So, you have taken the plunge and are now teaching AP® Human Geography. People will ask “What is Human Geography?” but you have no idea how to answer (yet). I get this question all the time (from students and teachers alike) and I have a short and longer answer that will help kick off your understanding of this course and its importance.


The short answer: “Human Geography studies where things are and why they are there.


The longer response includes the short answer but is best illustrated with a fast-food example. While the question of where things are located is important, the more important question is “why there.” Geographers are trained to look for spatial patterns in the world and then apply theories and reasoning to explain why these patterns exist.


Thinking spatially means studying the arrangement and distribution of phenomena (stuff) in the world. For example, have you ever looked at a busy intersection and noticed that every corner has a fast-food restaurant and many of these restaurants serve the same basic food? (Meat in a bun (beef/chicken), potatoes (chips/fries), and carbonated sugary beverages.) This pattern reoccurs across the United States and there are a variety of reasons that explain why the pattern reoccurs.

Fast food

A common sign showing the variety of food choices at an interstate or highway exit.

Daniel BarcelonaCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Geographers can explain why patterns occur, and use tools such as economic land use models, spatial flow models, transportation systems, zoning laws, population, and concepts of culture such as traditions and values. Additionally, human geographers are interested in the impacts that different patterns can have on people, communities, the economy, society, governments, or the environment. Educating your students on how to observe the world like a geographer is one of the most important skills you can impart.


Geography is all around us. This course and the Advanced Placement® Human Geography coursebook by AMSCO® is dedicated to having students and teachers develop a set of skills to better analyze the world in which we live. AP® Human Geography is a true 21st-century course that will allow students to look at a wide range of topics with the purpose of using the lens of geography to identify and describe patterns and then apply a depth of academic theories and models to explain the reasons the patterns may exist. The AMSCO® book is structured and written to help teachers and students develop the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in the class and on the exam. In fact, each chapter and unit have questions and activities that will allow you to practice the critical thinking and skills of geographers.


One of the most powerful skills in a geographer’s arsenal is the ability to analyze patterns at different scales of analysis (Topic 1.6) or look at issues at the local, regional, country, or global scale. Using the fast-food example above we can look at the topic on the local scale of an intersection and discuss visibility, traffic patterns, right-hand turns in and out of parking lots, local incomes, or zoning rules. But we can also zoom out and study the patterns of the movement and consumption of food on a national or even global scale by discussing where the wheat for the bread is grown or the processes that companies use to move food and products around the world. Each scale of analysis often reveals new understandings that help us develop a more complete picture of the patterns and processes that shape our world.


Human geography is dynamic, interesting, and can impact how you view and explain the world. Success in this course is built on learning how to think like a geographer, a willingness to describe patterns, and refined skills of explaining the processes or reasons why the patterns exist.


I am excited for you as you take students on a journey into the field of geography. Who knows—your students might become amazing geographers and develop great passion and skills to help the people and communities of the world!


David Palmer is the lead author and senior consultant of Advanced Placement® Human Geography, 2nd Edition coursebook by AMSCO® and has taught AP® Human Geography for over 20 years. He is a College Board® Consultant, NCGE Distinguished Geography Teacher Award winner and has been a Question Leader during the scoring of AP® Human Geography exams. David has taught and presented at numerous institutes and conferences in the United States, China, India, and Japan. David has an undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado and a Masters from Colorado Christian University.