Contemporary geographical issues and the media

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography content descriptions addressed in the illustration are:

  • Significant events that connect people and places throughout the world (ACHGK034)
  • The effects that people’s connections with, and proximity to, places throughout the world have on shaping their awareness and opinion of those places (ACHGK036)

Collecting, evaluating, recording and representing

  • Collect and record relevant geographical data and information, using ethical protocols, from primary and secondary sources, for example, people, maps, plans, photographs, satellite images, statistical sources and reports (ACHGS041)

Communicating

  • Present findings and ideas in a range of communication forms, for example, written, oral, graphic, tabular, visual and maps, using geographical terminology and digital technologies as appropriate (ACHGS045)

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • investigating a selected contemporary geographical issue or event using the media
  • developing an understanding of peoples' connection with places throughout the world
  • collecting geographical information from a variety of sources  
  • presenting research findings using an oral presentation supported by a PowerPoint presentation. 

Geographical understanding and context

While many teachers use the media to engage the interest of students in new topics and promote classroom discussion, its role in knowledge acquisition is often overlooked. The media, in all its various forms, provides and excellent resource from which students can gain an awareness and understanding of contemporary geographical issues and events. There is, however, a qualification. Students need to have some understanding of the ways news is 'constructed' by the media. This is an important 'life skill' with applications beyond the classroom. In this illustration we explore the potential of the media as a source of geographical information, especially as it relates to significant events that connect places throughout the world.

Contemporary issues and events are the matters and occurrences that are 'in the news'. They are the issues and events that are discussed and debated widely in the community. The media plays an important role in bringing these issues and events to the public's attention and it influences the nature and direction of public discourse by the way in which it presents or reports the news.

A key to an understanding of the role and power of the media is recognition that it provides a highly selective view of the world. News 'construction' is, by its very nature, complex, and involves decision-making processes shaped by the individual perspectives or world views of those involved. As a result, it is important for students to become 'critical' users of such material, especially when it is obtained from sources where the reliability of the information might be questioned (for example, the Internet). Students need to be able to distinguish between 'objective' reporting and 'opinion' pieces. In the case of the latter, they need to identify the perspective from which it has been written. In other words, students need to be able to identify bias and stereotyping. 

In Year 6, students develop a greater appreciation of the diversity of environments, peoples and cultures around the world, and they develop the capacity to reflect on cultural differences and similarities. They also recognise the meaning and significance of intercultural understanding. Their mental map of the world becomes increasingly global as they examine Australia's connections with other countries and events in places throughout the world. Their interaction with the media is critical to the development of this global perspective.

This illustration provides a framework for investigating contemporary geographical issues and events with a focus on the media as an information source. The extent to which any single geographical issue or event illustrates Australia's connections with other countries, places and peoples should guide the implementation of this illustration in classrooms.

Teaching approaches

This illustration of practice involves a series of sequential skill-based learning experiences, each one providing a foundation for the next and ultimately facilitating an individual research task. Steps to undertake these learning experiences are provided below.

1. Introduction

Explain, in age-appropriate language, what a contemporary geographical issue is. Contemporary geographical issues (PDF, 178 KB) will help you to clarify your own understanding.

2. Brainstorm and mind mapping

Working in groups, ask your students to brainstorm the contemporary geographical issues they are familiar with. Ask each group to present their findings as a mind map. A guide to mind mapping (PDF, 314 KB) will assist your students in this task. 

Once they have completed this activity, ask each group to share their mind map with the rest of the class. What issues did the groups have in common? Were there any issues identified by just a single group? As a class, ask your students to identify what they think are the 10 most important of these contemporary geographical issues. You might also like to ask your students to sort the issues by geographical scale - local, national, regional and global.

3. Discussion - the media

Ask students where their awareness of such issues comes from. The most likely response is the media. Use this as an opportunity to introduce your students to the role of the media in making us aware of geographical issues and events. Using age-specific language, explain to students the way in which the media 'sets the agenda' by highlighting some geographical issues and events while ignoring others. 

Also, outline the way the nature of the news being presented varies according to the type of media people access, and the difference between 'factual' reporting and 'opinion' pieces. Perhaps use examples to illustrate this difference. It may also be beneficial to link this to the concept of an individual's perspective or point of view, and how this 'colours' the information we access in the media and the manner in which it is 'read'. 

Students also need to recognise the importance of ascertaining the credibility and reliability of the information they access, especially the material obtained from online sources. The role of the media (PDF, 163 KB) will help you to clarify your own understanding of such matters.

4. Individual presentations

Using the list of contemporary geographical issues and events that was generated by students in step 2, ask your students to undertake research into one of the issues identified. Direct them to present their findings as an oral presentation accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. 

The list of points provided in A guide to investigating contemporary geographical issues (PDF, 176 KB) will assist your students to structure their research and presentation. Also of use will be A guide to presenting an oral report (PDF, 277 KB) and A guide to constructing PowerPoint presentations (PDF, 261 KB).

Students undertake their research individually over a period of 4-5 days, then present their oral reports supported by their PowerPoint presentation.

5. Reflection

Have your students reflect on their use of the media as a source of information about contemporary geographical issues. The following questions, which are also included (albeit in a different format) in A guide to investigating contemporary geographical issues (PDF, 176 KB) will help you to structure this element of the activity. Ask students:

  • Why is the issue you investigated of interest to geographers?
  • Did the sources you used present different points of view about the issue or event?
  • Did the sources of your information prove reliable?
  • How has the media influenced your study of the issue?
  • How has the research undertaken affected your views on the issue?
  • What actions could you take either individually or collectively to address the issue?

What you need

Access to the Internet.

Contemporary geographical issues (PDF, 178 KB).

A guide to mind mapping (PDF, 314 KB).

The role of the media (PDF, 178 KB).

A guide to investigating contemporary geographical issues (PDF, 176 KB).

A guide to presenting an oral report (PDF, 277 KB).

A guide to constructing PowerPoint presentations (PDF, 261 KB).

Time allocation: To be undertaken over a period of 2-3 weeks. This activity could also be used to facilitate thematic, cross-curriculum learning experiences (for example, English).

Resources

Websites:

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA): Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale

All other required resources are listed in the 'What you need' section above.