"Hands-On Geography" is a highly interactive 10-week class for 4th-8th graders.* The class involves students directly in a variety of hands-on projects, games, and activities designed to expand students' understanding of U.S. and world geography.
Each 10-week session is a mix of U.S. geography and world geography, physical geography and cultural geography, with a generous dose of history, economics, and science mixed in.
Most weeks involve some sort of project to be completed at home to be shared with the group the following week. Because I believe, when it comes to geography, a picture really is worth a thousand words, homework assignments tend to focus on visual and spatial information, not written assignments. My assignments are intentionally open ended, allowing students with no prior geographic knowledge and students with extensive geographic knowledge (and all those in between!) to build on their present knowledge base and go as deeply into that week's subject matter as they would like.
Strong reading skills and the ability to work cooperatively are a must. Some of our in-class games and activities involve reading, and most at-home assignments involve some level of reading/research. Many in-class activities are done with a partner or in a small group.
Subject to students' dietary restrictions, I usually serve an "international snack" each week (e.g., guava cookies from Brazil, spicy chickpeas from India, dates from Tunisia, coconut-rice wafers from Cambodia). This is a favorite activity as students look at the wrapper to try to figure out where the day's snack is from and then sample something that kids in another country might enjoy eating.
In response to student demand, I now offer three different "Hands-On Geography" classes. All three "Hands-On Geography" classes take the same basic approach to learning but involve entirely different activities. I generally recommend that students do the three classes in order, beginning with "Hands-On Geography" (A), but students can and do take (A) and (B) happily and successfully in either order. Because "Hands-On Geography" (C) assumes knowledge of some of the foundational material in "Hands-On Geography" (A) and (B) and often involves more than one at-home assignment each week, "Hands-On Geography" (C) is open only to students who have taken "Hands-On Geography" (A) or (B) or both with me previously.
*The grade guidelines for "Hands-On Geography" correspond to eligibility for the National Geographic Society geography bee. Students will no doubt find my "Hands-On Geography" classes useful if they are planning on participating in the bee, but my classes are emphatically not bee-prep classes. I am less interested in encouraging students to memorize geographic factoids than in developing their critical thinking skills about the "who," "what," "how," and "why" associated with the "where."