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What a Student Should Know and Do


The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes.

By the end of the eighth grade, the student knows and understands:

Geography Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment

1. The consequences of human modification of the physical environment

2. How human modifications of the physical environment in one place often lead to changes in other places

3. The role of technology in the human modification of the physical environment

Therefore, the student is able to:

A. Analyze the environmental consequences of humans changing the physical environment, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. List and describe the environmental effects of human actions on the four basic components of Earth’s physical systems: the atmosphere (e.g., effects of ozone depletion, climate change, changes in urban microclimates), the biosphere (e.g., the effects of deforestation, expansion of the savanna, reduction in biodiversity), the lithosphere (e.g., the effects of land degradation, soil salinization and acidification, gully erosion, weathering by polluted air and water), and the hydrosphere (e.g., the effects of ocean pollution, groundwater-quality decline)
  2. Speculate on the environmental consequences of a major long-lasting energy crisis
  3. Assess the environmental impact of plans to use natural wetlands for recreational and housing development in coastal areas (e.g., the Florida Everglades, South Padre Island of Texas, the low country of South Carolina)

B. Identify and explain the ways in which human-induced changes in the physical environment in one place can cause changes in other places, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Explain how environmental changes made in one place affect other places (e.g., the effect of a factory’s airborne emissions on air quality in communities located downwind and, because of acid rain, on ecosystems located downwind; effect of pesticides washed into river systems on water quality in communities located downstream)
  2. Explain how the construction of dams and levees on river systems in one region affects places downstream (e.g., such construction limits the availability of water for human use, enables electricity to be generated, controls flooding, improves river transportation, and leads to changes in ecosystems
  3. Develop maps, tables, or graphs to illustrate how environmental change in one part of the world can affect places in other parts of the world (e.g., industrial activity and acid rain in North America, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident and radioactive fallout in Europe and Asia)

C. Evaluate the ways in which technology influences human capacity to modify the physical environment, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Analyze the environmental consequences of both the unintended and intended outcomes of major technological changes in human history (e.g., the effects of automobiles using fossil fuels, nuclear power plants creating the problem of nuclear-waste storage, and the use of steel-tipped plows or the expansion of the amount of land brought into agriculture)
  2. Describe the role of technology in changing the physical environment of agricultural activities and list the environmental consequences of such actions (e.g., the effects of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using modern tilling equipment and techniques, and the hybridization of crops on biodiversity)
  3. Identify, list, and evaluate the significance of major technological innovations that have been used to modify the physical environment, both in the past and in the present (e.g., the effects of the introduction of fire, steam power, diesel machinery, electricity, work animals, explosives

Geography Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems

1. Human responses to variations in physical systems

2. How the characteristics of different physical environments provide opportunities for or place constraints on human activities

3. How natural hazards affect human activities

Therefore, the student is able to:

A. Analyze ways in which human systems develop in response to conditions in the physical environment, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Collect visual and statistical data on patterns of land use, economic livelihoods, architectural styles of buildings, building materials, flows of traffic, recreational activities or other aspects of culture from the student’s own community and from communities in other regions of the country to determine how the patterns reflect conditions of the physical environment
  2. Compare agricultural production systems in different kinds of environmental regions (e.g., agricultural land use in areas with fertile soil and flat land in comparison to areas with less fertile soil and rough terrain)
  3. Speculate on the effects of an undesirable change in the physical environment of human activities, and suggest how people might mitigate the problem in different cases (e.g., if the available supply of freshwater was cut in half by persistent drought, if an urban area was subjected to weeks of flooding, or if a heavily populated area was hit by a protracted series of earthquakes)

B. Explain how the characteristics of different physical environments affect human activities, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Collect information on ways in which people adapt to living in different physical environments, and then write vignettes summarizing how the physical environment affects life in each region (e.g., how people in Siberia, Alaska, and other high-latitude places deal with the characteristics of tundra environments, such as frost heaves, spring snowmelt floods, freeing of public utilities, very short growing seasons, infertile soils, bogs that impede transportation)
  2. Give examples of ways people take aspects of the environment into account when deciding on locations for human activities (e.g., early American industrial development along streams and rivers at the fall line to take advantage of water-generated power)
  3. Compare population distribution maps with environmental quality maps (resource distribution, rainfall, temperature, soil fertility, landform relief, and carrying capacity) and describe the associations between population density and environmental quality

C. Describe the effects of natural hazards on human systems, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Describe the relationship between humans and natural hazards in different regions of the United States and world (e.g., how the level of economic development and technology influences the effect of drought on populations in Ethiopia compared with populations in Australia or the southern part of the United States)
  2. Rank natural hazards based on their severity of impact on humans (e.g., by length of event, total loss of life, total economic impact, social effects, long-term impacts, incidence of associated hazards)
  3. Explain the ways humans prepare for natural hazards (e.g., earthquake preparedness, constructing houses on stilts in flood-prone areas, designation of hurricane shelters and evacuation routes in hurricane-prone areas)

Geography Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use distribution, and importance of resources

1. The worldwide distribution and use of resources

2. Why people have different viewpoints regarding resource use

3. How technology affects the definitions of, access to, and use of resources

4. The fundamental role of energy resources in society

Therefore, the student is able to:

A. Describe and analyze world patterns of resource distribution and utilization, as exemplified by being able to

  1. Map and discuss the world patterns of such resources as petroleum, coal, copper, iron ore in terms of the locations of major deposits
  2. Map and discuss the world patterns of such resources as diamonds, silver, gold, tungsten, and molybdenum in terms of the locations of major deposits
  3. Develop a presentation, based on the use of research materials, on three major resource distribution patterns as they were in 1900 and in 1990 and explain the reasons for the differences between the two patterns

B. Describe the consequences of the use of resources in the contemporary world, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Map the major present-day sources of key resources such as petroleum, anthracite and bituminous coal, diamonds, and copper and then trace the routes that link them to consuming countries (e.g., the movement of petroleum from the Persian Gulf to Japan and the Republic of Korea or of diamonds from South Africa to processing centers in Belgium, Israel, and New York City)
  2. Discuss the relationship between a country’s standard of living and its accessibility to resources (e.g., easy access to such resources as plentiful supplies of energy, foodstuffs, and materials from which consumer goods are manufactured usually means a higher standard of living and the opposite usually means a lower standard of living)
  3. Relate competition for resources to conflicts between regions and countries (e.g., the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in the 1930s, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991)

C. Evaluate different viewpoints regarding resource use, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Assess the differing attitudes of people regarding the use and misuse of resources (e.g., attitudes toward electric cars, water-rationing, urban public transportation, use of fossil fuels)
  2. Based on Environmental Protection Agency or other relevant standards, develop a list of examples of the misuse of resources and make recommendations for future use that are consistent with the standards (e.g., excessive timber-cutting in old-growth forests, buffalo in the western United States, soil conservation in semiarid areas)
  3. Evaluate methods of extracting and using resources in terms of the impact on the environment (e.g., practicing sustainable forestry and agriculture, obtaining freshwater from icebergs, recycling urban waste)

D. Identify the role of technology in resource acquisition and use, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Associate higher levels of resource extraction with advanced technology (e.g., the use of giant earth-moving machinery in strip-mining, and of advanced exploration techniques in the search for petroleum, bauxite)
  2. Associate rates of resource consumption with levels of technological development (e.g., the high per capita use of energy in the developed societies of Europe and North America and the lower per capita use of energy in the developing countries of Africa and Latin America)
  3. Explain the economic importance of satellite imagery technology in the search, for petroleum (e.g., the ability to survey very large and inaccessible areas with preliminary exploration done in a laboratory)

E. Identify and develop plans for the management and use of renewable, nonrenewable, and flow resources, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Create plans for the management of energy resources such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas
  2. Speculate as to how long the world’s known supply of fossil fuels might last, given varying rates of consumption and various estimates of the amounts of such resources left, and devise a plan for switching to alternative sources of energy when today’s fossil fuels run out
  3. Develop and implement a personal plan to conserve water and recycle materials and speculate as to how and why that plan might change within the next ten years

F. Explain the critical importance of energy resources to the development of human societies, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Explain the importance of energy sources such as wood, charcoal, wind, and water to people settling new lands (e.g., settlers moving westward in the United States, eastward into Siberia)
  2. Identify the ways in which coal, petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear power contribute to the functioning of societies (e.g., through providing power for transportation, manufacturing, the heating and cooling of buildings)
  3. Explain how the development and widespread use of alternative energy sources, such as solar and thermal energy, might have an impact on societies (e.g., the impacts on air and water quality, on existing energy industries, on current manufacturing practices)


Geography for Life
National Geography Standards 1994 (Gr. 5-8)


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