WebQuest Lesson - O.S.A.E. Skills

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In partial fulfillment of

UNL Class CI 889

This document was last updated on 31 October 2002 (Ver. 1.6.3)

Teaching the O.S.A.E. Skills :
Learning to 'Read a City' during a Field Trip

Based on Cathy and 'Kit' Salter's work with geographic education

A WebQuest Lesson for Community College Geography Students.

This is a work in progress !

This WebQuest Lesson can easily be adapted for social studies, economics, and urban landscape classes.

Introduction      Task      The Process and Resources      Conclusion      General Comments for the Teacher

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The Big Question      View an older (non-WebQuest) O.S.A.E. Lesson

How can the O.SA.E. Skills help geography students better analyze the urban landscape?


I first heard about the O.S.A.E. Skills in June of 1991, when 'Kit' and Cathy Salter came to Lincoln for GEON's Alliance Summer Geography Institute at UNL. In the 1980s Cathy had developed a teaching strategy in Los Angeles while working with her inner suburban students. She wanted them to explore their neighborhood and learn what its geography and history were. Later, Kit wrote several articles describing the O.S.A.E. Skills. See citations at the bottom of this document. During the ASGI, we explored several neighborhoods in Omaha and the O.S.A.E. Skills came to life for me. I was a staff liason during the 1991 ASGI and learned a great deal about planning and conducting a summer institute.

In July 1991, five Nebraska teachers, including myself, were selected by the National Geographic Society to participate in their Summer Geography Alliance. The O.S.A.E. Skills really came to life for us on our field trips of 13 July 1991 and 18 - 22 July 1991. At the end of the SGI, the NGS awarded us 'Teacher Consultant' status. 'Kit' Salter was our Course Director.

Kit Salter, SGI 91 Course Director.

In his important document, "How to Read a City: A Geographic Perspective", Christopher "Kit" Salter suggests that the cultural landscape is our oldest primary document. We learn about our world through primary source materials, the tangible elements in which we find ourselves. Surrounded by multiple symbols of human activity, we learn daily about our collective efforts to modify the natural environment. Let us not forget the natural environment from which our complex culture has sprung : the topography, the weather patterns, drainage systems, indigenous flora and fauna. Certainly, our lives are dependent upon the physical geography landscape on which humans have built. However, this lesson deals with a more complex landscape, one created primarily by humans. We know this complex landscape best as the city.

In this WebQuest Lesson, we'll learn an important strategy, partly theoretical, partly a walking tour, and totally designed to better understand the city landscape and consider ways in which the city impacts on our daily lives.

This WebQuest Lesson teaches the O.S.A.E. Skills as an aid in conducting a Community College geography urban field trip.

For the Introductory activity, students are invited to think of examples of the urban environment in which they live. What is "urban"? Does this term mean the same to everyone? What is meant by the Central Business District? What are its characteristics? What are our most memorable urban experiences? How can we learn from Foncesca's Semi-Urban Landscape?

Next, we'll consider examples of the city landscape as portrayed in the media. What television shows, for example, illustrate human activities which are specific to cities? What book passages describe specific examples of urban landscape? Students should generate a list of characteristics of the urban environment and consider what elements of the urban landscape are worthy of preservation and what elements need to be removed or repaired. Students will write a one page summary of their thoughts based on the elements of a city described so far.

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In this WebQuest Lesson, Community College geography students will learn strategies (The O.S.A.E. Skills) to more carefully analyze an urban environment and appreciate its complexities. They will...

  • Observe the urban landscape from multiple perpectives. Here are some questions to consider : What are the visual and functional qualities of the scene? What is the highest level of development observed at this location? What relationship exists between elements? What patterns do you see? What is the perceived degree of historical integrity? In addition to the obvious buildings and traffic patterns, what other systems are observed? What remains of the natural environment? What can you observe of public and private space? Green spaces?

  • Speculate on what is happening in the landscape, based upon your best Observation skills.

  • Analyze why things are as they are, based on the best evidence possible. Find answers in the neighborhood, at City Hall, and on the web to answer your Speculation questions.

  • Evaluate what has happened, what is occurring now, and postulate what the future may bring. Make informed judgements based on the first three steps.
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    The Task

    In this Webquest Lesson, we'll learn about the history and characteristics of cities, what has made them bloom and what causes them to decay.

    The Process

    From an urban perspective, students will study the factors which contribute to "tension on the landscape." To get everyone on the same page, students are invited to consider these broad topics. Ask your teacher which of these sites you must visit :

  • What made the growth of cities possible? Virtual Ancient Civilizations      Ur and its beginnings
  • Characteristics of cities of the past and present.       Largest Cities Through History      Florentine History
  • Familiar architectural landmarks from around the world
  • The history of the suburb : Levittown
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Culture of Cities: Cultural Change and Social Response      Ask your teacher which sections you should read.
  • The City of the Future - from a current perspective and from the past : Philadelphia 1876      Buffalo 1901      World's Columbian Exposition (look for city architecture changes, Innovations and Legacy, Famous Firsts, The White City model)      New York World's Fair 1939-40      Seattle 1962      New York World's Fair 1964      Futurama's City of the Future

    After visiting these sites, students should be prepared to discuss ten major ideas observed. As with all web sites you visit for this assignment, take notes whenever appropriate. It is suggested that you keep a list of unfamiliar terminology; you may wish to incorporate some of them in your final product. Write a one page summary weaving together major issues which urban residents of the past faced compared with those of the present. Check early with your teacher regarding the expectations for this Lesson.

    Your teacher has selected appropriate sites on the internet for you to visit for this activity. You and your classmates will be divided into five research teams, based on the four steps of the O.S.A.E. process (the part each plays In this 'Teaching the O.S.A.E. Skills for a Field Trip' Lesson) plus a Miscellaneous category. Note that there's always some overlap among process groups and their place within this broad topic. Your teacher will tell you which sites to visit within your group.


    You and your team will be assigned one of the following Groups to research on this topic. Visit each of the URLs (Universal Resource Locator - web address) in your assigned Group. Be prepared to carefully cite each URL's author (when known), the documents' Title, organization name, date and important facts as presented. As you research the O.S.A.E. process Group assigned to you and your classmates, keep the Big Question in mind.

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    The O.S.A.E. Process Steps + 1

    Group 1 (Observation)

  • How does one analyze the urban scene?
  • Look for patterns in the spatial order
  • Work from obvious to complex (Central Place Theory) explained. A Project
  • Peel away the Layers of the city
  • How does scale effect our observations?
  • Group 2 (Speculation)      Grow your geographic skills

  • Take one's Observation to the Next Level
  • Making a Leap in Logic Logic and Function of Ornament
  • Ask open ended questions of yourself and others
  • Group 3 (Analysis)

  • Pulling together dispirate data
  • Researching for answers. Ask the locals, then the city, then county, then regional planners, then state and federal officials.
  • Urbanisation in Britain 1780-1914 includes theories and discussion of urban growth; Sorting fact from fiction
  • Group 4 (Evaluation)

  • How well does this scene "work" in the local context?
  • What moral and ethical decisions have been made? (Read 'Defining Geography' paragraph)
  • What economic and political decisions have been made?
  • What modifications would you would suggest or discourage and why?
  • Group 5 (Miscellaneous)      Ask your teacher which sites you should visit.

  • Association of American Geographers Urban Geography Speciality Group
  • Virtually Vancouver an important urban center (QT player needed)
  • The Virtual Geography Department now located in Colorado
  • Carl Steinitz, Landscape Architect
  • History of Planning & City Planning
  • Jacob Riis' early photos of urban slums caused a furor
  • Geographic Education and Public Policy from the perspective of Geographer H. J. deBlij
  • Bridging the Urban Landscape 600 historical photographs and images
  • "Engaging Local Communities for Regional Change" from College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, U-MN (.pdf reader required)
  • What happened to downtown Topeka?
  • Regenerate damaged and neglected public lands in urban communities with wildflowers; involves kids and the homeless
  • KidsClick visit major world cities and other topics for kids
  • Walking Tour of Edinburgh and Urbanisation in Britain
  • Urbanization Theories
  • Origin and History of Cities: 4000 BC to 1750 AD a slide show presentation. More Cities in History
  • Mapping the Urban Landscape      Some GIS tools.
  • Panorama of New York City
  • State organization of local municipalities
  • State organization of local neighborhood Associations
  • Carfree Cities
  • Better Environmentally Sound Transportation
  • Panorama Photos of Cities Library of Congress
  • Bibliography, Pre-Industrial Cities Cities in Pre-Industrial Europe, Grinnell College
  • There are heaps of books on the topic of urban sprawl, siting of mega-stores in suburbs, designing of pedestrian and bicycle-friendly traffic, preventing shopping malls from locating on prime agricultural land, defending Main Street from chain stores, and ways to become politically involved in order to make a difference (the art of public presentation). You are invited to share readings from these sources.

    While reading the content at these web sites, take appropriate notes on paper and in computer text files. If you wish, subdivide your team to faciliate completion of the tasks. Several of you might research the sites while others can type the notes and prepare them for the next step. Be sure to check with your Instructor for details. The study of "Teaching O.S.A.E. Skills for a Field Trip" can be a daunting task, which is why you and your team have been asked to reseach only one component of the process. The larger task of understanding this important topic has been chunked into smaller, manageable sizes.

    At this point, the Issue which you and your team must address is "What does this part of the process contribute to our understanding of the Lesson?" Your research should be directed towards answering the Big Question.

    To see what to do with the O.S.A.E. Skills in a practical way during a field trip, click here.


    Now that we've completed our WebQuest Lesson, let's answer this important question : Has this activity addressed the Big Question? What have been the most significant points you've learned during this activity? After your internet research, analysis, product design and creation, do you have a deeper understanding of a real, gray area, challenging topic? Consider what you've learned from this experience and how you can apply that knowledge and those skills in new ways. Write a one page summary of this WebQuest activity and what's it's meant to you. Give specific examples from your research, analysis, product design and processes you used to reach your conclusions.

    Terms used in this Lesson:


    Your teacher may have given you a feedback sheet or several URLs to visit before you complete your group's product and your evaluation of this activity. Submit a copy of the answers to the questions listed above, plus your electronic notes, and final product to the teacher and keep a copy for yourself.

    "How to Read a City: A Geographic Perspective" was published in Magazine of History Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall, 1990) 68-71; "What is the Essence of Geographic Literacy?" was published in Focus, by the American Geographical Society, (Summer, 1990) 26 - 29)

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    (WQosae.html)gen 21 April 2001