Tina Clarke believes it's important for both herself and her students to stay current with what's happening in the world. A teacher for 17 years, Clarke currently teaches advanced placement geography and human geography for Grades 11 and 12 at Kelowna Secondary School in Kelowna, B.C. She works to form meaningful connections with the community at large and regularly invites professors from the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus to give talks in her classroom. She also tries to take her students outside the school as often as possible to hear directly from people engaged in geography-related careers, such as GIS experts and city planners. Clarke is always looking for new professional development opportunities and last summer attended the National Council for Geographic Education conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she presented a paper on the cultural importance of geographic naming. Here, she discusses how she brings real world events into her classroom and how her teaching style has evolved.
Is there a particular aspect of geography that you feel really passionate about?
I like to focus on keeping things current and relevant, and I enjoy teaching human geography. I bring in current issues by finding articles for the students that are pertinent to the units that I’m teaching. I use inquiry a lot in the classroom and talk to my students about taking sides and being critical thinkers, especially when it comes to media. I find that it’s important for students to get various sources and later for them to find them on their own. I like them to be informed about what’s going on in the world. I want them to leave the classroom with the idea that geography is everywhere and to think critically and question things.
Can you give examples of how you encourage critical thinking in your classroom?
The unit I just finished on agriculture, we went through it by looking at different types of agriculture and the issues surrounding agriculture around the world. At the end, I asked students to come up with inquiry questions on something that is important to them and to look at reliable sources and databases. They then did a short presentation to show what they’d found so that they could teach other students. It brought together my philosophy of finding reliable sources, and when you’re presenting, to feel confident in using these sources.
I work on skills while we’re going through the course. For example, I teach about genocide in human geography — we went through the whole concept of genocide, learned about the holocaust and other examples, and then, sticking to Lemkin’s definition of genocide, started talking about residential schools and whether that was a cultural genocide.
What's unique about your classroom?
In my physical geography class, our final assessment certainly stands out. I take the students on a two-and-a-half-hour hike through Gallagher’s Canyon, an area of Kelowna that showcases the physical features we’ve been studying all semester. They do a field work assignment. Throughout the course we talk about how important fieldwork is and, if they decide to pursue geography, that field work is a very big part of geographic learning.
How has your teaching style evolved over the course of your career?
I’m now a National Geographic certified teacher, and doing that was a huge leap forward for me because I had to really think about my teaching. I used the Gallagher’s Canyon hike as the video for my capstone project, to showcase something that we do in the classroom. I started teaching AP Geography five years ago and it’s changed me professionally. When you’re forced to be current it keeps you moving forward as a teacher, not being stagnant. I feel like I’m constantly reading, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries. It’s been career changing for me. Outside the classroom, I’m constantly looking for places to go and trips where I can meet with other geographers and teachers.