• Ontario geography teacher Sara Anderson

    Sara Anderson's approach to teaching focuses on three pillars: making learning local, authentic, and skills-based. (Photo: Sara Anderson/Jean Augustine Secondary School Media Arts)

Sara Anderson wants her students to recognize how their geography skills can be directly applied to various facets of their lives. She teaches English and Grade 9 geography at Jean Augustine Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., and has introduced an interesting partnership to help students apply their learning in the real world. Working with the Brampton 2040 Vision team, Anderson has encouraged students to think about the future of their city by looking at it through a geographical lens.

On making community connections

Our school motto is SAIL: service, advocacy, innovation, and leadership. We’re really trying to make authentic learning experiences for our students so that they can come away feeling like they’ve made a difference. When I started here, I wondered how we could do that with geography. Around that time, I heard someone on the radio talking about the Brampton 2040 Vision planning process. I was curious about it and sent a tweet that basically said, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of grade nines that would be interested in helping out with this.” From there was born this partnership that we have with the City of Brampton 2040 Vision team.

Brampton 2040 comes in and talks about what their goals are and then the kids latch on to one of their visions, such as environment and sustainability. They think of an idea, then find information from Statistics Canada to justify their ideas using data. This Brampton 2040 partnership is what we do as a final evaluation for the course. At the end of the year we have an expo, where people from the community are invited, including local councillors, the 2040 team, and people from the school board, and students have the chance to showcase the skill sets and knowledge they’ve acquired throughout the course.

On developing a geography-based skill set

We’ve got four units: physical geography, changing populations, livable communities, and managing resources. Within that we’re trying to give the students the skill set needed for the final evaluation. For example, in the changing populations unit, they have to create an infographic that compares what life is like in Canada to another country. They’re imagining that they’re an immigrant coming to Canada and they roll the dice to find out if they’re male or female, how many children they have, how old they are, things like that. Using the geographical inquiry “What is where, why there, and why care,” they look at the data for those two countries and why the data is the way it is. For example, with life expectancy, why is it high in Canada? Why might it be low in another country? In terms of “why care,” they would apply the particulars of their persona to that scenario. If I’m a 45-year-old single woman who has four children, why would it matter to me that Canada has what it has? Why might I want to be leaving my country of origin?

On the impact this project has on her students

We’ve had kids that have gone on to participate in some of the things that Brampton 2040 has done in the community, such as a youth symposium. It’s been cool to see how this has translated to kids becoming active citizens in the City of Brampton. I’m really grateful to the city for this partnership; they’ve put a lot into our kids and dedicated a lot of time coming here. They talk about how important the youth voice is in creating this vision because in 2040 it will be their city that they’ve participated in building.

On the importance of geographical skills

I want students to take away the fact that their geography skills can help them have an impact locally, starting now. They can have a voice. With the final evaluation project that they do, they are introduced to the notion of networking and being able to talk to people who are in positions of authority so that they might not be so intimidated to be a part of their community and make change. When students are given a choice in what they are able to create or the ideas they are able to produce, and when they’re given an authentic way to present those ideas and an audience, they really pull through and shine.