The Role of Geographical Investigations In Developing Students’ Cognitive Thinking, pp. 4 of 11


This study was based on a Secondary 2 Express class in a Singapore secondary school. The class was average in terms of academic performance in Geography compared to the entire school cohort. Four students (Molly, Keith, Weilin and Zack – all pseudonyms) and their Geography teacher participated in this research. The choice of students was based on the selection of a GI group by the Geography teacher. Also, the focus of this study (Transport) was based on the school’s scheme of work for Secondary 2.

As Resnick and Resnick (1992) pointed out, test results may not be the best indicator of higher-order cognitive abilities which involve more abstract reasoning. Thus, emphasis was placed on gleaning insights from students’ individual interpretations and experiences, rather than statistical testing and comparison of academic results done in prior studies on the benefits of fieldwork (Kern & Carpenter, 1986; Boyle et al., 2007; Oost et al., 2011). This study primarily tapped on findings gathered from student interviews before and after fieldwork to better understand students’ cognitive development (if any) through GI. Findings from teacher interviews and participant observations of Transport GI lessons also were used to gain a more comprehensive understanding of students’ GI experiences.

For student interviews, students were presented with the same source (crafted by the researcher) before and after fieldwork (see Fig. 3); they were then asked questions about the source to determine if there were differences in responses after fieldwork (see Fig.4):

The source was intentionally crafted to mirror students’ Transport GI experiences by focusing on the same topic (Transport) and describing the results of a questionnaire. For their Transport GI, students were tasked to craft and administer a questionnaire to help them gather data to write a report that answers the GI question – “What features of our public transport help to ensure a safe and comfortable journey?” (CPDD, 2014, p.12). By presenting students with an unfamiliar source related to Transport before and after fieldwork, students had to apply their prior knowledge and experiences to construct meanings about the source. This requires the use of cognitive thinking skills; hence, comparing students’ pre-and post-fieldwork responses to the source indicates the presence/absence of cognitive development. Students’ responses to the source were coded for analysis based on the cognitive thinking skills shown in Fig. 1. However, the process of coding was largely iterative due to the multiple cognitive thinking skills embedded in students’ responses. 

While the term ‘GI’ is used to encompass all stages in Fig. 2 with fieldwork being a component of GI, for this paper, students were purposefully interviewed immediately after stage 2 (Gathering data) for their post-GI interviews. This was to verify that development in cognitive thinking (if any) stemmed from students’ personal experiences in the field, rather than from their teacher who conducted post-GI lessons a few weeks later. For this GI, students’ Transport questionnaire was constructed under teacher guidance. Nevertheless, groups conducted their fieldwork in their own time without teacher supervision.

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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