Critical Thinking and Inquiry Through Geography



Lisa Raby, Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School, TVDSB

How do you solve a problem like climate change? How do you make a city a better place to live? How do you encourage biodiversity? These are massive problems, so big that it’s difficult to see a starting point. These are questions that geographers work to answer! We work on solving these issues by practicing our critical thinking skills so that we can evaluate data and decide on the best solution. One of the most effective ways of practicing critical thinking skills is by using WipeBook Flipcharts to make informed decisions without the pressure of being right or wrong!



Critical thinking from data

Critical thinking stems from the process of looking at data, interpreting its meaning and then making a decision based on personal experience, prior knowledge and the data you have been given. We can model that process in geography by using VNPS to work through a problem in a low-risk way. One of my favourite activities is to give students a chart, graph or map that has had the title erased, and ask them several broad questions to see their critical thinking and inquiry skills at work.


Questions include:

  • What patterns or trends do you see here?
  • Suggest a title for this image?
  • Do you trust the image?
  • Why or why not?



No right or wrong answer

Most of these questions don’t have a right or wrong answer, and thus provide lots of space for discussion and note taking in the classroom. Students work in small groups to answer the questions on Wipebook Flipcharts, then rotate to evaluate their peers’ notes and to provide comments.



Using the Wipebook Flipcharts for white boarding and as reusable anchor charts for group note taking allows students to edit and change their notes and answers as they evolve from the discussion, and to make literal connections between points by drawing lines between them! Then, once the activity is complete, they get to wipe the surfaces clean and try again the next time.



I also love using non-permanent surfaces to review material! I use smaller whiteboards to help students prepare for assessments like tests and exams. I ask the whole classroom a question, they write the answer on their whiteboards and hold it up so I can see it. This lets me easily see which topics we should revisit!




Freehand mapping in the classroom

Another favourite use of Wipebook Flipcharts is to have students draw freehand maps. I start by asking them to draw a map of the classroom, then a map of the school, then a map of the town, then a map of Canada - and boy do I get some great visualizations of Canada!



Some students choose to use the dotted graphing side to make sure their Canada has the right proportions, and some use it to make a pixel-version! The novelty of VNPS helps students stay engaged and on-task, and brings out some really clever ideas. From critical thinking, brainstorming, temporary note taking, sketching a map, Wipebook Flipcharts help students practice their knowledge in a low-risk way, building confidence and skills they can use every day, even outside of the classroom.


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