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What a Student Should Know and Do


Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems.

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

Geography Standard 7; The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface

1. How physical processes shape patterns in the physical environment

2. How Earth-Sun relationships affect physical processes and patterns on Earth

3. How physical processes influence the formation and distribution of resources

4. How to predict the consequences of physical processes on Earth’s surface

Therefore, the student is able to:

A. Use physical processes to explain patterns in the physical environment, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Explain how erosional agents such as water and ice produce distinctive landforms (e.g., water and badlands, ice and glacial valleys, waves and sea cliffs)
  2. Account for the patterns of features associated with the margins of tectonic plates such as earthquake zones and volcanic activity (e.g., the Ring of Fire around the Pacific Ocean, the San Andreas Fault in coastal California)
  3. Describe the ocean circulation system and the way it affects climate (e.g., North Atlantic Drift and the mild climate of Western Europe)

B. Analyze physical patterns in terms of the processes that created them, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Construct and analyze climate graphs for selected places and suggest reasons for similarities and differences in climates
  2. Compare regions of the world with similar physical features (e.g., desert regions in Nevada and western China, subarctic regions in Russia and Canada)
  3. Use appropriate maps to generalize about the relationships between physical processes (e.g., the relationships between ocean currents, prevailing winds, and atmospheric pressure cells)

C. Explain how Earth-Sun relationships affect Earth’s physical processes and create physical patterns, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Use diagrams and maps to describe ways in which the Sun’s position with respect to Earth affects the horizontal and vertical distribution of energy on Earth
  2. Attribute occurrences of weather phenomena to annual changes in Earth-Sun relationships (e.g., hurricanes in the fall in subtropical areas, and tornadoes and floods in the spring and summer in mid-latitudes)
  3. Explain the patterns of monsoon rainfall in terms of changing Earth-Sun relationships

D. Describe the processes that produce renewable and nonrenewable resources, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Describe the processes that produce fossil fuels and relate the processes to specific locations(e.g., coal in the Appalachian Mountains and in Great Britain formed in tropical latitudes, and was later transported by plate tectonic movement to colder latitudes where coal does not form at present)
  2. Predict the hydroelectric power potential of different regions given topographic maps and climate data (e.g., the hydroelectric potential of Sweden and Denmark; Washington State and Kansas)
  3. Relate the patterns of world agriculture to the distribution of fertile soils and the physical processes that produce them (e.g., the cultivation of cotton on the rich alluvial soil of the Mississippi Delta)

E. Predict the consequences of a specific physical process operating on Earth’s surface, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Predict the effects of an extreme weather phenomenon on the physical environment (e.g., a hurricane’s impact on a coastal ecosystem)
  2. Infer the effect of heavy rainfall on hillslopes (e.g., after a forest fire, or after goats have overgrazed an area)
  3. Predict the potential outcome of the continued movement of Earth’s tectonic plates (e.g., continental drift, earthquakes, volcanic activity)

Geography Standard 8: the characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface

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

1. The local and global patterns of ecosystems

2. How ecosystems work

3. How physical processes produce changes in ecosystems

4. How human activities influence changes in ecosystems

Therefore, the student is able to:

A. Explain the distribution of ecosystems from local to global scales, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Describe ecosystems and the differences between them, using photographs and other media as illustrations (e.g., create collages showing flora and fauna, participate in making student videos of local ecosystems)
  2. Explain how and why ecosystems differ from place to place as a consequence of differences in soils, climates, and human and natural disturbances
  3. Identify changes in the local ecosystem resulting from human intervention (e.g., river wetlands being replaced by expanded farming activity on a floodplain)

B. Explain the functions and dynamics of ecosystems, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Identify the flora and fauna of an ecosystem and tell how they are linked and interdependent
  2. Explain the flow of energy and the cycling of matter through an ecosystem (e.g., the food chain or the hydrologic cycle)
  3. Explain the feeding levels and location of elements in the food chain (e.g., carnivores eating herbivores)

C. Explain how physical processes influence ecosystems, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Explain how specific populations within ecosystems respond to environmental stress
  2. Describe and explain the life cycle of a lake ecosystem, including the process of eutrophication
  3. Explain ecosystems in terms of their characteristics and ability of withstand stress caused by physical events (e.g., a river system adjusting to the arrival of introduced plant species such as hydrilla; regrowth of a forest--with a modified set of flora and fauna--after a forest fire)

D. Explain how human processes contribute to changes in ecosystems, as exemplified by being able to:

  1. Identify changes over time in the ecosystem in or near the student’s own community resulting from human intervention (e.g., natural wetlands on a floodplain being replaced by farms, farmlands on a floodplain being replaced by housing developments)
  2. Predict the potential impact of human activities within a given ecosystem on the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles (e.g., the role of air pollution in atmospheric warming or the growing of peas and other legumes, which supply their own nitrogen and do not deplete the soil)
  3. Explain ways that humans interact differently with ecosystems in different regions of the world (e.g., reasons for and characteristics of varied patterns of shifting cultivation in parts of Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia

Source: Geography for Life, National Geography Standards 1994. National Geographic Research & Exploration. Chapter 6. Geography Education Standards Project. Developed on behalf of the American Geographical Society, Association of American Geographers, National Council for Geographic Education, National Geographic Society


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