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by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson
Table of Contents
by Holly C. Gould
This three- to four-week unit helps students develop an understanding of how the regions of the United States are defined and what makes each region unique. Unit activities culminate in an independent project requiring students to apply what they have come to understand about the field of geography and the uniqueness of each U.S. region. Activities ongoing throughout the unit include a process log used for accountability and evaluation and a study of current events in different regions.
Prerequisite skills for this unit include 1) experience using print resources, books, and the Internet to conduct research; 2) ability to read for main ideas and information; 3) ability to summarize ideas in complete sentences; 4) expository writing skills; 5) experience using primary and secondary sources; and 6) experience creating PowerPoint, ClarisWorks, or Hyperstudio presentations. In addition, students working on this unit should have studied the history of their own city or town.
The unit opens with a review of basic map skills and terminology and then examines the concept of region. The primary question for students to consider is, “What makes a region a region?” Following this portion of the unit, the students explore the causes of changes within regions by examining the history of their own city or town. Finally, the students begin their independent projects, in which they are asked to think and behave as geographers do. The product-based approach allows all students to make sense of and apply key information, concepts, and understandings, which will serve them well throughout the year (and beyond). During the time students spend researching and working on their products, the teacher can meet with individuals and small groups to reteach, reinforce, or extend specific understandings and skills. The product-based approach also enables the teacher to help students with their independent learning skills.
I needed to develop a unit about the regions of the United States. After examining my social studies textbook, I decided that it emphasized many facts, but offered little that would help my students develop a deep understanding of regions and regional differences. It also seemed that the textbook offered surface-level knowledge that my students would be unlikely to remember for long. Thus, I began a search for good, sound curriculum that I could first defend and then differentiate.
To move beyond the text, I sought guidance from my state standards for geography and the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. I decided to address a few essential objectives as thoroughly as possible by encouraging my students to think and behave as geographers do. After examining the standards, I looked back to the textbook to determine what it highlighted, and I asked myself, “What is really important for my students to know and understand about geographical regions?” I decided it was essential they understand that the United States includes a variety of regions, each differing in ways both natural and human-made. Other important ideas flowed from that central understanding. By using the textbook as a resource rather than as the centerpiece of the social studies curriculum, I was able to look more deeply at the field of geography and at the importance of geographical regions. Examining several textbooks on world geography helped me gain a better grasp of what a geographer needs to know, understand, and be able to do in the context of real-world applications. It also helped me determine the vocabulary that would add to my students' understanding of geography.
At this point, I was working on developing sound and high-quality curriculum, but in the back of my mind, I was already starting to match my plans to learner needs. How would I differentiate this unit to help all my students achieve the greatest possible gains in understanding and skill? Still, I knew that spending time developing a meaningful and engaging unit was my first role. Not only is it easier to differentiate instruction when a solid unit is in place, but the resulting differentiation is far more likely to have the intended goal of maximizing student learning.
Region, Interaction, Variation
As a result of this unit, the students willknow
As a result of this unit, the students willunderstand that
As a result of this unit, the students willbe able to
Independent Project Assignments
Independent Project Evaluation Rubric
Independent Project Self-Evaluation
Pre-assessment of map skills
1–2 class periods
Group brainstorming session on the importance of map skills
Tiered assignment based on readiness
Group discussion about maps and map skills
What Makes a Region a Region?
2 class periods
Introductory presentation and discussion of regions
Individual or small-group activity on regions
Discussion of activity results and correlation to unit concepts
Presentation and discussion of new information concerning regions
Introduction of independent projects
Students select a region to study based on interest
Regional Changes over Time
Discussion of unit generalizations
Jigsaw activity based on interest
Discussion of Jigsaw and unit generalizations
What Does a Geographer Do?
4–6 class periods
Independent project work based on interest and readiness
Mini-lessons and coaching based on readiness
Presentation and viewing of research project products
Pre-assessment of map skills. Before beginning the unit, measure students' current knowledge and understanding of the different types and uses of maps and students' basic map skills, such as finding absolute location using latitude and longitude, using cardinal directions, and using a legend or key to identify places.
This pre-assessment may be either teacher-created or taken from a social studies teacher's manual. You might want to use a textbook post-test that addresses the highlighted map skills and vocabulary.
LESSON SEQUENCE AND DESCRIPTION
Group brainstorming session on the importance of map skills. Begin with a whole-class brainstorming session. Ask: Why might map skills be important to you personally?
I find that students participate more enthusiastically in learning activities when they understand how such activities relate to their own lives.
***Tiered assignment based on readiness. Assign students to one of two activities focused on map skills:
I tiered these activities based on the pre-assessment results. Those students who demonstrated a solid grasp of basic map skills and vocabulary by scoring 90 percent or higher on the pre-assessment completed the second activity. Those who needed further practice with map skills and vocabulary completed the first activity before they moved ahead to application tasks.
Activity 1. Examine the maps provided. What kind of maps do you think they are and for what might they be used? Why do you say so? What information do they show? Create a chart that shows the similarities and differences among all of the different types of maps. Be sure to use the correct vocabulary to describe each map.
This first activity offered students who needed it additional practice with the vocabulary of maps and with map reading. I provided a variety of maps, including relief maps, navigational maps, contour maps, and road maps, along with resources students could use to look up key vocabulary. I encouraged students in this group to work together so that they could share ideas and discuss their growing understanding.
Activity 2. Using what you know about map symbols and terminology and about types of maps, create two different maps of the school grounds. Each map should serve a different purpose, and you should be able to explain these purposes clearly. In addition, your maps should be accurate and attractive enough to be useful to someone visiting the school for the first time.
This activity allowed students who had a firm grasp of the language and characteristics of maps to apply that understanding by mapping a familiar place. The criteria helped to ensure that students created high-quality products. Students in this group worked either in pairs or small groups. A parent volunteer monitored students as they worked in and around the school building.
Group discussion about maps and map skills. Conclude the lesson by asking students to share their charts and maps and to further discuss the importance of maps. Why do we need maps? What characteristics make a map really useful?
Here, I wanted the students to listen to one another talk about maps and the importance of maps. Students who worked on Activity 1 talked about different types of maps and also gave feedback to their classmates by examining the maps of the school and trying them out.
Introductory presentation and discussion of regions. Begin by covering necessary background information, including that a region is an area that has key characteristics in common. Some regions are defined by one characteristic, such as government or landform types; others are defined by the interactionof many characteristics, such as language, ethnic group(s), and environment. Areas that form a region do not have to be contiguous.
I found it was necessary to go over the definition of a region before beginning the next activity, and I made sure students could explain the concept of region before we went any further. Also, this discussion helped me find out what they already knew about geographical regions in the United States.
Focus student discussion on the following questions: If you had to divide the United States into only seven sections (or regions), what would they be and why? How would you determine where to divide them? What are the positive and negative consequences of creating such sections or regions?
I required the students to explain the reasoning behind their thinking. My primary question was, “Why do certain regional divisions make more sense to you than others?”
Individual or small-group activity on regions. For this activity, students will need maps of the United States that do not show political boundaries but do show landforms. They may work either independently or in small groups.
During this part of the lesson, I provided maps without regional divisions because I wanted the students to propose their own. I was interested in finding out how they would divide the country and the justification they would provide for their decisions.
Directions: You have been hired to redivide the 50 states into only 7 regions. How you decide to do this is up to you, but you must provide a well-reasoned rationale for your decisions. In order to complete your job, you must do the following:
My goal here was critical thinking. Specifically, I wanted students to consider two questions:
I required the students to elaborate on the reasoning behind their decisions so they would use metacognitive skills, and I asked them to maintain a list of the problems they encountered during this activity to give them an idea of issues involved in creating regional divisions.
Discussion of activity results and correlation to unit concepts.When the students have completed the activity, allow them to share their regions and the reasoning behind their regional division decisions with the rest of the class. What problems did they run into as they created their regions? What similar and different criteria did the groups use to create regions?
During this discussion, I introduced the unit generalizations concerning the characteristics of and variations between regions.
Presentation and discussion of new information concerning regions. Provide students with maps showing the “true” regions of the United States. Discuss the criteria that were used to create these regions. Ask students what they think of this way of dividing the country.
Invite students to share what they already know about the various regions and write their ideas on the board. As students share their ideas, be sure to note misconceptions, which you'll want to address as the unit progresses.
After I gave students a map with the “true” U.S. regions (Alaska, Hawaii, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Midwest, Northeast), I asked the students to compare their ideas to “reality.” During this discussion, I shared some interesting facts about each region, with the goal of helping students to select regions of interest for their upcoming independent projects.
Introduction of independent projects. Conclude the lesson by introducing the upcoming research project and asking the students to write on an index card the two U.S. regions they would be most interested in studying in depth. Explain to the students that over the next few weeks, they will be researching a single region of their choice in order to understand important ideas about all regions of the United States.
*** Allowing the students to select a region helped to give them a more personal connection to the upcoming project. Thus, the project was differentiated partially on student interest.
When some students remained undecided about which regions they were interested in studying, I encouraged them to spend some time doing preliminary research (talking to others, reading short selections about a couple of regions, watching videos on various regions) in order to determine an interest.
Discussion of unit generalizations. Begin this lesson by asking students to consider the impact people have on places. How do humans affect their environments? How do we cause change in environments over time? How does population growth impact a place? Ask students to provide examples to support their ideas. What general statements can students create regarding the interaction of people and their environments? Post their statements in the classroom for continued reference.
I introduced the unit generalizations concerning people and the environment and asked students to provide evidence to support these ideas.
***Jigsaw activity based on interest. For this activity, students will first work in self-selected groups to complete one of six possible tasks. Explain that every member of the group must participate in and contribute to the group's work and that every member will be asked to share the information the group discovers with other students. In addition, every group member must have his or her own copy of the group's final product.
*** = Differentiated Component
This activity relates to the unit concept of interaction. Students had studied the history of their city prior to this unit, and I wanted them to apply the unit generalizations to a familiar location before applying them to places with which they were less familiar.
I like using the Jigsaw technique for several reasons:
Task 1. Create a chart showing our city's population growth since settlement. When did the greatest number of people come to the city? What might explain this population growth?
Task 2. Why did people move to our city in the past and why do they continue to do so? Develop a clear and organized way to show what you learn.
Task 3. When was our city connected to other cities, through what modes of transportation, and for what reasons? Develop a creative way (for example, newspaper headlines and articles from the time period) to show the city's early ties to other places.
Task 4. When did our city gain telephone and television technology? Compare and contrast the city before and after the arrival of this technology.
Task 5. What hazards existed in the past and continue to exist today for people living in our city? What has been done and could be done to lessen these hazards? Create an organizer to show your information and ideas.
Task 6. How have people changed the physical makeup of our city over time? Use a “before and after” approach to answer this question and develop an interesting way to show your ideas.
For this activity to work, all tasks needed to be completed by at least one group. To ensure that all tasks were addressed, I asked students to give me their top two choices, as well as any topics they were definitely notinterested in. From that information, I was able to form groups that worked well for individual and class needs.
After I had assigned groups of students to particular tasks, I stressed that they each needed to have a very solid grasp of the information gained from their tasks because they would be teaching this information to each other. I also explained that the skills they would be using on these tasks were similar to the ones they would need to complete their independent projects. This was a way for students to practice these skills in groups before setting off to use them on their own.
During both the initial research portion of the task and the Jigsaw portion, I moved around the room, listening to conversations, asking questions, and taking notes on what I heard. This helped me monitor student understanding as well as group function.
Once students have completed their work on the tasks, they will Jigsaw—be regrouped so that each new group will have one representative from each of the six task groups. In the new groups, students will share with one another what they have learned about the changes in their city and about ways people have affected their city over time.
I required students to take notes and ask questions as they listened to one another share the information generated from the various tasks. This helped to keep the students focused.
Discussion of Jigsaw and unit generalizations. Following the completion of the Jigsaw activity, lead a whole-class discussion of what students learned about the changes in their city over time. Do these sorts of changes occur in other places? Is there a relationship between people and their environments? Why or why not? Ask students to defend their responses. Use your insights from this discussion and your monitoring of the activities to ensure that students have correct and similar understandings about terms, concepts, and skills.
As we completed this activity, I referred back to the unit generalizations, and I asked students to explain how their new information about their city related to the generalizations.
***Independent project work based on interest and readiness. Students will arrive in class having already selected the region they wish to study. Now, they will receive their research role assignment, differentiated for readiness. (See the Independent Project Assignments, collected in Sample 3.1, beginning on page 109.) Assign each student to work independently in one of three roles:
Because my students performed at different levels during the previous activities, and because I recognized that some of them needed more concrete learning experiences, I tiered the independent project assignments and assigned students to the project roles that seemed best suited to their readiness levels.
Physical Geographer (Struggling Learners)
The Physical Geographer role required students to use many of the same skills and much of the same information they had used previously in the unit, but the role called for them to analyze and apply these understandings and skills. Thus, even though it was the most familiar and concrete of the three roles, it still required high-level thought.
Cultural Geographer (On-Target Learners)
The Cultural Geographer role was more demanding than Physical Geographer because it was more abstract in terms of the information students were to seek and required slightly more complex research skills. However, this role required students to examine aspects of society that they could see around them all the time.
Economic Geographer (Advanced Learners)
This was the most complex and abstract of the roles, as it addressed economics, an area of society few of my students had been exposed to. In addition, the role required students to combine ideas and information from two different fields (geography and economics) and draw conclusions based on the relationship between the two. I assigned to this role students who could think abstractly, had a large storehouse of information, and could grasp new ideas and concepts quickly.
Introduce the three different types of geographers and ask the students to consider the different approaches and skills involved. What does each type of geographer probably study? What kinds of data must they work with? What sorts of questions do they seek to answer? Following this whole-group discussion, introduce the project requirements and assign the students to their particular projects. Students will work on their projects both as class work and homework during the project time span.
Although the roles varied in complexity, all three required students to simulate behaviors and thinking of geographers, to keep a daily process log, to create products that demonstrated an understanding of regional differences, and to show how these differences relate to the unit concepts and generalizations concerning region, interaction, and variation.
***Mini-lessons and coaching based on readiness. Provide consultation and assistance during the research process as necessary. Throughout the project work span, offer mini-lessons on specific roles, research strategies, presentation techniques, using the rubric to guide work, and so on. You should probably invite some students to attend particular sessions, based on your observation of their needs. It is also wise to open the workshops to any student who feels attendance would improve the quality of his or her understanding and work.
I provided the Independent Project Evaluation Rubric (see Sample 3.2, page 112), a simple checklist for success that students could use to guide their own work and their feedback on their peers' projects. On such rubrics, it's helpful to include some criteria that all class members must address and some “negotiated criteria”—specific criteria either added by individual students to reflect their own goals and interests or designated by the teacher for an individual student to encourage growth in that learner. I included blank cells in this project's evaluation rubric to provide write-in space for negotiated criteria.
Continue to monitor students' understanding and progress as they work on their independent projects. You can do this through mini-workshops, with end-of-class discussions, through question-and-answer sessions as class begins, through required journal or process log entries, and by sitting with and coaching individuals and groups as they work.
At this age, most students will need “guided” independent study rather than total independence. It is the teacher's role to provide the structure necessary to help students succeed.
Presentation and viewing of research project products. Following the completion of the independent projects, provide time for the students to share their products with the class orset up the student projects in the classroom, computer lab, or other central place, such as the media center. (If there aren't enough computers available to play all the multimedia presentations, students should print out hard copies of their presentations for display.)
Divide the class into two groups so that half the students are “experts” on the displays and the other half are “visitors.” Visitors should circulate among the projects, asking questions and providing feedback to the experts. The next day, have students switch expert/visitor roles.
Students who play the visitor role can use the Independent Project Evaluation Rubric (see Sample 3.2) as one means of providing feedback. If you ask other guests (parents, teachers, other classes, community members) to view the exhibits, you might also want to ask them to complete rubrics for the products they view.
Self-evaluation. Be sure students complete the self-evaluation form provided (see the Independent Project Self-Evaluation, Sample 3.3, page 114).
The ability to reflect on and assess one's own work is an important skill in becoming a more self-directed learner.
The thing that pleased me the most about this unit was that the students didn't feel like they were being grouped only by readiness. The students grouped themselves based on the region they were interested in, and then I provided additional grouping by giving them assignments within that interest group based on readiness. This approach gave them an opportunity to work on a region of interest, yet be challenged at an appropriate level. I was also pleased with the connection to the real world of the geographer that this unit offered.
You are a physical geographer. Physical geographers study the natural landscape and the ways in which people change land, bodies of water, climate, soil, and vegetation. For example, physical geographers study the soil erosion that results from the plowing of steep slopes. They consider the effects of strip mining on land and vegetation and the way burning fossil fuels sends large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, changing rainfall patterns.
The United States government is developing a project to help new immigrants to the country understand how the United States is grouped into regions.
You are a cultural geographer. Cultural geographers attempt to learn about the people of a particular region. They study the land on which people live, how people have changed the land, and how people have used available resources in order to survive. Cultural geographers study people in order to gain insight into how societies can solve problems and examine the lifestyles and traditions of societies.
You are an economic geographer. Economic geographers study the geographic distribution of the people's economic activities. They examine production, secondary production, retailing, the consumer sector, goods and services, and employment.
5 = Excellent
3 = Satisfactory
1 = Poor
Used a variety of high-quality primary and secondary resources that would be used by a geographer. Derived interesting and defensible conclusions. Addressed the uniqueness of the region from a geographer's perspective.
Used different primary and secondary resources. Sometimes addressed the uniqueness of the region as a geographer would. Drew limited conclusions that showed understanding of the region.
Used only secondary resources. Did not address the uniqueness of the region as a geographer would. Drew no conclusions, or drew conclusions that did not show understanding.
Multimedia presentation was informative and thought provoking. Summarized ideas and covered important aspects of the research. Presented information in a way that was logical, interesting, and easy for the audience to follow.
Multimedia presentation addressed the required areas. Information was accurate, but not always interesting or insightful. The audience could follow and understand the presentation.
Multimedia presentation was weak. Information was presented in a disorganized and illogical way. The audience could not always follow or understand the presentation.
Visuals were very neat, well organized, and accurate. High-quality artistic effort evident. Incorporated detail that was helpful, not distracting. Clearly labeled.
Visuals were neatly drawn. Artistic effort evident. Incorporated some detail. Labeled adequately for identification.
Visuals were difficult to read and interpret. Minimal artistic effort evident. Incorporated little detail. Inadequately labeled.
Log contained daily entries. Clearly discussed the process of researching, developing, and testing ideas about unit concepts and generalizations concerning region, interaction, and variation. Thinking about thinking is evident.
Log contained 2–3 entries per week. Evidence of thinking about the process was often present. Included meaningful discussion of unit concepts and generalizations concerning region, interaction, and variation.
Log was incomplete and showed little evidence of thought or working through problems. Unit concepts and generalizations concerning region, interaction, and variation were not discussed or were not discussed in a way that showed understanding.
* Note: Add criteria as desired. (For example: organization, creativity, mechanics.)
Complete the following sentences:
Using the criteria listed below, evaluate your project and your work on it. Place an X on the number that indicates your evaluation of the specific criterion. The lowest possible score is 1, and the highest possible score is 5. Your teacher will do the same for each criterion by circling a number so that you can compare the evaluations.
Validity of Resources
Accuracy of Information
Quality of Thought
Authenticity of Role
Efficient Use of Time
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