Mysteries to support geographical relational thinking in secondary education

Jan Karkdijk

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

243 Downloads (Pure)


Summary Geographical relational thinking in this dissertation is described as: analysing, explaining, evaluating and/or predicting the horizontal and vertical relationships and the interactions between them, on different scales, that cause regional change. The importance in secondary geography of learning to think relationally, the difficulties students have with relational thinking, the scarce evidence on students’ relational thinking skills together with the almost complete absence of research on the strategy of the mystery to assess and foster relational thinking in geography lessons, provided the rationale for this dissertation. The aim was to obtain evidence on students’ geographical relational thinking, in order to gain more insight into possible ways that teachers could help their students to master this skill. The main research question was: How does the use of mysteries in secondary geography education support geographical relational thinking in students? The research questions of the four conducted studies were: (1) What is the effect of the use of mysteries on students’ geographical relational thinking? (2) Which geographical relationships do students in small groups establish to solve a mystery? (3) How coherent are the solutions to the mystery posed? (4) How does geographical relational thinking in terms of the SOLO taxonomy differ between groups? (5) How does geographical relational thinking in groups differ between the two mysteries? (6) How can differences between groups in geographical relational thinking be explained by characteristics and collaborative behaviour of the groups? (7) What are the differences between low-performing and high-performing groups in their strategies to understand a geographical mystery? The main conclusions of this research are: (1) The repeated use of mysteries in combination with groups’ representation of their explanation of the mystery as a concept map can have a significant positive effect on students’ relational thinking in geography. (2) The quality of geographical relational thinking of a large proportion of small groups working on a mystery seems generally low, although the differences between student groups appear to be considerable: o the more concrete, fairly easy to establish relationships seem to dominate the explanations; o where a large proportion of small student groups appears to be able to establish only more or less linear, unconnected relationships in order to explain a complex, interrelated problem, a comparable proportion seems to be able to construct a more coherent explanation by using cross-links. (3) Small student groups seem to differ in their ability to explain a complex problem such as presented by a mystery in group effort and not in particular group characteristics like educational level, educational year of geography grades. The two differentiating elements of group effort might be: o an extensive on-task group discussion to understand the connections between the different aspects of the mystery problem before the answer to the mystery question was constructed; and o the use of the webbing strategy as the main relating strategy employed to understand the mystery. With respect to the aim of this research, we conclude that teachers can help students to foster students’ geographical relational thinking by: (a) practising strategies (like mysteries) with more complex assignments to think in interrelated, multi-causal relationships, (b) using these strategies in a progressive order from assignments with more concrete concepts easy to connect with the mystery problem to assignments with more abstract background information that demands thinking in interrelationships before an answer to the mystery problem can be formulated; (c) giving explicit attention to cross-links or interrelationships in the whole-class debriefing session; and (d) giving explicit attention in the debriefing session to the employed relating strategies and the power of the webbing strategy to tackle a complex interrelated problem.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Admiraal, Wilfried, Supervisor, External person
  • Meeter, Martijn, Supervisor
  • van der Schee, Joop Willem, Co-supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2021
Place of PublicationGoes
Print ISBNs9789464372359
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • mystery
  • geography
  • secondary education
  • geographical relational thinking


Dive into the research topics of 'Mysteries to support geographical relational thinking in secondary education'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this