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GeoCapabilities: A Framework for Understanding the Purposes and Values of Geography Education

GeoCapabilities is a research project currently led by the Association of American Geographers (AAG) with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation's Geography and Spatial Science program (Award # BCS-1155255). The project's aim is to research the potential of improving curriculum making in geography through trans-Atlantic and trans-European collaborations in teacher professional development. This work is being pursued in partnership with the Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education at Texas State University, the Institute of Education in London, the University of Helsinki, the European Association of Geographers (EUROGEO), and the Geographical Association.

The capabilities approach provides a theoretical framework for understanding the broader aims of geography in education and how these aims may be shared internationally, despite the divergent traditions and policies shaping the content of geography curricula in different countries. We posit a capabilities approach to geography education can empower teachers to become leaders of curriculum making by clarifying the ways geography imparts an essential perspective for life and citizenship in a highly interdependent world. We would further argue that establishing joint efforts between the U.S. and Europe to develop teachers as leaders will prove an indispensable strategy for achieving the potential of the capabilities approach in geography education.

To date, the GeoCapabilities project has developed a methodology to analyze and compare the content, organization, and positioning of geography in the national curriculum standards and frameworks of the U.S., England and Finland. The pilot analysis produced case studies showing how capability concepts are articulated in these nations' geography standards and frameworks. The case studies demonstrate how geography education potentially contributes to the development of three human capabilities:

1. Promoting individual autonomy and freedom, and the ability to use one's imagination and to be able to think and reason;

2. Identifying and exercising one's choices in how to live based on worthwhile distinctions with regard to citizenship and sustainability;

3. Understanding one's potential as a creative and productive citizen in the context of the global economy and culture.

The results of the pilot analysis were used to craft a synthesis that presents a common trans-Atlantic framework for understanding geography in the secondary school curriculum of the U.S., England, and Finland. This framework illustrates how the broader aims of geography education for capability development are shared across national borders, irrespective of differences in the scope and sequencing of national standards. The full report with the national case studies and international synthesis is now available (see sidebar on the top right).

For more information about the GeoCapabilities project, please contact the project director, Dr. Michael Solem. Drs. David Lambert (Institute of Education, London) and Sirpa Tani (University of Helsinki) are serving as co-investigators for the project.


June 2014: GeoCapabilities newsletter launched

May 2014: New GeoCapabilities website 

March 2014: AAG newsletter article about GeoCapabilities.

December 2013: Article reporting the results of GeoCapabilities Phase 1 is now available in the journal, Review of International Geographical Education Online (RIGEO). Download the article here

December 2013: Project launch for GeoCapabilities - Phase 2, funded by the European Commission's COMENIUS program.

June 2013: The first progress report for GeoCapabilities is now available. The report covers major activities and findings during the period July 2012 - June 2013.

Full report (PDF)

Appendix A: England (PDF)

Appendix B: Finland (PDF)

Appendix C: United States (PDF)

Video presentation (16:30)




Beijing Normal University and East China Normal University (March 2014)

AAG Annual Meeting (Tampa, Florida: April 2014)

EUROGEO (Vallarta, Malta: May 2014)

IGU Congress (Krakow, Poland: August 2014)



EUROGEO (Bruges, Belgium: May 2013)

Nordic Geographers Conference (Reykjavik, Iceland: June 2013)

European Conference on Education (Brighton, UK: July 2013)

International Geographical Union Regional Congress (Kyoto, Japan: August 2013)

EUGEO Congress (Rome, Italy: September 2013)

International Symposium on Contemporary Trends in Teaching and Learning Geography (Cluj Napoca, Romania: October 2013)

Workshop on Preparing a GeoCapable Student (National Institute of Education, Singapore, November 2013)

Society for Research in Higher Education (Newport, Wales: December 2013)