About Geocapabilties 3

A capabilities approach repositions the contribution of the discipline (geography) to the education of young people within a capabilities framework. It derives from the original work of Amatya Sen and Martha Nussbaum on welfare economics and is an attempt to take capability principles and locate them within a geography education context.

Powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK) is fundamental to the GeoCapabilities approach, yet teachers in more challenging schools have been found to be constrained in their ability to enact a ‘powerful’ curriculum which may transform young people’s lives (see Mitchell, 2015).

The intention of GeoCapabilities 3 is to support teachers in developing their curriculum making capacity and in so doing enable them to engage with important curriculum questions such as what kinds of geographical knowledge are taught in schools, who decides and why, and what kinds of pedagogies are needed to teach powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK) to students.

Subject leadership is a key principle of GeoCapabilities and the project aims to develop the associate teachers as curriculum leaders who will support other geography teachers in similar contexts in their countries to use GeoCapabilities to enhance their geography teaching. Through developing curriculum leadership the project will generate a sustainable momentum, which will carry forward as the associate teachers work with other teachers in future, disseminating the GeoCapabilities approach.

Social Justice

Social Justice is the concept that will underpin the work of the project. Whilst it is a concept that has been much examined in education more generally (Unterhalter and Brighouse, 2015), work pertaining to a socially just geography curriculum is limited. Weeden (2012) reports on significant inequalities in young people’s access to geography education in inner city communities in England.

GeoCapabilities 3 seeks to answer 2 main questions:
1. Is there a social justice dimension to GeoCapabilities? and:
2. How can a GeoCapabilities approach benefit schools (teachers/ pupils) in challenging (socio-economic) circumstances towards the goal of ‘powerful knowledge for all?

Target groups
GeoCapabilties 3 aims to extend the work completed in GeoCapabilities 2 by focusing on public (state-funded) schools serving young people living in less privileged social and economic circumstances, often the most challenging learning environments. Therefore the target group for Geocapabilities 3 is geography teachers working in schools in challenging socio-economic circumstances.

Frequently situated in areas of socio-economic deprivation where traditional industries have declined, sources of employment are limited and aspirations seem impossible to fulfill, schools in such areas experience high levels of external pressures to ‘improve’ (Chapman and Harris , 2004) and are often subject to state/private intervention. Levin argues that in what he describes as ‘high-need’ communities, schools tend to emphasise the pastoral needs of students, often at the expense of their academic achievement (2006).

A Europe-wide network of geography teachers and geography teacher educators will be established who understand, can use these pedagogies and who can take forward these practices into their own communities of practice and share them with other European networks.

GeoCapabilities 3 focuses on teacher development by establishing a conceptual tool for social justice. The project will seek to examine the practical application of a GeoCapabilities approach in classrooms, in particular in schools situated in areas of socio-economic deprivation. It is often in such schools that teachers are constrained in their ability to enact a ‘powerful’ geography curriculum (see Mitchell, 2015).

GeoCapabilities 3 seeks to establish a set of pedagogical principles that can underpin the practical application of Powerful Disciplinary Knowledge (PDK) in teaching and learning geography.

Associate teachers will focus their work on a key theme, such as migration or climate change. These will aid the comparison of participants’ experiences and act as conceptual lenses through which to develop the pedagogical principles mentioned above.

GeoCapabilities 3 uses a teacher education approach in which networks of teachers and teacher educators are key. GeoCapabilities 3 brings partners and their associate teachers from several European countries together in planning and implementing a GeoCapabilities approach. The project will use the GeoCapabilities web site and workshops and conferences to disseminate the approach.

Project partners will support teacher development through the use of the GeoCapabilities 2 vignettes approach in order to examine what we mean by ‘powerful knowledge’ in geography. Participating teachers will then use their vignettes to devise and trial teaching materials as a means of ‘pedagogising’ powerful knowledge for their students.

Story-mapping tools will be used as a tool for teacher reflection throughout the development process (from inception to conclusion) and as a mean of both sharing experiences, teaching materials and teachers’ evaluation of those materials. We anticipate that this will allow a ‘story’ of how teachers’ thinking and doing change as a consequence of their engagement with GeoCapabilities.