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Improving geographic literacy : the effects of motivation, project-based instruction, and collaborative learning

Abstract

Traveltopia was created as a tool for educators to teach elementary geography skills. By developing map-reading skills, through encoding and decoding maps, this curricular project explores how students can expand their spatial thinking skills and conceptual understanding of geography. The curriculum was implemented in a fourth grade classroom of thirty-two students with a wide range of academic abilities. The students collaborated on group projects with an authentic audience of people interested in the content, not just an audience of one, such as the teacher. Students had an equal opportunity to participate in the research, written, visual, and presentation of their culminating project. Theories of motivation and collaboration regarding student choice, flexible environments, and heterogeneous grouping were factored in this project design. Traveltopia offers support to teachers who are interested in teaching geography in an interactive and engaging way. The unit was designed to establish a cooperative learning environment through independent, small group, and whole class activities. Through this method of teaching and learning, students were also able to establish a community of learners. Data was collected and analyzed from teacher observations and field notes, student writing prompts and surveys, interviews, and the students' final group project. Results indicated that the majority of students became more motivated working collaboratively and improved their geography skill sets when immersed in project-based learning. Ultimately, students will be able to apply the skills learned in this unit and connect it to the geography that touches their own lives outside of the classroom

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