Geographic information is any information connected to a location that includes data about physical and human characteristics or phenomena at any place on the planet. To answer geographic questions, students should start by gathering data from diverse sources in various ways to develop information that will inform their responses.

The skills involved in acquiring geographic information include activities such as locating and collecting data, observing and systematically recording information, reading and interpreting maps and other graphic representations of spaces and places, interviewing people who can provide both information and perspectives about places and issues, and using statistical methods. Students should read and interpret all kinds of maps. They should compile and use primary and secondary information to prepare quantitative and qualitative descriptions. They should collect data from interviews, fieldwork, reference material, and digital resources. Internet-based sources for geographic information are increasingly accessible but must always be evaluated for reliability and validity.

Primary sources of geographic information, especially the results of fieldwork performed by the students, are important in geographic inquiry. Fieldwork involves students conducting research in the community by distributing questionnaires, taking photographs, recording observations, interviewing citizens, and collecting samples. Fieldwork helps arouse students’ curiosity and makes the study of geography more enjoyable and relevant. Fieldwork fosters active learning by enabling students to observe, ask questions, identify problems, and hone their perceptions of physical features and human activities. Fieldwork connects students’ school activities with the world in which they live. Data collected using GPS technology in the field can be mapped onto digital maps and globes or viewed and analyzed in a GIS.

Typical secondary sources of information include texts, maps, statistics, photographs or imagery, video or multimedia, databases, newspapers, telephone directories, and government publications. Digital data may be highly specialized such as real-time data, physical and human statistical data, and remotely sensed data and images. These sources aid in the acquisition of geographic information, especially from or about remote locations. Encyclopedias report information compiled from secondary sources and are important in some research situations.

Being able to acquire geographic information enables students to engage in doing geography by mastering the techniques and skills necessary to gather and record geographic information and data from primary and secondary sources.

  • The student knows and understands:

    Acquiring Geographic Information

    1. The characteristics of geographic information

    Therefore, the student:

    A. Describes and analyzes the characteristics of geographic information, as exemplified by

    • Describing the characteristics of a place using observed and collected data (e.g., weather, climate, elevation, population density, availability of fresh water).
    • Analyzing data examples to determine whether or not it is geograph­ic (e.g., Does it provide information about a location or place, connec­tions between and among places, or the spatial organization of human or physical features on Earth’s surface?).
    • Identifying and describing the characteristic information required for a map to be accurate and helpful (e.g., title, orientation, date, au­thor, legend, scale, index, grid, source).

    2. The sources of geographic information

    Therefore, the student:

    A. Identifies observations, maps, globes, and other geographic representations as sources of geographic information, as exemplified by

    • Identifying how satellite images provide geographic information (e.g., display patterns of population growth or decline by observing images de­tailing land use taken at different times, portrays contrasting shorelines of lakes in images taken at normal and drought times).
    • Identifying ZIP codes as a source of geographic information that is help­ful at a larger scale but less so at the neighborhood or school and class­room scale.
    • Identifying digital globes and maps as sources of different types of geo­graphic information (e.g., terrain data or road and transportation data).
  • The student knows and understands:

    Acquiring Geographic Information

    1. The process of collecting geographic information

    Therefore, the student:

    A. Explains which sources of geographic information will be needed for a geographic investigation, as exemplified by

    • Describing and explaining how observations and collected geographic information can be used in a geographic investigation.
    • Identifying and describing sources of reliable geographic data (e.g., US Census Bureau data, Population Reference Bureau data, CIA: The World Factbook).
    • Explaining how digital globes and maps can provide base map information to provide a context for additional data layers or themes (e.g., tectonic plate boundaries and the occurrence of earthquakes, identification of climate and vegetation characteristics that may contribute to increased wildfire risk, identification of human or physical features that may affect the development of an emergency situation evacuation route).

    2. The distinction between primary and secondary sources of geographic information

    Therefore, the student:

    A. Explains the differences between primary and secondary sources of geographic information, as exemplified by

    • Explaining why using digital globe and mapped projects are secondary sources of geographic information.
    • Explaining why mapping student-observed or -collected data points on a digital globe or map is a primary source of geographic information.
    • Explaining the difference between using a map created by someone else versus a map created by the student as secondary and primary sources of geographic information.
  • The student knows and understands:

    Acquiring Geographic Information

    1. The criteria for evaluating the value and reliability of geographic information

    Therefore, the student:

    A. Evaluates sources of geographic information for reliability, as exemplified by

    • Evaluating the metadata for geospatial database files (e.g., data that might be used in a GIS, US census data on the Census Bureau's website).
    • Evaluating the reliability of Internet-based data sources to ensure validity and accuracy (e.g., information on a blogger site versus the United Nations website or political advertisement websites versus National Institute of Health Research Bulletins).
    • Evaluating the date, sources, authors, and designs of geographic visualizations or representations for accuracy (e.g., dates for data displayed, construction of x- and y-axis values on charts displaying information, misuse of map symbols on cartograms).

Created By

Geography Education National Implementation Project Geography Education National Implementation Project