Geographic Investigation

Two lessons show how the movement of people, goods, and ideas transform the world.  As you work through Lessons 1 and 2, think about how these movements also affect your experiences in life. Lesson 1 takes us on a journey of human migration (the movement of people) from local, national, and international scales. The focus of Lesson 2 is on the transportation of food, from Mexico to the USA and from the farm to your table.  

The Geographic Advantage provide a deeper understanding of issues surrounding movement. A geographer may ask questions such as, “How does the increase in online shopping change the organization and movement of people and goods?" or "How do changing oil prices influence peoples' movement (e.g., vacation destination, mode of commute to work) and impact the organization of landscape?" These questions and others that examine the processes of movement (people, goods, and ideas) and its influence across geographic scales can be better understood through the Geographic Advantage:

Processes operating at multiple and interlocking geographic scales

Relationships between people and the environment

Lesson 1: Exploring Patterns of Human Migration Lesson 2: Globalization of Food

Lesson 1: Exploring Patterns of Human Migration

Lesson 1 takes us on a journey of human migration (the movement of people) by looking at international migration and movement of people within the USA.

Activity 1: Push-Pull Factors in Human Migration

Explore the Immigration Global Hot Spots map produced by NPR to identify some of today’s principal migration patterns.

1. Click on the "Immigration: Global Hot Spots" map link, used with permission by NPR
2. Click on each of 9 countries listed at the bottom of webpage, from China to the United States, to see where people are migrating from and why.

Activity 2: International Immigration Patterns 

International Immigration Patterns
© Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

In the cartogram above, territory size is based on the number of international immigrants that live there. In the index map below, territory size is based on actual physical area. The Index map will help you identify countries on the cartogram.


Index Map of World Nations
© Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

Activity 3: Exploring Population Movement in the United States

Changes in population within a country reflect internal migration – moving to a new location and leaving an old one. To explore current patterns of internal migration in the United States, select 2010 U.S. Census, prepared by The New York Times (Note: you can pan to Alaska and Hawaii by holding down your cursor and dragging the map).

Map interpretation questions

Based on the "Mapping the 2010 U.S. Census" map above, answer the following questions.

1. Where is the greatest population decline taking place in the US today?

2. Assuming that people are leaving this/these areas because of “push” factors, what might those factors be?

3. Where is the greatest population increase taking place?

4. Is all of this increase the result of Americans moving to a new location within the United States? What other factor(s) might explain population growth in a particular region?

5. What are some of the “pull” factors drawing people to these areas of increasing population?

6. Using the map below as a guide, summarize current patterns of population movement  (gain or loss) within each of the following regions:

  • West
  • Midwest
  • Northeast
  • South

U.S. Regions
U.S. Energy Information Administration (June 2000)

7. Examine your own state. Which parts of your state are losing population? Gaining population? Can you identify push and pull factors in your own state which explain the patterns of movement shown on the map?

Lesson summary

People move within their environment, whether this is commuting daily for school/work or relocating to another state or even to another country. People move for a variety of reasons, decisions based on push or pull factors. As a result of the movement of people, they bring goods and ideas to their new home, drawing even more people, goods, and ideas. Students explored population movement and observed patterns within the USA and globally. Through authentic stories of migration, they also made conclusions about push- and pull-factors in the process of migration.  Lesson 2 below looks at the movement of food as a good that travels from farm to people around the world.

Go to Lesson 2: Globalization of Food

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Lesson 2: Globalization of Food

Activity 1: Immigrants' Impact on Local Food Availability

Click on A slice of NY life: Mexico Lindo to watch a video about a Mexican market in New York City.

Activity 2: Globalization of American Food

The image below shows growth in the number of worldwide franchises, amount of profit, and their franchise locations.  Click on the image below to see a larger image that is easier to read.

Globalization of Food in the U.S.
© 2003 INA –

Activity 3: Calculating Food Costs

Field research is a very important part of geographic investigation. Go to your local grocery store and document the different kinds of foods (fruits, vegetables, etc) available. Note the country of origin for each fruit or vegetable.

Click on the slideshow Journey of Foods from Farm to Consumer to learn how produce are harvested on a farm then transported to your table.

The following exercise will help you make some generalizations about the cost of transporting food. This makes up one portion of the ‘real’ food price. Other factors include cost to the environment (e.g., pollution, water waster); energy used to grow food; salary and time of farmers and harvesters; to name a few.

Select one of the fruits or vegetables you recorded on your trip to the grocery store. Then, use the following directions to calculate the cost of transportation.

1. To calculate the length of time from farm to reach the grocery store, divide the distance (miles) (using scale on a map to calculate distance or an internet source) by the speed limit on the highway (65 miles/hour). For example, if the distance traveled was 2000 miles, then the time of travel is 2000/65 or 30 hours. (Assume highway travel for purposes of calculation).

2. To calculate the total gallons of gasoline used for transportation, we will need to estimate the mileage of a delivery truck.  If the mileage of the delivery truck is 20 miles/gallon, then divide the total distance by mileage. For example, if the total distance travelled is 2000 miles, then the number of gallons of oil needed to drive this distance is 100 gallons (2000 miles ÷ 20 miles/gallon).

3. To calculate the cost of gas for transportation, multiply the price of gas by the number of gallons.  For example, if the distance travelled was 2000 miles, 100 gallons were used, and the gas price is $3.50/gallon, the total cost is $350.00 (Note that this price is for many carts of produce, not simply one produce).

Lesson summary

Goods move with people but they are also moved for people. Foods commonly associated with a culture may be found in localized areas such as noodles in Chinatown, curry in Indian town, or Kosher food in Jewish communities. Or more recently, large corporations have franchise in countries around the world, outside of their home country. The movement of food, along with goods, ideas, and other tangible and non-tangible items, are transforming the world. Globalization is the result of these movements. Students explored the movement of food at the local, national, and international scales. The module offered a personal exercise where students were asked to calculate the distance a fruit or vegetable traveled from the farm to their table. To learn more about globalization, read and work on the activities in the next module titled Globalization.

Go to Lesson 1: Exploring Patterns of Human Migration

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To see a larger image of the distance produce travel from farm to your table, click here

The movement of non-native people into a country in order to settle there.


To see a larger image of migration flow, click here



To see a larger image of taxes paid by undocumented immigrants, click here

Processes operating at multiple and interlocking geographic scales

Analysis of an issue or problem at different scales may assist geographers in understanding the connections and patterns. For example, interesting shifts in the location of US population may reveal new information when viewed at census tract, community, county, state, or regional scales. Five of the modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

Relationships between people and the environment

Our planet as well as the people who live on it are constantly changing. Identifying and understanding relationships between people and the environment are critical to designing a sustainable future. This critical aspect is reflected in the fact that 10 of the 11 modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

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