In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Geography Education

  • Introduction
  • Nature and Sources of GeoPCK
  • Strategies to Develop GeoPCK
  • PCK for Integration of Geospatial Technologies
  • Operationalizing Knowledge Base for Teaching
  • Books on Geography Teaching and Teachers

Geography Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Geography Education
Injeong Jo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0272


The most important intellectual component of a teaching profession is a distinct body of specialized knowledge. This specialized knowledge is defined as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), the discipline-specific pedagogical knowledge necessary to teach in a distinct content area. PCK is one of the seven interconnected components of Lee Shulman’s conception of the knowledge base for teaching: content knowledge (CK); general pedagogical knowledge (PK); curriculum knowledge; PCK; knowledge of learners and their characteristics; knowledge of educational contexts; and knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values. PCK represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular content is organized, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of students and presented for instruction. PCK identifies teachers’ unique expertise and distinguishes content specialists from professional teachers. Since the advent of the concept, PCK has been widely used and received special attention among teacher educators and education researchers. It has been one of the most influential concepts in teacher education and teacher education research because it constitutes the distinctive body of knowledge that every teacher should develop. Researchers, especially in science and mathematics education, have actively investigated the nature and characteristics of PCK and developed PCK models that can lead to effective teaching of science and mathematics. While PCK has not been as widely used in geography education research as in other subject areas, geography educators and education researchers agree that PCK is an essential quality of a geography teacher, so they have examined it. Teacher knowledge has long been an important topic in geography education research and examined from various perspectives including the curriculum-making and the capabilities approaches. This article provides an overview of the literature on PCK for geography teaching, which I define here as GeoPCK. Citations included represent selected empirical research that sheds light on the nature, components, and strategies to develop GeoPCK. The last two sections provide brief overviews of the two closely related concepts to PCK—technological pedagogical and content knowledge (TPCK or TPACK) and pedagogical reasoning and action (PR&A)—reflecting the increasing interest in geography teachers’ knowledge for the use of geospatial technologies (GST); for student-centered, curriculum-based, and inquiry-oriented education; and for the recognition of the significance of understanding how teachers’ knowledge base is enacted, refined, and reconstructed in and through their own practice.

Nature and Sources of GeoPCK

What are the distinctive aspects of knowledge base for geography teaching? Two conceptual models are available. One is Blankman, et al. 2015 and its model of geography-related PCK, PCK-G, with three key components: substantial knowledge (what), syntactic knowledge (how), and beliefs about the subject of geography (why). The other mode is the Hong, et al. 2018 model of a knowledge base for geography teaching, GeoKBT. While grounded in both Shulman 1986 and Shulman 1987 and the two works’ original conceptions and the existing research on PCK in science education, the model is also based on the results of case studies of four expert geography teachers. It is a model of six unique components of knowledge base for geography teaching: orientations toward teaching geography, knowledge of geography curricula, knowledge of students’ understanding of geography and responses to geography learning, knowledge of instructional strategies appropriate for geography, knowledge of assessment of geography learning, and knowledge of educational contexts. There has been an effort to uncover the complex links between knowledge, beliefs, and professional practice that define the PCK of geography teachers. Lane 2009, for example, compares two geography teachers in their knowledge of students’ preconceptions and their ability to use such information to inform classroom practice. Some important characteristics of an experienced teacher’s well-developed PCK were revealed. In addition to deep understanding of the subject matter, it is important that teachers possess knowledge about the ways in which students construct knowledge, the role of students’ preconceptions in the learning process, and the various strategies to diagnose and address students’ alternative conceptions. Reflexivity and flexibility were found to be important teacher qualities, too. Clausen 2018 analyzes four Danish geography teachers’ understandings, approaches, and objectives when they teach weather formation and climate change and found that their enacted PCK were closely aligned with their orientations and beliefs about geography. Researchers have also examined factors influencing the development of such knowledge of geography teachers. For example, through interviews of two experienced geography teachers, Brooks 2006 and Brooks 2010 show how prior experiences and training affect the ways teachers use their subject knowledge for teaching. In contrast, Martin 2008 interviews and observes two beginning geography teachers and illustrates how formal and informal experiences of these teachers as a learner and a preservice teacher affected the development of their PCK. Arenas-Martija, et al. 2017 refines Martin’s model, delineating the influence of the teacher’s geography life experiences on the subject knowledge from the influence of teaching experiences on pedagogical knowledge.

  • Arenas-Martija, Andoni, Victor Salinas-Silva, Leonor Margalef-García, and Maria Otero-Auristondo. “Fragility of Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Geography.” Journal of Geography 116.2 (2017): 57–66.

    DOI: 10.1080/00221341.2016.1228002

    An examination of the nature and sources of teachers’ practitioner knowledge. Teachers’ subject expertise is defined by the characteristics of their subject knowledge in relation to the knowledge they apply to daily decision making and the sources of knowledge that form the basis of their teaching practice.

  • Blankman, Marian, Joop van der Schee, Monique Volman, and Marianne Boogaard. “Primary Teacher Educators’ Perception of Desired and Achieved Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Geography Education in Primary Teacher Training.” International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education 24.1 (2015): 80–94.

    DOI: 10.1080/10382046.2014.967110

    Proposes a model for geography-related pedagogical content knowledge (PCK-G) based on teacher educators’ perceptions of the PCK-G preservice teachers need to develop. The model is visualized as a three-part Venn diagram in which its three components—what (geography subject knowledge); how (geographic teaching skills); and why (motivation, beliefs, and attitude about geography)—are integrated to form PCK-G.

  • Brooks, Clare. “Geographical Knowledge and Teaching Geography.” International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education 15.4 (2006): 353–369.

    DOI: 10.2167/irg200.0

    A detailed case study of two geography teachers that portrays how their subject knowledge influenced their teaching and instructional decisions. Teachers’ knowledge is evidently formed from their understanding and values regarding geography and pedagogy or a transformation of these.

  • Brooks, Clare. “Why Geography Teachers’ Subject Expertise Matters.” Geography 95.3 (2010): 143–148.

    DOI: 10.1080/00167487.2010.12094297

    Illustrates how teachers’ personalized views of subjects become guiding principles for instructional decisions they make. The study findings suggest that teachers’ subject expertise motivates and helps them make sense of their practice.

  • Clausen, Søren Witzel. “Exploring the Pedagogical Content Knowledge of Danish Geography Teachers: Teaching Weather Formation and Climate Change.” International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education 27.3 (2018): 267–280.

    DOI: 10.1080/10382046.2017.1349376

    Compares four Danish teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) displayed while teaching the socioscientific issues of weather formation and climate change, which required students not only to acquire knowledge about related concepts but to develop a character of active citizenship. Findings indicate that teachers’ orientations and beliefs are important sources of their enacted PCK.

  • Hong, Jung Eun, Injeong Jo, Judith P. Harris, and Ken Keller. “The Knowledge Base for Geography Teaching (GeoKBT): A Preliminary Model.” Research in Geographic Education 20.1 (2018): 26–47.

    Proposes a conceptual model of the knowledge base of geography teaching including geography-related PCK. The model was refined by empirical data collected from case studies of experienced teachers, identifying six key components: orientations toward teaching geography, knowledge of geography curricula, knowledge of students’ understanding of geography and responses to geography learning, knowledge of instructional strategies appropriate to learning geography, knowledge of assessment of geography learning, and knowledge of educational contexts.

  • Lane, Rod. “Articulating the Pedagogical Content Knowledge of Accomplished Geography Teachers.” Geographical Education 22 (November 2009): 40–50.

    Compares and contrasts two experienced geography teachers’ pedagogical understanding and approaches to assessing and addressing students’ preconceptions of the topic being taught. The findings provide insights into the characteristics of well-developed GeoPCK: the willingness to allow student expression of naïve theories and the ability to use students’ preconceptions to help them develop a deep understanding of geographic concepts.

  • Martin, Fran. “Knowledge Bases for Effective Teaching: Beginning Teachers’ Development As Teachers of Primary Geography.” International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education 17.1 (2008): 13–39.

    DOI: 10.2167/irgee226.0

    Creates a model of the knowledge base of primary geography teaching, identifying potential factors influencing beginning teachers’ PCK. Based on an over-18-month period of observations and interviews of two beginning primary teachers, the study suggests ensuring student teachers are aware of their personal images of geography and able to connect it to disciplinary knowledge and thinking. This is important for primary geography teachers’ development of their teaching knowledge base.

  • Shulman, Lee. “Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching.” Educational Researcher 15.2 (1986): 4–14.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X015002004

    This seminary work first coined the term PCK and defined it as the subject knowledge for teaching, a unique form of content knowledge that embodies the aspects of content most germane to its teachability.

  • Shulman, Lee. “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform.” Harvard Educational Review 57.1 (1987): 1–22.

    DOI: 10.17763/haer.57.1.j463w79r56455411

    Defines the knowledge base of teaching, which consists of seven distinct but interconnected knowledge categories, including PCK. This article emphasizes teaching as an act of comprehension and reasoning and also proposes a model of pedagogical reasoning and action (PR&A). It gives a detailed explanation of the model’s six components—comprehension, transformation, instruction, evaluation, reflection, and new comprehension—and how understanding PR&A can contribute to educational reform.

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