Geography Fieldwork is Not Mission Impossible

Geography teachers face numerous difficulties in conducting fieldwork for their students. While the national curriculum is shifting towards a field inquiry approach, some pre-existing problems remain, such as the issues of large class sizes, the lack of suitable sites due to our highly urbanised landscape, and teachers who do not have an understanding of the role fieldwork plays in constructing meaning in Geography. Having an understanding of how geographical knowledge has evolved will allow teachers to adopt meaningful strategies in the field in order to maximise the construction of geographical concepts and learning of geographical skills. In this paper, I propose a simple matrix that identifies purpose and strategies as two key goals that can help teachers work towards the implementation of a meaningful fieldwork programme for students. 

Introduction

Geography is possibly the most exciting discipline in the Humanities and Social Sciences group of subjects. Physical landscapes lend an authentic lens to contextualise the discipline. The need to measure and observe in order to infer and generalise are geographical skills that students find intriguing. When students venture out of their classrooms, the world becomes more apparent and real. The demand for quantification also necessitates collaboration amongst classmates. Suddenly, the Shy Shirley begins to talk, and Reticent Richard starts to come to life. Friendships, attitudes and values are forged and strengthened. Those who have gone through a cycle (or two) in fieldwork can easily testify to these positive outcomes.  

While many geography teachers are  excited at the prospect of geographical fieldwork re-emerging as a key driver for geographical education in Singapore, real challenges exist. A small handful of teachers still bemoan the lack of physical landscapes to conduct “real” fieldwork in Singapore (though this has been partially overcome by the somewhat generous government subsidy for overseas fieldtrips). There are also sceptics who think that fieldwork is just another round of “wave-counting” exercises and nothing else; and others who believe that the huge class size deters any form of fieldwork. 

The aim of this paper is, therefore, to correct the misconceptions that fieldwork 

  • requires an expensive trip out of Singapore
  • cannot be conducted in big groups 
  • is a boring data collection exercise

First, I provide a brief background to the evolution of fieldwork that developed with progress of geographic thought in the twentieth century. Knowledge of this development is important because it allows the teacher to understand the purpose of fieldwork. I then propose a simple framework that challenges educators to think about geographical fieldwork strategies based on the aims of the discipline. In this way, teachers can design focused and meaningful tasks for their learners.

Pages

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!