Geographic conceptions

  • In what ways would you teach an LfU-based activity to explore a concept in math or science? Draw on LfU and My World scholarship to support your pedagogical directions. Given its social and cognitive affordances, extend the discussion by describing how the activity and roles of the teacher and students are aligned with LfU principles.

Traditionally educators view content and process as having competing priorities, designing technology-supported inquiry to address memorization and recitation. Since classroom resources and time are scarce, evaluating Learning-for-Use (LfU) requires considerable risk and reward in pedagogical reform. Given a preliminary understanding of MyWorld, I can imagine teaching lessons on comparing geographical precipitation and energy balance in different biomes. Or for motion kinematics, measuring distances between cities and travel times enables contextual learning of average and instantaneous velocities. With albeit out-dated information, LfU compiles and visualizes actual data files, superimposing mapview layers to customize appearance based on range of interest. Students can make predictions before exploration, clicking underlay to graph entire/current selections, comparing data sets with parallel cursor movements, creating actual difference graphs averaging statistics using colour to define categories. Dynamically interacting real-world data mimics authentic science practice, operationalizing inert knowledge towards construction, forming connections towards accessible goals. Learners initiate reflection progressing incrementally given stepwise elaboration, creating appropriate indices to retrieve memory as useable knowledge.

MyWorld and Google Earth promote spatial thinking and geographic conceptions, producing environmental citizens that make sustainable decisions. Inquiry-based investigations of sea ice distribution and local weather phenomena are current, valid and essential for persistent understandings and multiple intelligences (Bodzin et al., 2014). Constructivist models enable cognitive flexibility, iteratively promoting teacher pedagogical content knowledge to accommodate differentiated learners. Construction does not invalidate reading, viewing and listening, actively making observations through personal experience and peer communication, applying sense-making to interact with the world. In particular, LfU frameworks purposely lack absolute solutions, asking learners to evaluate priorities where for example urban expansion results in vegetation loss, automobile dependence, along with diminished heat dissipation. Students interpret time-sequenced data to explore alternative energy sources and efficient practices to minimize environmental impact. LfU reveals misconceptions and deficits to promote innovation, achieving both scalability and portability engaging learners with motivating contexts personally relevant to daily lives. To minimize visualizations detracting from learners, teachers encourage understanding with embedded prompts to focus observations.

Traditional inform, verify and practice become transmission which does not acknowledge motivation and refinement. The LfU approach uses exploration, discovery and invention to build contextual interpretive framework, eliciting curiosity from direct experience reinforced by reflection (Edelson, 2001). Technology guided investigations pose violations of expectations developing authentic motivation to naturally apply knowledge, where situational interest articulates prior conceptions to activate existing knowledge. LfU grounds abstract understanding in concrete experience, providing simulations to participate in guided discovery focusing on accessibility and applicability when faced with demands and limitations. LfU addresses the content process dichotomy by combining effectiveness and efficiency in time-limited system.


Bodzin, A. M., Anastasio, D., & Kulo, V. (2014). Designing Google Earth activities for learning Earth and environmental science. In Teaching science and investigating environmental issues with geospatial technology (pp. 213-232). Springer Netherlands.

Edelson, D.C. (2001). Learning-for-use: A framework for the design of technology-supported inquiry activities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,38(3), 355-385.


  1. Thanks for this post, Andrew. It does a better job of laying out the difference between LfU and constructivism that I could spot myself! I am struck, in reading this and other posts, at how we use the term “Real World”. Whose world is it? If we give them examples with cars, for example, is this real world for students who don’t drive? Climate data is also very real, but do students pay attention to climate (compared to weather) and have they traveled anywhere? In conversations with my own kids, it is pretty clear that their own “real world” is pretty different from mine. Despite my best efforts, they believe that dinosaurs may have lived 1,000 years ago because they have a very weak perception of time relative to adults. I find examples of this differing world view all over the place, so perhaps basing lessons on real world is more complicated than just taking real data and incorporating it into lessons!

    1. Thanks Michael! Your point on whose ‘real world’ is it anyway makes me reflect how to provide sufficient relevance for concepts when on the one hand, we are prescribed learning intentions and on the other, teaching learners with diverse backgrounds and prior knowledge.


  2. Great post, Andrew. I also noted the prevalence of “real world” references in the readings and the postings on LfU. Our students all have had differing levels of exposure to learning experiences, and they construct their perspectives accordingly. As Edelson (2001) notes, every individual’s knowledge structures reflect their own unique experiences, and this of course plays a crucial role in their learning. Perspectives on real world learning should allow for students to start from their own context and preconceptions, and then move into new areas of learning that bridge gaps in their understanding and ultimately expand on their worldview. The learning situations may not always immediately connect with students’ current perceptions of the world, but providing opportunities to apply knowledge and skills beyond the confines of a lecture, a textbook, or a classroom ultimately makes the content more engaging and relevant over the long term.

    1. Thanks Allen! I appreciate in particular the comment that students start from their own context then move into new areas of learning. I wonder for sufficiently abstract concepts, how do we sustain learner interest long enough for them to acquire the bigger picture to see connections from previous learning?


  3. Andrew I think you identify an important concept that the LfU framework promotes and that is of creating context of the learning for students. I like how you talk about the use of maps to “make predictions before exploration, clicking underlay to graph entire/current selections, comparing data sets with parallel cursor movements, creating actual difference graphs averaging statistics using colour to define categories. Dynamically interacting real-world data mimics authentic science practice” which shows not only the LfU framework but a constructivist approach to learning where students take an active role in their learning and the scenarios they work in.
    I wonder with MyWorld would be visual enough for the younger learner where the concepts it is displaying are quite abstract to them. It maybe a tool for the slightly older crowd.
    I agree with Allen and Michael that creating success with this design is finding examples that are impacting and part of the real world of our students. I am reminded of reading by Pritchard (2014) that Kuhn’s theory of how scientific knowledge was acquired. He believed that we did not learn in a linear approach but rather that learning was like driving down a road and suddenly turning left. The new idea must be significantly different and cause a paradigm shift to allow the learner to accommodate the new understanding. As we build knowledge in our students it is certainly important to remember to push them outside their “real-world” and help shift their thinking forward.

    Pritchard, D. (2014). What is this thing called knowledge? London: Routledge.

    1. Thanks Sarah. You’re right about our role as educators to ‘push them outside their real-world’ to shift their thinking forward. They do need to experience sufficient cognitive dissonance with private universes to accommodate larger, more encompassing theories.


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