get a revolt going in the late 1950s fail, but a civil rights movement organizes in the North in 1969. The Catholic Irish in the North are subject to discrimination as groups are/were in the United States and other places. They push for rights, but this breaks down into a several decade struggle involving significant acts of terrorism from both sides and many injuries and deaths. Starting in 1995 and 1998 peace agreements have brought basic peace to Northern Ireland, but it remains a part of the United Kingdom. Given the Protestant (English, Scot) majority, it is likely to remain for years to come.

A Very Select Bibliography

Aalen, F. H. A. 1978. Man and the Landscape in Ireland.  London, England, UK: Academic Press. A discussion of Irish history.

Bailly, Derek. 1990. Frontiers. The Footsteps of Man. Videotape. London, England, UK

Baol. F. W. 1980. Two nations in Ireland. Antipode 11: 38- 40.

Munn, Brain. 1989. A History of Ireland. PBS Video Series. Washington. DC: Public Broadcasting Service.

Police History. 2002. Map: Ireland. Internet.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



Media Studies people are now beginning to use the word “trope” to refer to those items TV and other media people use to call upon elements the audience already generally knows to bring them into the story. As the site TVtropes says: “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.” [Source: TV Tropes] Or, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency defines a troupe as “A troupe is a common pattern in a story or recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience.”

For geographers the term would include the place elements used by media people. How is a story of California or New York City told among media presentations. Heavy crime in New York city would be a trope used by many shows to create believability among the viewers.  The image part of the standards would relate to tropes.  The South Pacific as paradise is a trope.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stamps Tell the Story of a Place: Maldives

Stamp collecting is a hobby that takes you out into the world and gets you connected to other places. Stamps are more than just postage, they carry messages about people and what they are like and what they value. Most stamp collectors and clubs are ready to help young people get going in the hobby, so find one and have that collector show you how the hobby works.
To show this let me take the example of the Maldives. Islands just southwest of India, they are rather unknown by most people. What can be learned about them by stamp collecting?
They once were British colonies and would have some ties to Britain today. The stamp above is indicative of the method by which colonies picked up post offices. Early colonial stamps were often from other colonies (Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in this case) or the colonial power with a new colonies' name imprinted on the top. Especially when using stamps from the colonial power they marked the outside influence, as in the King here.

This is the first local stamp from 1908. Note the Middle Eastern looking tower (Minaret of Juma Mosque) and the four languages on the stamp. This shows some cross-cultural nature to the islands. Obviously the colonial power is shown (by the English), but Arabic and other South Asian languages indicate involvement with India and the fact that the Maldives are Islamic. Islam arrived as part of the giant spread of the faith in the centuries after the times of Mohammed.  with Islam came Arabic.

The physical side is illustrated by this stamp of tropical fish. They have a number of fish oriented issues. Being islands fish are likely a major local food. Other elements show would be such as trees, butterflies, and birds.  The physical environment is important as tourism is a major business.  They have pristine beaches with wide ocean views.
Soccer on this stamp indicates a British time, or at least European. elements of culture show up on stamps. The major local game is taken from Europe. The culture was once dominated by the British.
On a different track is the fact that many small nations with limited industrial opportunities sell stamps to collectors on a wide variety of topics. Many of these have nothing to do with the Maldives or that other spots, but they are exploiting the topical interests of stamp collectors to raise money. Mickey Mouse is not theirs, but many collectors exist who buy anything Mickey. The same is true of Elvis, living presidents of the US, princess Diana, and a wide list of general things like, nude art, movie stars, birds, fish, and such.
So just by looking at a countries' stamps, you have a geography unit in the making. Some might find a lifelong hobby that puts foreign places right in front of you.  You can certainly find geographers who got their interest in the field by collecting stamps and learning where all those strange places were.

Saturday, September 7, 2013



Bathing is very important in Japanese culture.  The Onsen or sento is the place to do this.  While private bathing is growing, bath1the bath is a public experience.  The volcanic nature of Japan has allowed readily available hot warm.

Bathing traditionally has been with mixed sexes, but law now allows separation. relaxation and conversation are open parts of this process. You meet people and can just be along to think/mediate, too.

The process is to clean yourself first, then use the bath to soak and meditate or talk.  One talks with relatives, friends, or just those present..  The social class rules are suspended as the bath is a meeting zone for people of all classes.  One is to clean and purify the body to communicate with the gods who rest in nature.  These two processes are separated.  To enter the bath to clean like we do would be a social error in Japan.

The water must be hot. Temperatures are in the range of 105 or more so the skin gets red.

The Maldives


The Maldives are a group of islands off the coast of India in the Indian Ocean.  They are not well known to most people.  Scuba and skin divers would be the biggest audience having some familiarity with them.  YouTube has a number of short clips to show them off.

The Maldives have a maximum rise of 7 feet above sea level.  The average elevation is only 3 feet.  They are coral reefs.

They must import most of their foods as there is little space for agriculture.  They do export some clothing.

For interaction and integration with us they are a tourist spot, mostly for scuba and maldives-islands-map-location from besttripasvisorcomskin divers.  They have wonderful beaches and the diving conditions are super.  The other item of interaction and integration, and the most likely place for them in your curriculum, is that they are on the front lines for damage from global warming.  If the oceans rise only a few feet they have little that can be done to save them.  If you are only a maximum of seven feet out of the water, you are first in line for trouble if ocean levels rise.  A place to know.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013



Henna is widely used in the Middle East and Asia to paint designs on the hands, feet, and other parts of the body.  In the Middle East a wedding is often a time for a bride to be painted.  Designs are often Wedding-Henna-Tattoosintricate.  Kits are available from Amazon and other places.  The designs generally last about one month and are not permanent tattoos.  The designs are painted on using a stylus.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tse-tse fly


The tsetse fly carries a parasite the caused trypanosomiasis or "sleeping sickness" in humans and animals.  The parasite enters the brain from the blood system and then invades the central nervous system.  This results in changes to the human sleep rhythms and perceptions of the world.  Often the victim loses coordination of the body, too.  glossina

Its has had a powerful impact upon world history in that those spreading the Islamic faith south in Africa, following the time of Mohammad, were riding horses that were also impacted by the tse-tse.  The southward spread of Islam was thus limited in Africa.  Hence northern Nigeria is Islamic and southern Nigeria is not, etc.

The World Health Organization of the United Nations describes this disease in the following:  "The tsetse fly bite erupts into a red sore and within a few weeks the person can experience fever, swollen lymph glands, aching muscles and joints, headaches and irritability. In advanced stages, the disease attacks the central nervous system, causing changes in personality, alteration of the biological clock (the circadian rhythm), confusion, slurred speech, seizures, and difficulty walking and talking. These problems can develop over many years in the Gambiense form and some months in the Rhodesiense form; if not treated, the person will die."  [See World Health Organization.  2012. ]

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Nature of Images


Behavioral geography is the study of the behavior of people in, and in respect to, space. The spatial environment in which a human being lives massively influences personality and resulting behaviors. One of the important elements of this environment is the image that the human being has of it and its pieces. This image is a mental picture and the associated ideas. It essentially is the world as perceived by that person. This image may be a simple picture of a mountain, say for Switzerland. It may also be complex with multiple frames and pieces. For example the image of Switzerland for one who has made multiple visits may involve rich images of mountains, towns, people, roads, flowers, and animals. It may have a detailed information base of business and personal activities involving he Swiss. All of this becomes a set of images and facts in the mind.

This image is the perceived world. It is of great importance because we act on our images and perceptions. The real world imposes limits that may force corrections when reached, but the image guides behavior, not reality. For example, Texans may perceive North Dakota as a frozen wasteland, but this is not the full reality. North Dakotans may perceive Texas in terms of the television program Dallas, or in terms of cowhands and cattle, but this is not the full reality of Texas. Yet people act upon these perceptions. A Texan will resist moving to North Dakota because of the image that there is nothing here. The reality to the Texan is what he or she knows, not what others might know.



Essentials of the Image Process

The above chart outlines the sources of images. The brain is constantly learning about places from travel, events, parents, information, movies, television, music, books, magazines, religion, friends, people, maps, art, and other items. These elements are interpreted in terms of personal and cultural filters. The image is built in the mind. Action results from using the mental information in situations. The personal and cultural filter is also used to adjust the nature of output so that the action is personally and culturally appropriate or understandable. Some details:

  • Sources. The sources of our images of places are varied. For any particular place we may have traveled to it and gained on-the-spot information. We may have seen it in movies, heard our parents talk about it, read a novel set in the location, fell in love with a song about it, seen it on maps, or dreamed about it after viewing a famous artists paintings of it. In all of these we are developing a perception of a place and building an image in our minds. On a personal level, my image of California is varied and complex, but it began with images generated by beach movies in the 1960's, the songs of the Beach Boys, Sunrays, Jan and Dean, and the Eagles ("Hotel California"), travel to San Francisco and San Diego, and a massive set of news events. California begins on a beach, slinks along in the sleaze and sex of Hollywood, builds to an earthquake, then smothers itself in a plethora of bad news. The pictures are numerous, yet they are the California I relate to and teach about.
  • Personal Cultural Filters. There is no objective world. We all see a subjective world that is influenced by our personality and our culture. Our view of any place is determined by the intermixing of our personality and our cultural perspective. Multiculturalist philosophy asks that we maintain our sense of ourselves and glorify our "original" sense of place. Our view of the world is that of our group, with leeway for the vagaries of our own development as a person. We subjectively view the world and build our image through our cultural lens.
  • Stereotypes. A stereotype is a regularized image, thought, symbol, or other form that a society holds about another person, group, thought, idea, or place. Part of the personal-cultural filter is the stereotype. With places, the stereotype is related to distance. Separated places, those with little regularized need to fully deal with each other, develop stereotypes to simplify the process of relating. One society simplifies another in order to grasp some essential understanding of the other society, yet not to mark it for detailed effort. Alternatively we might stereotype to make learning easier for children, or to ensure a unified knowledge base is held in common among a people. What is amazing is that stereotypes can be so widely held. The postmodern media makes this easy, yet such stereotypes predate the power of postmodern television and films.
  • Action. When we act, the same filters come into play. What we do rarely reflects a total letting go of what we feel. We control ourselves because we have learned this is socially required. We have also learned that our society expects communication to occur in certain ways. We have a set of words that define the nature of communication and the message. For example, Americans have a limited set of words to describe snow types compared to Inuit peoples along the north coast of Canada and Alaska. Our communication about snow is therefore limited. We will also express recognition and understanding of stereotypes. These aid communication within a group.

In the end, the images we hold are our understanding of places. Just as when our understanding of one we love is shaped by our image, we act upon the reality as understood by our mind, not the full reality of the world.

Perception-Image Examples

Our image is a very serious thing. Given that it is a source of action, its inaccuracies can be costly. Take the following examples:

  • The Prairie. Pioneers misunderstood the prairie. While the prairie has turned out to be a splendid productive resource, as settlers coming from the east first encountered it, they viewed it as worthless. They were people of forested areas. Forests were perceived as signs of good soil. Finding a treeless zone they assumed it was of no value. Their image varied from reality.
  • Deserts. Europeans faltered in their ability to interpret the world as they explored it over the last 500 years because early reports of the Sahara area conflicted with culturally held beliefs about the percentage of the earth that was well watered. Finding such a desert was fully observable, yet they discounted it because the cultural filter called it impossible.
  • Indian Markets. American firms have made differing investment decisions concerning India over the last several decades. Some corporate leaders have understood the giant potential of the Indian middle and upper classes, while other have seen it as a place of the poor. Executive images guided corporate policy on investment. Some correctly saw the large market for numerous goods, others failed to see these opportunities.

Thus our images and perceptions have great importance.

Simple Notes on Using Bulletin Boards in the Geography Classroom


Bulletin boards are a part of every classroom in the United States. Those bare walls need decorating and teachers for generations have covered them with educationally meaningful materials. Becoming even more important, is that with so many students with visual learning styles, the use of the visual media in education has grown.

Bulletin boards are a convenient way to handle visual-learning components in a classroom setting. They involve the visual presentation of a message using bright, colorful materials. While they have their own special features, they do share many graphic components with other presentation formats: posters, computer graphics and web pages, comic books, billboards, multimedia, etc.

Bulletin boards require that you have a focused message. Boards have a gross character to them, a lack of great detail. Just like comic books, they do not present a pictorial or fuylly detailed view of anything. They communicate a simple message to the passer by.

Bulletin boards can be a project for students as easily as they are one for teachers. The goal of this type of project is to produce bulletin board materials, fully appropriate for school use, that deal with topics from geography. The producer of the boards, you or your student(s), will integrate and manipulate class content while developing skills useful to teachers and of personal value as a creative activity.

The specific objectives of this type of project might be to:

  1. increase the learning of class materials through the completion of research and presentation activities.
  2. incorporate the skills and talents needed to organize and create bulletin boards into one's repertoire.
  3. integrate class materials with pre-teaching experiences such that the class materials are understood in terms of their expected use and positions in elementary, middle, junior high, and high school programs.
  4. accurately assess student achievement of the course goals and objectives using a methodology that reflects career-oriented practice (graphics use).
  5. engage the student in active learning through the production and presentation of appropriate materials for the audience.

At the completion of this project, the you or your student(s) will have met outcomes from among the following:

  1. produced a bulletin board that integrates class materials through a creative process, the result being increased learning of the course materials.
  2. presented a short address to the class about the bulletin board, thus becoming more comfortable with oral presentation situations and having increased the learning of class materials through teaching of those materials.
  3. developed bulletin board production skills through practice and reaction to criticism.

In a classroom setting, the teacher is normally the producer of bulletin boards. Teachers do let students take over this function as a project, and this is certainly to be encouraged. If students engage in bulletin board production as a project the following assessment criteria might be considered:

  1. The overall quality will be assessed, say on a on a scale from 0 to 10. Considered in this grade, but not limited to these factors, might be: (a) meaningfulness of the message, does your board have a message that is worth the effort?; (b) clarity of the message, does the board convey its message in an effective way?; (c) innovation, does the board show the innovative use of materials and concepts?; (d) originality, does the board use only original materials, as opposed to photocopied or purchased items; (e) size, is the board large enough and bright enough to effectively communicate a message in a bulletin board situation?; and (f) relative quality, can your board be considered a "quality" piece of work against the standards of local, state, and national peers?
  2. Excellence in artistic quality. The board shall display a sense of pride and artistic quality appropriate for display in a classroom. It shall be constructed of the best affordable materials and appear to have required some effort to complete. Pride should certainly be a part of this. Does the board display a sense of pride in workmanship?
  3. If an oral presentation accompanies the unveiling of the board then excellence in orally presenting a summary, etc. of the board's message to the class by the student(s) should be assessed. The talk should illustrate full understanding of the concepts and facts involved. For details on specific items within the above three categories, see the grading sheet attached at the end of this document.

Factors to Consider in Board Construction

There are numerous books and manuals available on bulletin boards. The following represents a synthesis and consensus of these materials about the construction of bulletin boards (see bibliography). Student-produced bulletin boards will be expected to follow these principles.

  1. Boards can be categorized into static-message and activity-message types. The static-message type acts as a billboard for some facet of learning. The activity- message type gives the same message, but involves the viewer in some activity. In the latter, the viewer is asked to participate through the movement of pieces on the board, the mental or oral answering of questions, or the filling in of question-answer sheets provided on the board in an envelope or by other means.
  2. The literature suggests that boards focus on one simple idea, rather than multiple concepts. Multiple goals tend to lead to boards that are crowded, unappealing to the eye, loaded with small print that is inappropriate to bulletin boards, and other errors.
  3. The literature suggests that a good board has balance, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical. The board's message should flow easily to the viewer because the board is organized to help the eye follow that message.
    • One must note that the non-linear (or MTV) style of presentation can be used, but such presentations can cause a severe loss of message impact under most circumstances. For this reason they should be avoided. By non-linear (or MTV) style, a board is implied that has jumbled pieces which force the viewer to work to assemble the message, or may leave it unclear in the viewer's mind.
  4. The literature suggests that bright colors and quality lettering are essential in making the board attractive to viewers. Small print should be avoided. If you cannot read and understand the board at a distance of six feet, it is too small. An exception can be made only for limited instructions on activity-oriented boards. These following hints will assist you:
    • DO USE construction paper. It is bright and attractive on the wall.
    • DO NOT USE plain paper with some ink or pencil color scratched across it. These materials have only a small chance of looking good.
    • AVOID using magic markers for small lettering. Markers work well for outlining and drawing on colored papers, but few people can use them well for small lettering. Most often they lead people to write too much. Be careful. If it cannot be read at six feet, it is too small.
    • NEVER use cursive writing (unless writing in cursive is the actual topic). It impedes the message and, for most people, looks sloppy. Cursive, for the most part, immediately tells the viewer you do not care what the board looks like.
    • DO USE big letters cut from construction paper. They really help a board's image.
  5. A multitude of materials can be used on boards. Sticking to the wall is the only limitation.
    • Styrofoam, crepe paper, cardboard, cloth wire, string, aluminum foil, grass, yarn, construction paper, pipe cleaners, cereal boxes
  6. Thou shalt not be boring. Boards are to be exciting.
  7. Stand back from your work and ask yourself if it actually says what you want it to say. Without any explanations is the message clear. This is a major problem for those new to making boards. The board has neat pieces of art, but together they do not mean anything.


The bulletin board has been a part of the classic American classroom. It offers the teacher a way to convey information in a visual way. It can be used as a project for students. It has an appropriate place in the geographic education program.

Selected Bibliography

Alton, Elaine, Judith Gersting, and Kuczkowski. 1978. Bulletin Board Learning Centers. Dansville, NY: Instructor Publications.

Bagan, Paula, and Barbara Forin. 1960. North Dakota Project. Bulletin of the Association of North Dakota Geographers 12 (April): 17-18.

Meartz, Paul D. 1995, 1999. Simple Notes on Using Bulletin Boards in the Geography Classroom. Brochure.

Miller, Lynne G. 1974. Ready-to-Make Bulletin Boards. New York: Scholastic Books.

Olson, Mary Lou. 1981. American Social Studies Characters. St. Paul, MN: Trend Enterprises. (TLC)

Phillips, Loretta. 1993. Bulletin board in a sack. NEA Today (May): 11. Bulletin Boards. Suggests using brown-paper sacks for small bulletin boards.

Smith, Seaton E. 1977. Bulletin Board Ideas for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (LIB)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Simple Notes on Using Drama in the Geography Classroom


"...and Fergie was topless and standing by the pool."

The above statement has little to do with geography, political science, or drama by themselves; but it does illustrate the nature of plays or dramatic presentations. They are meant to be exciting in some way, to grab us in some way, so that a message is driven home to the audience. Some examples:

  1. We can read in a history text about the abusive nature of the political-social system in nineteenth century France, but the drama of Les Miserables on a Broadway stage drives the message home with a vengeance.
  2. We can read about the staggering beauty of the Alps in Central Europe, but the opening scene of Julie Andrews signing in the Sound of Music sticks in your mind. You begin to see those mountains in terms of that musical from that point in time forward.

Play Construction

Beyond excitement, the drama must have gone through a careful construction process in which the elements of character, setting, script, and plot are assembled for maximum impact and, in the classroom case, learning. Basic development occurs around a frame of:

    • Topic
    • Setting
    • Characters With Characteristics
    • Unique Twists
    • Script

Topic: The topic is obviously the main idea you are attempting to convey. Educational dramas must contain an idea or message; there are plays and movies that miss this point.

Setting: The setting consists of the place in which your drama occurs and its environmental characteristics. The setting must be established in the drama. Often the backdrop provides clues. The World Trade, Empire State, or Chrysler Buildings signal New York City. A cable car on a hill, as in TV's "Full House," signals San Francisco. The nature of the plot and characters may be influenced by this choice.

Characters with characteristics: Character development is an important part of play-writing. People relate to people. A play without characters who are well developed will fall flat on its face. The audience has no one with whom they can identify.

Unique Twist(s): Plays work best when they contain unique twists that contain dramatic strength. Plain and simple action is easily boring. The uniqueness of the action makes the story. Romeo and Juliet are just kids in love until they find that their families hate each other. With that twist two kids in love become the romantic drama pairing of the ages.

Consider the following example as you use this sequence:

    • Abortion in LA
      • Topic: Abortion-the legal and personal complications it can cause. The topic is timely. It has appeal and generates emotion for a large variety of people.
      • Setting: Los Angeles. The city is well known and currently has severe class and economic problems. The dialogue can be used to illustrate elements of LA people and their lives. The accents might be those of "Valley Girls." Elements of the good weather or the massive highway system could be mentioned. The backdrop could be that of some known LA feature, such as the "Hollywood" sign up on the hill. Cell phones and pagers are required.
      • Characters with Characteristics: Alice is an abortion protester, afraid of having sexual relations, hurt by failed relationships with parents and boyfriends, admires Jay Leno, The Bangles, and Jimi Hendrix. Felicia is an abortion clinic operator with a seventeen-year-old daughter, loves her husband but their sex drives do not match, thinks "Grey’s Anatomy" watched from a hot tub is a great experience, hates football. Now here are people who can talk, discover each other, and argue.
      • Unique Twist 1: The two are trapped in a car that is chained shut and surrounded by protesters screaming about "baby killing."
      • Unique Twist 2: Felicia’s daughter is pregnant and wants an abortion at her mother's clinic. Placing the above on the table, a drama can begin to develop. Brainstorming about the above, followed by brainstorming about how these items can all be used is the process to follow in putting the basis of a drama together.
      • Role Playing: The next step is role playing. Take some time and think how the characters might talk and act within the setting and plot. You may start with a conclusion and work backwards or take the normal "start at the beginning" route. Repeat the process over and over until you have it. Next say the lines aloud within your group. Take roles as characters, become the character, say things until they seem right. Then work and rework it.

On Stage

Practice is crucial to a good play. If you do not adequately rehearse, you make it impossible to be in character and ready to convince an audience that they are seeing characters in a staged setting--they merely see you stumbling along through a script. The audience is not likely to learn a whole lot from this type of show.

Some Do's and Don'ts

1. Characters argue--arguments are very dramatic. Argument lifts the volume level and grabs the audience. The crucial element is that the volume level changes. Change promotes interest. A monotone volume becomes boring no matter what is being said. Argument is an easy way to change volume, but just having characters raise and lower their normal volumes is a help. Also consider the following list of things characters might do to further the plot or action: argue, fight, lust after each other, kiss, speak up, hurt, cry, harass, die, live, create pathos, be lost. The list goes on...

2. Once on-stage, become the character and stay in character. The basis of acting is that you become the character. Do not laugh or smile about being in the play--this is not professional behavior at all. If you are embarrassed to do something on stage then you have the wrong attitude. On stage you are no longer you, therefore you should not be embarrassed.

3. Face the audience as much as possible. Drama performance sometimes requires that the stage action not be fully realistic. The action must be worked out to avoid talking to the back of the stage, even if that is the obvious place to where your line should be directed.

4. Speak up! You must project your voice to the audience. Students often need encouragement to speak up in front of audiences. They will need this skill in real life, work on it now.

5. Memorize all lines. Without this the dramatic effect of the play is greatly reduced. Scripts in hand are just not a part of real life. With a script in hand, you create the same problem many people have with opera when an aging, heavy-set woman is playing a twenty-year-old beauty about to be lusted into the sack. It bothers people who are not attune to opera's unique dramatic rules.

6. Avoid narrators. They may be used to introduce items or provide a method to shift setting or time frame, but otherwise they will tend to fail. The worst case is where a narrator is always reading, something not seen in professional work. This fails as drama.

i. One likely outcome of having a narrator is that the actors/actresses will tend to sit there or meagerly mime while the narrator reads. Unless you are one of the playwrights of the century, the play is dead when this happens.

ii. If a narrator is used, she/he should memorize all his/her lines and be on the stage, not off to the side. Our Town is an example of the good use of a narrator.

iii. Identify the elements that make your set work and make them large. Avoid using unnecessary items or small item.

7. Movement on stage can be difficult to grasp if you have never been directed in a play. The basic rule to keep in mind is to remember what the audience can see. People must avoid blocking each other. Groups of people may have to angle themselves on stage so that each actor/actress can be seen by the audience.

8. The set and props can be suggestive. Drama, outside of the movies, uses a process that suggests place and other items through the selective use of color, words, or items on stage. As an example, a line might be directed off-stage that suggests a crowd of people are there. A voice or two might enhance the suggestion, making the crowd more realistic. The audience will accept that a crowd is there, but they never see it. A whole seacoast might be suggested by the presence of a lighthouse light beaming across a stage. A couch suggests an apartment or living room.


A play is a complicated operation, but it can be made simple and easy if you follow the sequence from Topic to Unique Twists and assemble the script via role playing. On stage act like a professional who cares deeply for what she/he is doing. Know your lines and speak-up.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1995, 1999. Simple Notes on Using Drama in the Geography Classroom. Brochure.