With several decades of experience in teaching geography at the high school level, Randy Wilkie has spent the last 20 years imparting his knowledge to new teachers as a lecturer of geography methodology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. He has worked with several organizations, such as the Ontario Association for Geographic and Environmental Education (OAGEE), and produced a number of journal and textbook publications over the years. For his dedication and commitment to developing geographic literacy and engagement among his students, Wilkie has been recognized with awards such as the OAGEE Award of Distinction, and been made a Fellow of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
On teaching geography teachers
I essentially start off going through the frameworks of geography, so this would range from the five themes of geography that came out of the United States to the Ontario geography curriculum, and then I get into problem-solving and decision-making, using different types of resources to communicate ideas—from cartoons to GIS to fieldwork. I try to give them a well-rounded approach to the different aspects of geography.
Right now, my students are finishing up what I call the curriculum development project. They select a topic, which in this case was hurricanes, and they develop a big question to encompass the entire project. Then they split up and have to create two lessons related to different geographical aspects of the question, such as why do hurricanes develop. I try to give them a broad spectrum of different approaches to teaching, but they bring in their own experiences and interests. For example, I have a student from Romania who looked at the geopolitics that surround hurricanes in terms of getting aid and helping countries to rebuild after a disaster.
On how geography teaching has changed
I often say to my class, “When I was sitting where you are, I hated every minute of this.” I was almost turned off geography because of the approach that was being used. That’s why I’m determined to show them how to use geography in an applied sense. For example, we’ll spend time with GIS because many of them have no experience with it, but for teachers starting out in this day and age, it’s a great way to embellish their resume.
On applying geographical concepts to the real world
It’s almost 20 years that I’ve been doing these posters for OAGEE. They’ll take on different themes encouraging kids to study geography. In high school, students often ask, “What are we taking this for?” so we highlight all the different career paths that are possible with a grounding in GIS, such as travel and tourism or developing green technology.
On helping to develop geography curricula
I’ve been involved with different reviews of curricula over the years and I’ve written resources for the Ministry of Education, largely about geographic and financial literacy. The project I’m most proud of is this Inquiry and Thinking Skills book I developed for geography teachers. As an example, the Forestry Series has three parts. The first part is called “Paper Kings” and it looks at the evolution of the pulp and paper industry from the 1850s to the current day, focusing on locational factors. The next part is called “The Boreal,” looking at forestry practices, and students do a simulation where they have to make decisions about tree harvesting in a certain area. And the third part is a role-play activity where they have to decide where to put a pulp and paper mill in Canada. They grasp the principles of what various stakeholders go through. Back when I was a student, you would take a country like the United Kingdom and you would memorize all the products it was exporting and importing. It got boring after a while. With simulation games and role-playing, it engages students to learn.