How Can GIS Help With AP Human Geography? Part 1 of 2

For five decades, the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program (AP) has provided students with the opportunity to take college-level coursework and earn college credit while still in high school. AP courses exist in 30 different subjects, each ending with a rigorous exam. The tireless efforts of many geography educators culminated in the first AP Human Geography (APHG) course, offered in 2001 with 3,272 students taking the exam. In 2010, over 61,000 students took the APHG exam. During the summer of 2010, 39 APHG teacher institutes were held in 24 states. These are encouraging signs that the subject is gaining ground in the secondary school curriculum.

AP Human Geography participation by year. Samantha Ross, National Geographic.

The five major topics covered in APHG courses are based on the National Geography Standards developed in 1994. Upon the successful completion of the course, the student should be able to: (1) Use and think about maps and spatial data. (2) Understand and interpret the implications of associations among phenomena in places. (3) Recognize and interpret at different scales the relationships among patterns and processes. (4) Define regions and evaluate the regionalization process. (5) Characterize and analyze changing interconnections among places. I have personally observed teachers instructing APHG, and have always been impressed with the depth of the topics covered. It truly is the type of college-level course that I believe we need to be teaching more of in secondary education. I only wish we had an AP Physical Geography course as well! Would anyone like to spearhead that effort?

Unfortunately, the mean score for the APHG exam this year was 2.56, the lowest mean score for any AP test (passing is 3). Part of the reason is that most students taking the course are in Grade 9, with perhaps only one semester or one year of geography behind them, several years earlier. The use of GIS can help raise these scores and more importantly, help students understand the spatial patterns that are such an integral part of the course. How? We will explore that in my next blog column.

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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