The Role of Geographical Investigations In Developing Students’ Cognitive Thinking, pp. 3 of 11

The framework was primarily adapted from Benjamin Bloom’s original Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in the cognitive domain (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill & Krathwohl, 1956), subsequent modifications of Bloom’s Taxonomy based on 21st Century education (Anderson et al., 2001; Krathwohl, 2002) and geographical enquiry (Oliver, n.d.), which all highlight the hierarchical ordering of cognitive abilities from simple to complex. As shown in Fig. 1, categories 1 (‘Remember’) and 2 (‘Understand’) represent lower-order thinking skills, whereas categories 3 to 6 (‘Apply’, ‘Analyse’, ‘Evaluate’, ‘Create’) are higher-order thinking skills. While the descriptors provided for each category are not exhaustive, they provide an overview of what each cognitive level entails and are the ones more relevant to inquiry-based fieldwork/GI.

Geographical Investigations in Singapore’s Geography Curriculum

Recently introduced as a compulsory component in both the Secondary and Pre-university Geography curriculum (starting from 2013 for Upper Secondary, followed by the Lower Secondary and Pre-University H2 syllabi in 2014 and 2016 respectively), GI is a form of geographical inquiry where students participate actively in constructing their understanding of the world (Roberts, 2003). Nevertheless, lower secondary students follow a “guided inquiry approach” for GI as they are “new to the study of Geography” (CPDD, 2014, p.11). Fig. 2 outlines the four stages students undergo in GI based on Robert’s geographical inquiry model:

In GI, students investigate a geographical issue relating to specific topics learnt in class. Each issue has a GI question and students are tasked to gather, select and present relevant data from the field. Based on their data, students will form their own geographical interpretations regarding the issue and answer the GI question.

As Geography is a compulsory subject for Secondary 1 and 2 levels, all Secondary 1 and 2 students have the chance to conduct GI which is believed to help students achieve the learning outcomes of Geography, develop 21st Century Competencies and the Desired Outcomes of Education (DOE) in Singapore’s education system: Through GI, it is hoped that students “learn the process of geographical inquiry and use it to make sense of new knowledge” (CPDD, 2014, p.6). Also, GI was designed to give students opportunities to “organise and present geographic information in a coherent way” (CPDD, 2014, p.7). To meet these learning outcomes, students need to tap on both lower-order and higher-order thinking skills. For example, students have to recall what they learnt regarding geographical data representation to choose the best method to present their findings (corresponds to the ‘Remember’ category in Fig. 1). When exercising reasoning and reflecting on data (stages 3 and 4 in Fig. 2), students practice their higher-order thinking skills of application, analysis, evaluation and creation (aligns with categories 3 to 6 in Fig. 1).

Achieving these learning outcomes in Geography has been deemed to hone students’ “critical and inventive thinking”, and “information and communication skills” – key 21st Century Competencies framing Singapore’s education (CPDD, 2014, p.31). This was envisioned to contribute to the attainment of DOE for Singapore’s education system: Through GI, it is hoped that students will become “confident, self-directed learner[s]” by engaging in independent learning, critical thinking and reflection; working in groups during GI also aims to cultivate students to become “active contributors” (CPDD, 2014, p.1). Nonetheless, empirical evidence on whether GI accomplishes the above aims of Geography and the broader goals of Singapore education advocated by CPDD remains limited. Moreover, the dearth of literature on the role of GI in students’ cognitive development stresses the need for further analysis on the influence of GI on students’ cognitive thinking, as investigated in this study.

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

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