Geography and fieldwork at the secondary school level: An investigation of anthropogenic litter on an estuarine shoreline

Nancy L. Jackson, Maureen Lally Cerrato, Norbert Elliot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Teaching geography within a field-based, environmental-problem-solving framework integrates geographic knowledge and practice and introduces high school students to skills required to undertake geographic research. A five-day field investigation on coastal geography was designed for juniors at a science high school in New Jersey. The goal of the field investigation was to allow students to engage in problem-solving, gather field data, apply geographic concepts and tools, and foster the ability to think critically. The purpose of the investigation was to identify the spatial distribution of litter on a beach and interpret the distribution based on physical and human processes. The field site is a 400-m-long shoreline reach in Raritan Bay, New Jersey. Students defined the term “litter” for purposes of the investigation, developed a classification system, and mapped the location and type of litter on the beach. Three sampling grids were established across the beach from the dune crest to the waterline. Students conducted topographic surveys of the sampling grids, collected litter in each grid cell, and counted, classified, and weighed the litter. Data gathered were reduced, analyzed, and interpreted based on the published literature. Findings were presented at a formal presentation on the last day of the investigation. Students submitted a written report and presented the results of the investigation at a student conference two months later. Field investigations can expose students to different methods of data sampling and measurement. Collaboration between secondary schools and universities can result in successful learning initiatives that allow students the opportunity to experience the role of a practicing professional.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-306
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Geography
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Education


  • Coastal geography
  • Environmental problem-solving
  • Field investigation
  • Geographic skills
  • Secondary education


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