What is Geography about?
Subject-specific terms can be found in the glossary.
Geography is the study of the environment as the home of people. It seeks to interpret the world and how it changes over time – past, present, and future. In geography, time, space, and place are interrelated. Geography investigates the ways in which features are arranged on the Earth’s surface. It describes and explains the patterns and processes that create these features.
Geography observes how perspectives and power influence both natural and cultural environments. It considers the nuances of people's perspectives and explores how different environmental worldviews are shaped. Features and patterns on the Earth’s surface have consequences on peoples’ decision-making and use of land.
Students of geography explore the relationships and connections between people and natural and cultural environments. Ākonga learn to think spatially and use maps, visual images, and inquiry processes.
Students of geography use new technologies, including geographical information systems (GIS), to obtain, present, and analyse information. Students of geography explore multiple and multi-layered perspectives and knowledge systems, such as mātauranga Māori, western science knowledge systems, and Pacific perspectives through Tapasā.
Big Ideas and Significant Learning
Big Ideas are derived from the Learning Area essence statement and capture the essence of a subject, ensuring coherence rather than fragmentation of learning. At the subject level, they inform the Significant Learning – learning that is critical for students to know, understand, and do in relation to a subject by the end of each Curriculum Level. This covers knowledge, skills, competencies, and attitudes and also includes level-appropriate contexts students should encounter in senior secondary education.
The Significant Learning is collated into a Learning Matrix and progresses across Curriculum Levels 6-8. Teachers can use the Learning Matrix as a tool to construct learning programmes that cover all the 'not to be missed' learning in a subject. There is no prescribed order to the Learning Matrix within each level. A programme of learning might begin with a context that is relevant to the local area of the school or an idea that students are particularly interested in. This topic or context has to relate to at least one Big Idea and may also link to other Big Ideas. The Learning Matrix is designed so that educators have the freedom to create courses that are both flexible and coherent.
Geographic practices, shown across the top of the Learning Matrix in the Geography kete, make up the how of geography and are woven throughout the Significant Learning and knowledge Big Ideas. The how tells us what the knowledge looks like in the discipline of geography. Geography practices are critical to explaining how people value, view, use, and interact with natural and cultural environments.
The four Big Ideas of geography are derived from the Social Sciences and Science Learning Areas. These are the knowledge Big Ideas, and are situated down the left side of the Learning Matrix.
Students of geography use a range of practices to learn about places and environments. Weaving geographic practices into teaching and learning at different scales, times, and places is a significant part of the discipline. Students of geography inquire into environments through research.
Students of geography visit and explore environments to understand how the landscape has been formed. They also map these environments to show current patterns and to predict futures. Students of geography use qualitative and quantitative data to understand how our world works, alongside conceptual models and theories.
Students of geography explore environments by utilising and integrating different knowledge systems. For example, geographic practices may include examining how mātauranga Māori understands the formation of environments, or how decisions might be made for the future (kaitiakitanga). Geographic practice is also shaped by western scientific approaches to knowledge, in which empirical evidence is interpreted to make sense of places and environments. These different knowledge systems can also help geographers to develop empathy and understanding for people across different cultures.
These geographic practices are integrated as students develop their understanding of the Big Ideas.
Environments shape people and people shape environments
People are inextricable from the natural environment. Our relationship with the environment is dynamic and two-way: the environment shapes us as we shape the environment. Since the beginning of the Anthropocene (current epoch), peoples’ influence on environments has caused significant environmental changes.
Different environments present opportunities for and constraints on people, and it is a geographer’s role to know, understand, and map the key natural and cultural characteristics of different environments. We can understand differences in how people use and interact with the natural world. We understand the effects and consequences of these interactions. Our relationship with place and space has meaning for us and influences how we interact with environments.
Geographers investigate natural and cultural connections between place and space. People and resources flow between places and connections are established. Students of geography investigate these connections between place and space at local, regional, national, and global scales.
As students of geography in Aotearoa New Zealand, we use mātauranga Māori and western knowledge systems to address contemporary environmental challenges.
Environments are shaped by natural processes
Aotearoa New Zealand lies on plate boundaries, has a maritime climate, and most of its inhabitants live within 40 km of the coast. Aotearoa New Zealand has a diverse range of natural processes forming a range of natural environments. Understanding how these environments are formed is critical for geographic thinking because it connects the past with the present and is part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s national identity.
Natural environments have evolved spatially and temporally. Geographers research and investigate how the processes within and between the spheres of the Earth systems shape and affect the natural and cultural environment. Geographers study places across all scales: we study local, regional, national, and global environments. Comparing and contrasting local environments with environments overseas can inform our decisions and responses to a changing world.
In Aotearoa New Zealand the relationship between ngā tangata and te whenua is shaped by the concept of kaitiakitanga
Kaitiakitanga ensures control and care, sustainable use and management, and protection of our natural and cultural resources, including te ao Māori. By looking to mātauranga Māori and pre-colonial geographic practices, we can consider our possible, probable, and preferred futures from an enriched vantage point.
Kaitiakitanga is a uniquely te ao Māori concept, value, and practice. Aotearoa New Zealand’s understanding of and approach to sustainability has been significantly influenced by kaitiakitanga. This is evident through existing government policy, legislation, socio-cultural values, and land use practices across Aotearoa.
All things in life are kin and are woven into the universe. Therefore, the decisions of all people impact the environment. A holistic and multi-generational worldview can help us as geographers to explore sustainable practices and protect our natural and cultural resources.
Kaitiakitanga embraces the relationship between people and the environment and reminds students of geography of our role as guardians of the natural world. We use kaitiakitanga to recognise that the consequences of decisions produce spatial patterns at a range of scales. As students of geography, we must consider why we protect the environment, and how this is realised. The practices we draw from kaitiakitanga, in an Aotearoa New Zealand context, can also be applied to global contexts.
Perspectives and power influence environments
Geography analyses and considers the consequences of differences in perspective and power and how these may influence the natural and cultural environment. Students of geography recognise that diverse perspectives influence decision making. They articulate biases and perspectives with an awareness that those of other people may be different.
Power can influence and shape change. Students of geography can create social change by exploring how differences in perspective and power influence processes, places, and people. Geographers make decisions on how communities and groups should intervene for a better future, through frameworks, models, and social and environmental policy. These decisions are made at a range of scales across many locations. As students of geography, we investigate how language and discourse manipulate and marginalise people to produce patterns of inequality.
We recognise that the relationship between people and the land has been impacted by the actions and inactions stemming from Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Key Competencies in Geography
Developing Key Competencies through Geography
Learning in Geography provides meaningful contexts for developing Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum. These Key Competencies are woven through, and embedded in, the Big Ideas and Significant Learning. Each discipline has its own processes, practices, and ways of knowing and interpreting meaning.
Geography provides learners with opportunities to develop critical and relational thinking and temporal and spatial awareness. Students of geography will develop understanding of geographic skills, and will explore different environmental perspectives and worldviews.
Students in Geography will:
- use critical thinking to make informed decisions, judgements, and evaluations
- consider possible, probable, and preferred futures
- interpret perspectives
- make connections between natural and cultural environments, and the way environments relate to each other
- tease out cause and effect connections
- challenge the basis of texts
- raise questions, and formulate these clearly and precisely
- gather and assess relevant information, and use abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
- reach well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, and test these against criteria and standards
- communicate with others to figure out solutions to complex problems
- acknowledge global practices and processes and consider these within the idea that environments shape people and people shape environments
- use relational thinking to analyse how places are shaped, often producing inequalities, as relational thinking governs how we think about differences and similarities
- use relational thinking to consider power and perspectives within the framework of place and space
- use relational thinking to understand differences in development and progress, and how people use and interact with the natural world
- use caring thinking as they develop empathy for others
- learn to collaborate with others and develop self-management skills
- think creatively, as they consider the future of environments
- consider different courses of action to solve challenges facing people.
Using language, symbols, and texts
Students in Geography will:
- use language, symbols, and text to create, read, and understand maps (including Geographic Information Systems (GIS)), graphs, visuals, tables, and texts
- develop spatial and temporal awareness
- use maps to process information
- use data to draw conclusions about processes that shape natural and cultural environments.
Relating to others
Students in Geography will:
- use inquiry processes and data collection
- work with others to identify solutions
- develop an awareness of different geographical imaginations
- understand their own biases and those of others
- question perspectives and power, and how these impact place and environments
- consider mātauranga Māori as part of geographic thinking
- respect Māori relationships with place and space as fundamental to the discipline of geography in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Students in Geography will:
- use fieldwork and research to manage themselves effectively while collecting, analysing, presenting, concluding, and evaluating data and information
- reflect on skills and knowledge systems to add to their geography kete
- collect primary data through groupwork to learn from other students and engage with other worldviews.
Participating and contributing
Students in Geography will:
- engage in debate and discussion
- endeavour to make partnerships, relationships, and connections to explore viewpoints
- lead or be part of social and climate action
- raise awareness of natural and cultural geographic changes through presentations, publications, and other platforms for discussion
- consider practices of kaitiakitanga as an inextricable part of their discipline as they contribute to the world around them.
This section of New Zealand Curriculum online offers specific guidance to school leaders and teachers on integrating the Key Competencies into the daily activities of the school and its Teaching and Learning Programmes.
Introduction to sample course outlines
Sample Course Outlines are being produced to help teachers and schools understand the new NCEA Learning Matrix and Achievement Standards. The draft Course Outlines that were published at the end of Phase 1, Level 1 product development are now being taken down. Work will continue on these, reflecting the changes noted in the SEG responses, and the additional detail that will be provided in Phase 2 products. They will be re-published for the next cycle of feedback on the Phase 2 products in early August 2021. Exemplars of student work will be provided after the Pilot phase in 2022.
Unpacking The Standards
These statements help to unpack the ways in which the Achievement Standards assess the Significant Learning in the Learning Matrix.
1.1 (Internal) Describe spatial patterns in a geographic context
The focus of this standard is to identify spatial patterns in a geographic context.
Different environments, either natural or cultural, can be explored to understand spatial patterns.
This standard will use varied geographic practices to understand patterns and may include fieldwork.
1.2 (Internal) Demonstrate understanding of the contested nature of place
Geographical thinking helps students to understand how perspectives and power dynamics influence environments.
This standard requires students to understand competing interests and ideas about place, and what that means for the future.
Students will explore different perspectives about how places could or should be used, and consider that while all stakeholders have views, they do not share power equally.
1.3 (External) Interpret geographic data to explore environments
Students will gather, or be given, primary and/or secondary geographic data to interpret. They will use that data to understand and explore a geographic environment.
Students of geography will understand the steps of the research and inquiry process and recognise the value of each step.
Multiple forms of knowledge may inform student interpretations of the natural or cultural environment.
1.4 (External) Justify a course of action in response to an environmental challenge in Aotearoa New Zealand or the Pacific
The focus of this standard is decision-making in response to an environmental challenge.
In this standard, students will consider consequences of environmental challenges, and the consequences of people's decisions in response to those challenges.
Applying geographical practices to justify a decision in response to an environmental event or challenge gives students of geography the opportunity to consider practices of kaitiakitanga.
Students will recognise the purpose of the resources they have been given.
Students will be able to select and discern between sources of information.