The Australian Curriculum: Geography is organised in two related strands: geographical knowledge and understanding, and geographical inquiry and skills.
Geographical knowledge and understanding strand
Geographical knowledge refers to the facts, generalisations, principles, theories and models developed in Geography. This knowledge is dynamic and its interpretation can be contested, with opinions and conclusions supported by evidence and logical argument.
Geographical understanding is the ability to see the relationships between aspects of knowledge and construct explanatory frameworks to illustrate these relationships. It is also the ability to apply this knowledge to new situations or to solve new problems.
Concepts for developing geographical understanding
The Australian Curriculum: Geography identifies the concepts of place, space, environment, interconnection, sustainability, scale and change, as integral to the development of geographical understanding. These are high-level ideas or ways of thinking that can be applied across the subject to identify a question, guide an investigation, organise information, suggest an explanation or assist decision-making.
In Years 7–10, students build on their understanding of place, space, environment, interconnection, sustainability and change and apply this understanding to a wide range of places and environments at the full range of scales, from local to global, and in a range of locations. These concepts are the key ideas involved in teaching students to think geographically in the Australian Curriculum: Geography and are developed in the following ways:
The concept of place is about the significance of places and what they are like:
- Places are parts of Earth’s surface that are identified and given meaning by people. They may be perceived, experienced, understood and valued differently. They range in size from a part of a room or garden to a major world region. They can be described by their location, shape, boundaries, features and environmental and human characteristics. Some characteristics are tangible, for example landforms and people, while others are intangible, for example scenic quality and culture.
- Places are important to our security, identity and sense of belonging, and they provide us with the services and facilities needed to support and enhance our lives. Where people live can influence their wellbeing and opportunities.
- The environmental characteristics of a place are influenced by human actions and the actions of environmental processes over short to long time periods.
- The human characteristics of a place are influenced by its environmental characteristics and resources, relative location, connections with other places, the culture of its population, the economy of a country, and the decisions and actions of people and organisations over time and at different scales.
- The places in which we live are created, changed and managed by people.
- Each place is unique in its characteristics. As a consequence, the outcomes of similar environmental and socioeconomic processes vary in different places, and similar problems may require different strategies in different places.
- The sustainability of places may be threatened by a range of factors, for example natural hazards; climate change; economic, social and technological change; government decisions; conflict; exhaustion of a resource and environmental degradation.
The concept of space is about the significance of location and spatial distribution, and ways people organise and manage the spaces that we live in:
- The environmental and human characteristics of places are influenced by their location, but the effects of location and distance from other places on people are being reduced, though unequally, by improvements in transport and communication technologies.
- The individual characteristics of places form spatial distributions, and the analysis of these distributions contributes to geographical understanding. The distributions also have environmental, economic, social and political consequences.
- Spaces are perceived, structured, organised and managed by people, and can be designed and redesigned, to achieve particular purposes.
The concept of environment is about the significance of the environment in human life, and the important interrelationships between humans and the environment:
- The environment is the product of geological, atmospheric, hydrological, geomorphic, edaphic (soil), biotic and human processes.
- The environment supports and enriches human and other life by providing raw materials and food, absorbing and recycling wastes, maintaining a safe habitat and being a source of enjoyment and inspiration. It presents both opportunities for, and constraints on, human settlement and economic development. The constraints can be reduced but not eliminated by technology and human organisation.
- Culture, population density, type of economy, level of technology, values and environmental world views influence the different ways in which people perceive, adapt to and use similar environments.
- Management of human-induced environmental change requires an understanding of the causes and consequences of change, and involves the application of geographical concepts and techniques to identify appropriate strategies.
- Each type of environment has its specific hazards. The impact of these hazards on people is determined by both natural and human factors, and can be reduced but not eliminated by prevention, mitigation and preparedness.
The concept of interconnection emphasises that no object of geographical study can be viewed in isolation:
- Places and the people and organisations in them are interconnected with other places in a variety of ways. These interconnections have significant influences on the characteristics of places and on changes in these characteristics.
- Environmental and human processes, for example, the water cycle, urbanisation or human-induced environmental change, are sets of cause-and-effect interconnections that can operate between and within places. They can sometimes be organised as systems involving networks of interconnections through flows of matter, energy, information and actions.
- Holistic thinking is about seeing the interconnections between phenomena and processes within and between places.
The concept of sustainability is about the capacity of the environment to continue to support our lives and the lives of other living creatures into the future:
- Sustainability is both a goal and a way of thinking about how to progress towards that goal.
- Progress towards environmental sustainability depends on the maintenance or restoration of the environmental functions that sustain all life and human wellbeing (economic and social).
- An understanding of the causes of unsustainability requires a study of the environmental processes producing the degradation of an environmental function; the human actions that have initiated these processes; and the attitudinal, demographic, social, economic and political causes of these human actions. These can be analysed through the framework of human–environment systems.
- There are a variety of contested views on how progress towards sustainability should be achieved and these are often informed by world views such as stewardship.
The concept of scale is about the way that geographical phenomena and problems can be examined at different spatial levels:
- Generalisations made and relationships found at one level of scale may be different at a higher or lower level. For example, in studies of vegetation, climate is the main factor at the global scale but soil and drainage may be the main factors at the local scale.
- Cause-and-effect relationships cross scales from the local to the global and from the global to the local. For example, local events can have global outcomes, such as the effects of local vegetation removal on global climate.
The concept of change is about explaining geographical phenomena by investigating how they have developed over time:
- Environmental change can occur over both short and long time frames, and both timescales have interrelationships with human activities.
- Environmental, economic, social and technological change is spatially uneven, and affects places differently.
- An understanding of the current processes of change can be used to predict change in the future and to identify what would be needed to achieve preferred and more sustainable futures.
Geographical inquiry and skills strand
Geographical inquiry is a process by which students learn about and deepen their holistic understanding of their world. It involves individual or group investigations that start with geographical questions and proceed through the collection, evaluation, analysis and interpretation of information to the development of conclusions and proposals for actions. Inquiries may vary in scale and geographical context.
Geographical skills are the techniques that geographers use in their investigations, both in fieldwork and in the classroom. Students learn to think critically about the methods used to obtain, represent, analyse and interpret information and communicate findings. Key skills developed through Geography in the Australian Curriculum include formulating a question and research plan, recording and data representation skills, using a variety of spatial technologies and communicating using appropriate geographical vocabulary and texts.
Geographical skills are described in the curriculum under five subheadings representing the stages of a complete investigation. Over each two-year stage, students should learn the methods and skills specified for that stage, but it is not intended that they should always be learnt in the context of a complete inquiry. Teachers could, for example, provide students with data to represent or analyse rather than have them collect the information themselves. Inquiry does not always require the collection and processing of information: the starting point could be a concept or an ethical or aesthetic issue that can be explored orally. Many inquiries should start from the observations, questions and curiosity of students. Inquiry will progressively move from more teacher-centred to more student-centred as students develop cognitive abilities and gain experience with the process and methods across the years of schooling.
The stages of an investigation are:
Observing, questioning and planning: Identifying an issue or problem and developing geographical questions to investigate the issue or find an answer to the problem.
Collecting, recording, evaluating and representing: Collecting information from primary and/or secondary sources, recording the information, evaluating it for reliability and bias, and representing it in a variety of forms.
Interpreting analysing and concluding: Making sense of information gathered by identifying order, diversity, patterns, distributions, trends, anomalies, generalisations and cause-and-effect relationships, using quantitative and qualitative methods appropriate to the type of inquiry and developing conclusions. It also involves interpreting the results of this analysis and developing conclusions.
Communicating: Communicating the results of investigations using combinations of methods (written, oral, audio, physical, graphical, visual and mapping) appropriate to the subject matter, purpose and audience.
Reflecting and responding: Evaluating findings of an investigation to reflect on what has been learnt and the process and effectiveness of the inquiry; to propose actions that consider environmental, economic and social factors; and to reflect on implications of proposed or realised actions.
Relationship between the strands
The two strands are integrated in the development of a teaching and learning program. The geographical knowledge and understanding strand is developed year by year and provides the contexts through which particular skills are developed. The geographical inquiry and skills strand has common content descriptions for each two-year band of schooling, but with elaborations specific to each year to support the changing content of the geographical knowledge and understanding strand.
Key inquiry questions
Each year level includes key inquiry questions that provide a framework for developing students’ geographical knowledge and understanding, and inquiry and skills.