We don't typically recommend teaching geography as a separate course, as it can easily be intermixed with other studies (like history), but some people prefer an actual geography textbook. If you are among them, we suggest considering World Physical Geography by Barbara Runkle. The award-wining textbook is meant as a one-year course for 6th-9th graders, and focuses on physical and other basic fundamentals of geography. The basic set of Runkle Geography includes a textbook and a Teacher's Guide, which offers instructions, answers to the questions throughout the book, plus tests and answers. Also available is a Student Activity Workbook, designed to help students memorize and map physical (and a very little bit of political) information for every country in the world.
How Does This Work?
We've often heard this course described as the "Saxon approach" applied to physical geography—that is, it uses an incremental, step-by-step approach in teaching the material. The course is very structured: the textbook is written in nine chapters, covering different aspects of the earth. Each chapter is in turn broken down into manageable lessons, allowing a teacher to easily determine starting and stopping points, and giving students a sense of accomplishment. Most lessons include some sort of hands-on activity, and all lessons conclude with review questions and vocabulary words to define. The text works with a complete range of learning styles: reading, speaking, listening, and manipulating are all done on a daily basis. And little to no teacher preparation is needed!
The course is meant to be fairly high-interest, as the author has the goal of engaging students and helping them think about what they see in the world around them. Thus the text is conversational: it addresses the students directly, asks them questions, reminds them of other lessons, throws in "fun facts" and mnemonics (silly ways to remember things), and solicits interpretation of information. It is also well-designed, featuring a softcover text (some older copies are hardcover) with a layout that includes full-color photos, maps and diagrams, plus definitions of terms and important facts. In some ways, this book is much like an earth science course, covering topics like the Earth and solar system; how to use maps; latitude and climate; time zones; the lithosphere (center of the Earth); mountains and volcanoes; the hydrosphere (oceans, rivers and lakes); land masses; travel routes; the atmosphere and the weather. Ms. Runkle also spends a fair amount of time discussing man's attempts to "take dominion" over the earth (though she does not use the Christian terminology), and emphasizes the practical use of Earth's natural resources for energy, navigation, technology, farming, etc. Refreshingly, there is no left wing agenda and no Mother Earth worship in the course.
This program was designed to be used without any additional materials. All the maps needed are included. Tests may be copied from the teacher edition. Even the hands-on activities don't require trips to the library or the hardware store. Of course, teaching aids like a globe, atlas, and almanac won't go amiss (simply because they are such good teaching tools)!
Our Honest Opinion:
Due to the quality of this product, we can recommend it highly. To make it a full-fledged geography course, the Student Activity Workbook provides plenty of mapping and memorization and would be an excellent addition. We want to stress the fact that it does NOT cover cultural geography; if you have only one year and need to focus on that, please see instead North Star Geography or the high school Bob Jones course (this would also make an excellent follow-up). Overall, Runkle Geography is a well-designed, thoughtful study of physical geography that will challenge your children without confusing them. It is best used, we think, during junior high.
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