GEOGRAPHY STANDARD TWO

Geography Standard Two: Students will develop a knowledge of the ways humans modify and respond to the natural environment [ENVIRONMENT]

The relationship between human needs and the natural environment is fundamental to life. Humans modify the environment in culturally distinctive ways as they respond to the resource opportunities and risks present in the physical world. To understand this relationship, students must know of the major processes which shape the world into distinctive physical environments, and gain awareness of the opportunities and limitations to human action presented by those environments.

The complexity of the standard will increase at each succeeding grade cluster:

K-3a: Students will distinguish different types of climate and landforms and explain why they occur. Essential for Grade 2

4-5a: Students will apply a knowledge of topography, climate, soils, and vegetation of Delaware and the United States to understand how human society alters, and is affected by, the physical environment. Essential for Grade 5

6-8a: Students will apply a knowledge of the major processes shaping natural environments to understand how different peoples have changed and been affected by, physical environments in the world's sub-regions. Essential for Grade 6

9-12a: Students will understand the Earth's physical environment as a set of interconnected systems (ecosystems) and the ways humans have perceived, reacted to, and changed environments at local to global scales. Essential for Grade 9

Enduring Understandings
Students will understand that:

  • The human response to the characteristics of a physical environment comes with consequences for both the human culture and the physical environment.
The key to Standard Two is the idea that the relationship between the natural environment and human culture is a two-way street. Too often, only one part is asserted: that the form of the natural environment influences (in extreme cases, determines) the human culture of a place. Mountains may prove obstacles to communication, but transport technology overcomes the barriers. Climate may limit the growth of certain crops, but irrigation or greenhouse protection can extend a plant's natural limits. That is not to say that the natural environment does not pose risks: hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or droughts all pose risks to human settlement. But as human technology expands, people are able to adapt to the constraints once placed by the natural environment. In the early 20th century, Arizona's aridity limited farming communities to isolated oases. With irrigation projects from the Colorado River and the invention of air conditioning, major metropolitan populations could be sustained in Phoenix and Tucson.

Besides technological adaptation, human culture has increasingly modified the natural environment, shaping it to its needs. Clearing forests for agriculture, paving surfaces for urban areas, damming rivers, exploiting minerals, polluting air, streams and oceans, are all examples of the permanent changes to the natural world resulting from human culture.

At the center of this standard is the recognition that places are the resolution of the forces of nature and adaptations by human culture. Moreover, as this relationship changes over time, so too do places. For student understanding, knowledge of the forces that shape the natural environment is necessary, and may be gained from both this standard and/or the Science standard, Earth's Dynamic Systems. But what makes geography standard two different from the science standard is the focus on how human culture is both influenced by, and adapts to, the natural world.

Geography Standard Two K-3a: Students will distinguish different types of climate and landforms and explain why they occur.

Essential Question:
  • To what extent do differences in climate and landforms across the earth affect how and where people live?
In the earliest grades, students should be able to recognize that climate is not the same in all parts of the world. They should be able to distinguish (using precipitation and temperature variations) differences between tropical, temperate (mid-latitude) and highlatitude cold climates, and between areas with moisture deficits (deserts) and areas with moisture surpluses (where precipitation exceeds evaporation). A detailed understanding of climatic causation is not expected but students should be able to grasp the general concept that the sun heats the earth more in the equatorial regions and less towards the poles, and different climates are the result of the redistribution of energy. Furthermore, students should understand why the earth passes through periods of day and night and be aware of seasonal differences.

For landforms, students should recognize contrasts between continents and oceans. They need to be aware that mountains are formed by energy from the earth's core and that running water (from precipitation) as well as ice produce rivers that carve valleys in the mountains and move eroded material down to coastal plains in an effort to smooth out the earth's land surface.

Geography Standard Two 4-5a: Students will apply a knowledge of topography, climate, soils and vegetation of Delaware and the United States to understand how human society alters, and is affected by, the physical environment.

Essential Questions:
  • What will happen to the earth because people live on it?
  • What will happen to people as a result of what happens to the earth?
An encyclopedic knowledge of topography, climate, soils and vegetation is not called for in this standard. Rather, students should understand how those physical characteristics can be changed by human actions. They should be presented with examples that aid this understanding. For example: At the Delaware scale they can be introduced to the idea that cities produce energy that makes temperatures higher than in the surrounding suburbs or rural areas; or they can learn that extensive woodlands once covered much of the coastal plain and Piedmont, but when trees are removed, soils on steeper slopes are more easily eroded, clogging streams and increasing flooding in lower areas. At the United States scale, they may learn that damming rivers like the Colorado allows irrigation systems to turn desert areas like Phoenix and Tucson into major metropolitan and agricultural areas.

Students should also understand how different types of physical environments constrain human activities or put people at risk. At the Delaware scale, the rougher Piedmont topography means an often thinner soil cover and less productive farming; the dense settlement along the coast exposes the population to flooding and destruction by nor'easters and hurricanes. At the United States scale, cooler temperatures to the north and lower rainfall in the west restrict certain crops, such as cotton, to the humid southeast; active earthquake zones along the San Andreas Fault put major populations in San Francisco and Los Angeles at risk.

Whether considering the impact of humans on the environment or the environment on human culture, the heart of this standard is the need for students to be able to anticipate the consequences likely to occur, based on their knowledge of the ways humans and the physical environment interact. They should know, for instance, what happens when trees are cleared; when climate is altered; how soil can be lost through over-grazing; what consequences follow from building on steep slopes; how rivers annually cover floodplains; how altitude modifies temperatures; and how humans respond to environmental hazards and risks.

Geography Standard Two 6-8a: Students will apply a knowledge of the major processes shaping natural environments to understand how different peoples have changed, and been affected by, physical environments in the world's sub-regions.

Essential Question:
  • Under what conditions should human cultures attempt to change the processes that shape the natural environment?
This standard differs from the 4-5 level in two ways. While the 4-5 level sought student awareness of the likely consequences of environment-culture interaction, this standard requires students answer those questions by applying an understanding of the processes that shape climate and landforms, and vegetation and soils. For instance, the behavior of rivers results in more erosion at higher elevations because gravity causes faster stream flow. At lower altitudes, stream flow decreases, the ability of water to move larger material lessens, the river meanders more and deposits rather than erodes material. Such knowledge of the way rivers behave helps to explain flood plain vulnerability to human settlement and often the need to build levees. Similarly, knowledge of the way rising air cools less when precipitation occurs and warms faster when descending helps explain the need for irrigation systems in rainshadows found on the leeward slopes of mountain chains such as the Andes.

Knowledge of the way environmental processes can affect human culture is only part of this standard. Equally important is the effect human culture can have on those processes. Familiar examples might be the widespread clearing of tropical forests that reduce carbon dioxide uptake and thereby contribute to higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, a major cause of global warming. Similarly, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River will reduce downstream flooding, decreasing the amount of silt deposits that annually fertilize the soils.

A second difference between this standard and the 4-5 level is expanding the geographic area to other parts of the world beyond Delaware and the United States. Again, this development does not assume rote learning but rather the ability of students to apply their understanding of process. Thus, for instance, while knowledge of river systems may have come from studying the Mississippi, application to the behavior of major rivers such as the Nile should allow students to understand why 90% of Egypt's population relies on productive soils in the river flood plain, and why the Aswan high dam was built to protect farmers from flooding but in doing so reduced soil productivity.

Geography Standard Two 9-12a: Students will understand the Earth's physical environment as a set of interconnected systems (ecosystems) and the ways humans have perceived, reacted to, and changed environments at local to global scales.

Essential Questions:
  • To what extent can people predict the consequences from human alterations to the physical environment?
  • Why might focusing on how people perceive the risks and resources of the natural environment help to explain human behavior in different parts of the world?
At the 9-12 level, knowledge of the processes shaping climate, landforms, vegetation and soils is placed in the context of systems. A system is a set of interconnected parts that are logically (functionally) connected. Most environmental systems are closed; for instance, the hydrologic cycle, the carbon cycle, or the nitrogen cycle.

The key element in all the natural systems is considering energy as the common denominator. For instance, the tropical rainforest is an almost closed energy system that comes close to supporting itself with no energy assistance from the underlying, often infertile, soil. Human adaptation involves redirecting some of that energy to human uses via burning patches of forest as the basis for a temporary influx of energy to the soil that permits crops of value to people to be grown. One developmental feature of the standard is for students to treat a human change to the environment as a diversion of energy to human society from the path it follows in the natural system.

A second development feature introduces complexity to the human-environment equation. Rather than simply comparing the nature of the physical environment with what people do with it, human perception is introduced. Thus, an environment may be considered hazardous by an objective observer, but explaining human adaptation involves knowing how the environment is perceived by those who use it. People might not be expected to settle on the sides of active volcanoes, as in Central America, or build on the shores of hurricane-prone coasts—that they do requires understanding how they perceive the environment and deal with the risk.

Geography Standards in Delaware









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