Geography Fieldwork is Not Mission Impossible, pp. 5 of 6


In this strategy, a teacher is seen as a dispenser of knowledge in guiding students on how to “read” and “interpret” the landscape. Although Inquiry-based Learning seems to be at the fore of Socratic, self-directed learning, an excursion is not necessarily a bad model. While the student may have to adopt a relatively passive role in an excursion, many of us would have at one point or another experienced the pleasure and satisfaction of learning from our teachers the skills to “read” and “interpret” the landscape. The excursion strategy would be most ideal when the teacher needs to conduct a guided preliminary for students, especially in unfamiliar grounds to demonstrate “how” and “where” geographically interesting phenomena may be found. Other times, there may be a need to overcome the difficulties of communicating to a large group of students effectively in an urban environment – this is when the excursion strategy is superior. 


In this section, I provide five recommended locations for fieldwork in Singapore.

Photo of Punggol grasslands in Singapore
Figure 2

Figure 2 shows the Punggol grasslands. There are some grassy and open areas in Singapore where discovery or sensory fieldwork can be carried out. Students should take the precaution of wearing long pants tucked into long socks to prevent insect bites and use a stick to beat the grass to ward off snakes.

Photo of railway corridor
Figure 3

Figure 3 shows the railway corridor. With the return of the KTM railway land to Singapore, teachers now have access to many wondrous sights that were once accessible only via a train ride. The railway corridor has places that are suitable for the five fieldwork strategies. The railway corridor, however, lacks proper shelter and bathroom facilities. 

Photo of Sembawang Park
Figure 4

Figure 4 shows Sembawang Park, a typical suburban park. This is unique because of its beautiful coastal frontage at the Straits of Johor. Students can conduct numerous investigations focused on human-environment interactions. For example, students can study the impact of the jetty on marine life.

Photo of a fruit stall selling durians alonga  busy thoroughfare in Singapore
Figure 5

Figure 5 shows a fruit stall selling durians along a busy thoroughfare in Singapore. A discovery fieldwork can pique our students’ curiosity and lead to inquiry questions like: (1)Why are there so many fruit stalls selling durians here? (2) Where do we get the cheapest durians along this stretch of road? Why? 

These inquiry questions introduce the broader concepts of economies of agglomeration and inertia. These concepts can then be extended to the study of industries.

Photo of coral bits and shells washed up ashore
Figure 6

Figure 6 shows coral bits and shells washed up a shore. This can be found anywhere along coastal areas. The loose collection of coral bits and shells can be used to spark a conversation either by the teacher as the leader of an excursion, or as a facilitator in the inquiry fieldwork or even as a possible hypothesis. For example, we can ask, “Where do the shells and coral bits come from?”, “How far would they have to travel?”, or form a hypothesis like “There will be more shells and coral bits during the monsoon months.”

Figures 7 and 8 are photographs of shop houses in the Central Business District in Singapore. Such resources are extremely classroom friendly and can be used to spark a conversation and generate curiosity without a time-consuming visit to the city.

Photo of back alley of a row of refurbished shop houses in Chinatown
Figure 7

Figure 7 shows the back alley of a row of refurbished shop houses in Chinatown that have been adaptively reused as offices. Teachers can pose questions such as: “Why are there holes located near the ground? What are they used for?” (Answer: They were for the night soil workers to access the bucket which holds the human waste. Shop houses in the colonial period do not have an advanced sanitation system, unlike today.) Further investigation by the students may lead to an exploration of themes related to public health and sanitation in colonial Singapore, or a comparative study of the living conditions in colonial and contemporary Singapore.

Photo taken at Teck Lim Street, near Chinatown
Figure 8

Figure 8 shows a photograph at Teck Lim Street, near Chinatown. Teachers can ask questions such as: “What are three things in the picture that do not belong in a typical picture of old Chinatown?” (Answer: The aluminum vent found in the middle of the picture; the rubbish cart found in the foreground; the parking signage; air-conditioning units). “What do you expect to see if this is a picture was taken in the 1930s?”

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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