Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor's Name

Hilary Landorf

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Sarah Mathews

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Aixa Perez-Prado

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Jeffrey Onsted

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


teaching, learning, geography, education, qualitative, attitudes, experiences, literacy, interviews, undergraduates

Date of Defense



The purpose of the study was to explore the geography literacy, attitudes and experiences of Florida International University (FIU) freshman students scoring at the low and high ends of a geography literacy survey. The Geography Literacy and ABC Models formed the conceptual framework. Participants were freshman students enrolled in the Finite Math course at FIU. Since it is assumed that students who perform poorly on geography assessments do not have an interest in the subject, testing and interviewing students allowed the researcher to explore the assumption.

In Phase I, participants completed the Geography Literacy Survey (GLS) with items taken from the 2010 NAEP Geography Subject Area Assessment. The low 35% and high 20% performers were invited for Phase II, which consisted of semi-structured interviews. A total of 187 students participated in Phase I and 12 in Phase II.

The primary research question asked was what are the geography attitudes and experiences of freshman students scoring at the low and high ends of a geographical literacy survey? The students had positive attitudes regardless of how they performed on the GLS.

The study included a quantitative sub-question regarding the performance of the students on the GLS. The students’ performance on the GLS was equivalent to the performance of 12th grade students from the NAEP Assessment. There were three qualitative sub-questions from which the following themes were identified: the students’ definition of geography is limited, students recall more out of school experiences with geography, and students find geography valuable. In addition, there were five emergent themes: there is a concern regarding a lack of geographical knowledge, rote memorization of geographical content is overemphasized, geographical concepts are related to other subjects, taking the high school level AP Human Geography course is powerful, and there is a need for real-world applications of geographical knowledge.

The researcher offered as suggestions for practice to reposition geography in our schools to avoid misunderstandings, highlight its interconnectedness to other fields, connect the material to real world events/daily decision-making, make research projects meaningful, partner with local geographers, and offer a mandatory geography courses at all educational levels.





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