Previously Spotlighted Members
Like most geographers out there, I have a serious love for maps. All kinds of maps: paper, digital, and mental. As I sit here today and create a mental map of my development as a geography educator, I realize that I was always destined to be a geographer, though my career is just beginning. Rick Bass once wrote, “The spirit that exists is not in us, and not upon the land, but between us and the land, like an electrical current generated.” I hope to ignite that spark between my students and the landscape through geography education.
I grew up in Long Beach, NY, a small barrier island off the south shore of Long Island. Long Beach was absolutely great during the summer months, as the beach was only a five minute walk from any point in town. However, beach season only lasts so long and for the majority of the year, the beach was cold, windy, and rainy. I never learned how to surf (I hate being completely underwater), and I found myself yearning to get out and explore other parts of my state.
When I was in middle school, my father took me skiing in the Catskill Mountains for the first time. I had about zero confidence going into my first lesson, as I was an extremely uncoordinated child. Turns out, I was a natural skier and made it up to the chairlift on day one. My father noticed how much I loved the sport, and got a job as a ski instructor so he could take me skiing every weekend. Eventually, I started teaching skiing as well. I fell in love with teaching and at the age of 16 and became certified to not only teach skiing to children, but to adults as well. It was during this time that I also became fascinated by the mountains around me. I wanted nothing more than to learn how the landscape evolved to its current state, how humans impacted that evolution, and how our society can learn how to live with the land and not on the land.
I carried my fascination with the landscape with me to college at SUNY Plattsburgh in Northern New York. While a student at SUNY Plattsburgh, I pursued a double major in geology and environmental science. For my senior thesis, I used GIS to reconstruct late Pleistocene paleogeography and sedimentary environments in Northeastern New York. This research sparked my interest in geomorphology and influenced my decision to begin graduate school and work towards becoming a physical geographer.
In Plattsburgh, not only did I get a great education, but I also lived within driving distance of two exceptional east coast ski resorts – Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, NY and Jay Peak in Montgomery, VT. After graduating with my Bachelor of Science degree, I decided to take a year off to pursue my other passion – skiing – before beginning graduate school. I moved to Boulder, CO where I spent the year skiing some of the best lines of my life and exploring a new, foreign landscape. Growing up at sea level was so drastically different from Colorado life, and I was captivated by the Rocky Mountains.
I began my graduate studies in the fall of 2015 at The University of Montana under the advisement of Dr. Sarah J. Halvorson. During my first year, I was awarded with a Teaching Assistantship. Not only was I honored to gain this title and associated responsibilities, but I was put in a position where I could really connect with both the students and professors in my department. I feel a great sense of community here, and those feelings have left me motivated to perform to the best of my abilities as a Teaching Assistant, as well as a student. I have served as the Teaching Assistant for Introduction to Physical Geography, Human Geography, and Geography of World Regions, and I am incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to gain valuable classroom experience before entering the workforce.
Initially in graduate school, I hoped to design a thesis heavy on fieldwork and landscape processes to prepare me to enter into a physical geography PhD program. Though, by the end of my first year, I had not yet developed a thesis topic. I realized that my interests had shifted slightly over the course of that year, and while I still plan to obtain a PhD in the future, I decided to refocus my research to center on geography education.
My advisor, Dr. Halvorson, opened the doors to the geographic education community for me. First, she offered me an internship with the Montana Geographic Alliance. Through this internship, I went to Denver during the summer of 2016 to participate in the National Geographic Summer Institute. This summer’s institute introduced the National Geographic 2017 Initiative – the State Giant Traveling Map Program. Additionally at this conference, I completed parts one and two of the National Geographic Certified Educator process.
Next, Dr. Halvorson invited me to attend the 2016 National Conference on Geography Education in Tampa, FL. I can say wholeheartedly that this was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. The NCGE staff was extremely personable and accommodating, and the fellow NCGE members welcomed me with open arms. At this conference, I attended lectures and workshops, but most importantly, I brainstormed thesis ideas with some of the most successful members of the geographic education community. By the time the conference ended, I had a thesis topic drafted.
My thesis has evolved into an exploratory study that aims to evaluate how kinesthetic learning affects skills and attitudes of fourth grade students in Montana using the National Geographic State Giant Traveling Map of Montana. I am interested in finding out what information students retain through giant map lessons and if they are inspired to learn more about geography after using the giant map. Additionally, I want to gain insight on teacher perceptions of this resource and whether or not they think it is an effective tool to teach geography.
At this time, I am a few weeks away from finishing my coursework, and a few months away from finishing my thesis. I am also still active with the Montana Geographic Alliance. With the help of my colleagues, I developed the State Giant Traveling Map program in the state of Montana. The Montana Geographic Alliance provides this resource to teachers across the state for no cost. The map is currently traveling to different schools in Montana. This month, the map will be in Joliet, Belfry, Billings, and Custer!
I have developed a strong passion for place-based learning, and aim to teach in a setting that focuses on helping students connect with their landscape and community through experience and inquiry. Instead of passively feeding students information, I wish to guide them on how to be lifelong learners so that they can make sense of the world around them. I will be quick to adopt lessons and curricula that approach teaching through a constructivist lens where students develop their own questions and learn how to answer them methodically through observation, analysis, and reflection. By taking students outside, fostering a strong connection with place and the natural environment, and involving the community in their education, their lives will be forever changed.
I have always had a fascination with places large and small, wondering why that place was there and how those folks shaped where they lived. I was fortunate to have been raised in Ohio by parents who carried on Hungarian and German traditions, my father emigrating as a young man to the states. It was that global perspective and curiosity about others that was instilled in my soul everyday by the food we ate and the language that was spoken at home. In a sense, we lived geography, even though I didn’t think of it that way at the time. Through my family I realized how important a global perspective is. Global understanding and how we connect with our world is the mindset that all students must have. It is so vital to all of us. This is a huge reason why I teach.
Quite a few professional folks have inspired me. My public school teaching debut was through substitute teaching as I was finishing up my bachelors and pursuing a Master’s Degree in Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma. It was in my master’s program that I was introduced to Leonard Cayton, as we were both assigned a “buddy” class project. As it turned out, Cayton was looking for teachers that were willing to teach at an all-African American high school (this was prior to desegregation in the Oklahoma City area). He was the chosen principal assigned to “straighten out the school”. Soon thereafter I signed my first teaching contract. Needless to say, I was hooked on teaching and quickly developed a toolbox of strategies for the classroom. Later I followed Dr. Cayton to teach in another at-risk middle school in Oklahoma City.
It was during those formative times that I made my “official” debut as an aspiring geographer at a local babysitting co-op outing. At this picnic, I was encouraged to join OKAGE (the Oklahoma Alliance for Geographic Education), our state’s fledgling alliance by Lee Williams, a close friend of Jim Goodman who was Alliance Coordinator and Geography Department Chair at the University of Oklahoma. At the time, I was inspiring middle school students to think about the world around them through the lens of geography. As the years progressed, both Jim and Lee became friends and mentors, eventually nudging me toward a doctorate. Being a member of our Alliance and joining NCGE have afforded me the professional content, tools and networking opportunities that gave me the confidence and validity for what I believed in.
I’ll never forget my first NCGE conference in Williamsburg, Virginia which seemed like a total blur, as it flew by in the blink of an eye. I recall being so concerned about my presentation, but it was so invigorating connecting with folks that believed in what I believed in…energetic folks with great ideas. I still value the vibrancy, comradery and fantastic teaching ideas I get every year attending the National Conference on Geography Education I strongly encourage you to attend. With tight budgets I know how difficult it is, however, attending an NCGE conference is more than worthwhile.
Vibrant and engaging classrooms with hands on meaningful activities that connect to our local, state and dynamic world, is a must for our 21st century adventure. Teaching students the beauty of academic interactions, decision making, discussions with guest speakers, and personal involvement with various community activities is important. Let your students know that they are participants in an ever changing global village, not just observers. If possible, let them experience out of class field observation. Help them understand the power of listening to others and understanding their heritage and circumstances. This is what my involvement in our alliance and NCGE has taught me.
I’ve recently labored over the phrase “invest in the future.” I hear this a lot. What does it really mean? Personally, it’s supporting what I truly believe in. May I suggest that if you are considering supporting ANY organization now or in the future, you choose an organization that you feel will help you grow philosophically and professionally, and will leave a better place for those that follow. I choose to support NCGE, as it is the organization that provides me with the resources, opportunities, and community that continues to foster my professional growth.
As your new NCGE President, let me or your central office staff (Zach Dulli, Shana Gruenberg and Melissa Lepak) know your thoughts. We are truly a membership driven organization and rely on your membership input and involvement! In future blogs, you’ll hear about new programs, NCGE events and content relevant information. Stay tuned.
In closing, truly cherish those teaching moments as you enter this new year. You do make a difference!
Gary Gress, 2017 NCGE President
Thomas Barclay Larsen
When he was not riding his motorcycle across the country, geographer J.B. Jackson was writing deep, poetic geographies of his excursions. One of his quotes that I like to write on the board before my speaking engagements is, “This great world is a mirror where we must see ourselves in order to know ourselves.” In this column, I turn the mirror on myself and reflect on my journey as a geography educator. I also pay tribute to the people and places that were instrumental to my formation as a young scholar and advocate of geography education.
At the present moment, I am a doctoral student of geography at Kansas State University (K-State). I serve as the office manager and three-year member of the Kansas Geographic Alliance (KGA). I conduct pre-service and in-service education workshops across the state. For the last two years, I have organized activities for Geography Awareness Week (GAW) in Kansas. My Master’s research focused on how Kansas third graders develop a community-based sense of place. At the PhD level, I research place perception and how people interpret the human-environment relationship. This year, I helped establish a research coordination network (RCN) devoted to research on how K-12 students learn about places and regions. Before the KGA, I volunteered for the Missouri Geographic Alliance (MGA) during undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU).
My education as a geographer began as a child living in North Kansas City, MO (NKC). This little township, less than five square miles, was once a major industrial hub of the metro area, located on the floodplains just north of the Missouri River—directly across from downtown KC, MO. NKC was where I was first propelled into existence and forced to make sense of the world. I played soccer and baseball at Macken Park, which was rumored to have previously been a landfill. I was delighted by the taste of raspberry croissants at Le Monde Bakery on Armor Rd., where I regularly exchanged pleasantries with the bakers—two immigrants from Vietnam and one American-born poetess who also sung Celtic folk songs. I remember exploring the industrial area of NKC. This district had it all—railroad tracks to balance atop or bike over, peculiar smells emitted from the factories and whatever cargo was being transported on the trains, and a network of alleyways that subdivided the factories, abandoned warehouses, and distribution centers. NKC wasn’t San Francisco or the Grand Tetons, but to me it was terra incognita, worthy of exploration.
The course of my life shifted to geography education when I took a mapping sciences class at MU from Dr. Shannon White. Dr. White was settling into her new position as Alliance Coordinator (AC) for the Missouri Geographic Alliance (MGA). She sensed my enthusiasm for the subject and recruited me to volunteer for the MGA. The next life-changing event happened in 2013, when I received an unexpected phone call from Dr. White. The first thing she asked was something like, “Can you be ready in the next 24 hours for a one-week leadership institute in Alabama?” I do not remember pausing to think before the word “absolutely” came out of my mouth. The Geoliteracy Leadership Institute at the University of Northern Alabama marked the official point in which I identified myself as a geography educator. There, I connected with folks from around the country who, like me, could not understand why geography was largely absent in U.S. education and wanted to do something about it.
Around the same time, Dr. Matthew Gerike, GIS Manager for the City of Columbia, introduced me to new possibilities in the study of geography. Our conversations, rich in geographic thought and philosophy, shaped my early outlook and appreciation for the discipline. Upon hearing about my interests in graduate school, Dr. Gerike connected me to his PhD advisor, Dr. John Harrington, Jr., AC for the KGA and Professor of Geography at K-State. After graduating from MU, I hopped the border to Kansas to study under the guidance of Dr. Harrington. Since then, he has challenged me to not only master the subject of geography, but also to apply what I learn to serve the community in a positive way.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the scholars, K-12 educators, and topophiles (“lovers of place”) I’ve met along the journey. In no particular order, they affectionately include, but are not limited to: Lisa Tabor Millsaps, Lisa Harrington, Deborah Hann, Matthew Allen, Bradley Burenheide, Michael Solem, Mary Curtis, Sarah Bednarz, Richard Boehm, Joanna Zadrozny, Niem Huynh, Lisa Keys-Matthews, Bill Strong, Tama Nunnelley, Alex Dzurick, Joseph Kerski, Mary Beck, Debra Bolton, Lindsey Marschka, Kayla Flamm, Jon Roddy, David Rutherford, Kurt Butefish, Mary Jane Jackson, Carley Lovorn, Brenda Barr, Kim Hulse, Sarah Coppersmith, Michael Scholz, Judy Ware, Barbara Boone, Bert Nokes, and Rhonda Lefferd, among numerous others. My accomplishments and future directions are products of the wonderful individuals in my life.
Geography education has given me a sense of purpose and belonging. With one Master’s degree down and a PhD to go, I plan to channel my inner J.B. Jackson—further expanding geography education’s reach across the “Great American Desert.” Along the way, I hope to uncover and rediscover the special places and diverse peoples of the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas, the High Plains of the West, the metropolitan islands of Wichita and Kansas City, and outside the state lines. As a member of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), I intend to continue conducting meaningful research and outreach in geography education in Kansas and elsewhere.
In honor of Geography Awareness Week, The Kansas Geographic Alliance (KGA) has created a website dedicated to the geographies of parks. The site contains lesson plans, digital maps, and current events related to parks. The KGA has included information on a variety of parks, ranging from national parks, theme parks, solar parks, botanical gardens, marine park preserves, to even trailer parks! Follow the link and discover what is available: www.kansasgeoalliance.wix.com/gaw2016.
Thomas Barclay Larsen
I have been a teacher at Windsor High School, in Windsor, Colorado, for 18 years. Prior to Windsor, I taught at La Junta High School in La Junta, Colorado for two years. Throughout most of my teaching career, I have taught World Geography, and I played a key role in bringing AP Human Geography to Windsor High School seven years ago. I have a true passion for geography, and I try to pass that passion on to my students. There are many things that can be done with geography in our daily lives, and I hope that my students acquire a love for geography.
I grew up traveling, as my dad was in the Army, and that is where my passion truly comes from. I love to learn about different cultures and different places. While living in Germany during my youth, we traveled almost every weekend to explore a new place, and I continue to travel with my family as time allows. I believe this was extremely influential when choosing Geography Education as my career.
I received my undergraduate degree in Geography Education from the University of Northern Colorado. While attending UNC, I had some amazing professors that really encouraged my passion for geography and travel. While I was in college, Dr. David Cole introduced me to COGA and sent me to one of their summer workshops, led by Dr. David Hill, and attended by teachers from all over the state. I have since been involved in COGA workshops, and I continue to put all of the training to good use in my classroom. I went on to earn my Masters in Integration Technology in the Classroom from Walden University. With the changing world of GIS and geospatial thinking, this degree has helped me incorporate new ways to teach geography. COGA has also helped me learn new ways to teach GIS and geospatial thinking through their workshops, which have enriched my teaching. I also employ real world technology in the classroom. I have used ArcGIS and other programs to help make geography come alive for my students. This year, we are trying a Windsor version of PokemonGo on our campus to bring the skills that are being taught in the classroom to the real world.
Since teaching AP Human Geography, I have been able to expose more students to an in-depth view of the constructiveness of the world. I have gained a new perspective of events around the world that I hope to pass along to my students. I want them to understand why and how events affect places differently, and how views of the world can be changed by understanding cultures and where people come from. I have learned from all of the AP Human Geography teachers at the annual Reading in Cincinnati, and bring back that wealth of knowledge to my students. My students say that by taking my course, they have expanded their knowledge in ways that they never thought could happen in a geography class. To me, that is more important than what their score was on the exam. If I can get students thinking geographically, and enable them to see patterns in the world, I feel that I have made a difference in their lives.
When I think about Geography Education, I think of adventure, travel, exploration, and observation. We begin to realize this world is so much more than just ourselves and our tiny existence. That is what I try to teach my students. As an elementary teacher, I truly feel that is where geographic education has to begin.
As a child, I fondly remember my history and geography lessons about the world and having to memorize all of the countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was exciting to make topography maps of the United States and dreaming about the places I could go.
After entering the Education program at Western Oregon University, I was sitting in my “How to Teach Social Studies” class with my professor, Judy Lowry. She was an acting member of the Oregon Alliance and was urging us to find a love of geography and share that with our students. She introduced me to the Center for Geography Education in Oregon (C-GEO). As a pre-service teacher and a new member of the Alliance, I was accepted into my first institute where we traveled to Nova Scotia, Prince Edwards Island, and Newfoundland. I remember sitting in the van as we traveled all over the area, talking with the other teachers about our shared love of geography. I was planning on starting my master's program right after I graduated, but couldn't decide if I should get a reading endorsement, or focus on what interested me most--geography. It was when sitting in that van that I knew it would be geography.
Over the years I have been very active in my alliance. Our coordinators, Teresa Bulman, Gwenda Rice, and now Ken Carano, gave me the opportunity to travel with them to Turkey, as well as participate in other local institutes. Presenting at the yearly GEOfest allows me to represent geography at an elementary level. I have also had the pleasure of piloting our Alliance's new Geography Activity book, geared towards Pre K-3, and plan to use their 4th-6th grade activity book this coming school year. Having worked with C-GEO on developing our Spanish version of the Oregon Student Atlas, and coordinating my school's Family Geography Night has given me an avenue to spread Geography Awareness. Presenting for the National Council for Geographic Education in Seattle gave me the opportunity to meet highly engaging and dedicated people in our field. It prompted me to continue my involvement with the Oregon Alliance, and soon I became an active board member. Most recently, C-GEO sent me to Denver, Colorado to participate in an institute held by National Geographic. The focus was Giant State Traveling Maps and how to use them in our elementary classrooms.
My love of geography has changed my personal and professional paths. I have been given opportunities that I would not have otherwise been given. As an elementary teacher, I get to open my students' eyes to the world around them and instill the love of exploration all the while meeting the Common Core State Standards. When talking with pre-service teachers, I cannot stress enough how it is our duty to teach our students what is necessary to become responsible and functioning members of our society. Geography and the other social sciences are a way to do that. We must prepare them for the global world we live in.
I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada -- one of a rare breed, the native Nevadan. No, I never lived in a hotel/casino, but Siegfried and Roy did bring a tiger to my house. The big cat sat on the patio while the two entertainers talked with my dad about the current illusion he was building for their show. Oddly enough, I remember being fascinated with their accents and vowed that someday I would travel to Germany, where I imagined everyone sounded like the magicians. A few years later, my family visited Disneyland to see a “giant turkey float” my father built for the Bi-Centennial parade down Main Street Disney. After the parade, I rode “It’s a Small World” and I decided I didn’t just want to go to Germany anymore – I wanted to go everywhere. While I still haven’t been everywhere, I’ve been around the world, thanks in large part to my involvement with and my love of geography.
My understanding of geography as a field started at the Clark County Public Library. Not in a book, but in a conversation with a co-worker. I was a fourteen-year-old high school freshman, and I had been hired to shelve books. One of my fellow workers was a college student named Herb Thompson who was studying to become a geography teacher. Herb and I would strike up a lifelong friendship, and he would help foster in me a passion for geography that would shape my life in ways I could never have imagined.
After graduating from high school, I went north to study History and Secondary Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. It was there that I took my first geography class, received a degree in History, and learned how to open beer bottles with my toes. Upon graduation I came back to Southern Nevada, where I worked on an MA in special education at UNLV while substitute teaching. From time to time I would sub in Herb’s eighth grade geography class. Herb introduced me to Bob Amblad, who was the co-coordinator of a fledgling organization called the Geographic Alliance in Nevada, or GAIN for short. Bob and Herb were unrelenting in their quest to convince me, and everyone else, to take part in GAIN. Despite the fact that I was not a geography teacher, and in fact was teaching special education science classes, I finally gave in to their badgering and, in 1997, became a member of GAIN. It was, without question, the best decision of my entire life.
As a member of my Alliance, I had the chance to embrace travel in a way I could never have done otherwise. I have had the chance to travel around the great state of Nevada – visiting small towns and mining parks. We visited historic sites like Donner Pass and rode the steam train in Ely, Nevada. Further afield, I sailed on the SS Universe Explorer up the inner passage from Vancouver to Skagway, taking geography classes from Chris Ryan, currently the coordinator of GAIN, and our original coordinator Gary Hausladen, as we sailed. I learned about urban geography in San Francisco. I wandered the streets of Washington DC and ate my way through Portland, Oregon--all due to GAIN activities.
By 2006, I was teaching AP World History, and I heard about a new AP class that fellow GAIN member Julie Wakefield was teaching up in Reno – AP Human Geography. I went to my principal and asked, “Can I try this?” He was hesitant, but after much coaxing, cajoling and flat out begging, my boss said, "Yes." I have been teaching AP Human Geography since then.
It was through GAIN that I was introduced to NCGE. Our coordinators (by now Herb had taken over for the retired Bob) had been attending, and Herb felt that GAIN members would enjoy attending a quality conference hosted by a professional organization. My first NCGE conference was in Salt Lake City. I wish I could say I loved every single thing about that conference, but while I loved the keynote speaker, the sessions and the chance to meet other geographers, the thing we all remember the most are the terrible beds. I slept in a hammock in the Peruvian Amazon that was more supportive than that bed. However, soft mattress aside, I knew that NCGE was an organization that I would belong to for a long time to come. Since then, I have attended numerous NCGE conferences, including Denver and Washington. I was supposed to present in Memphis, but an emergency appendectomy just hours before my flight kept me from attending, despite my best efforts to persuade the doctors to allow me to leave the hospital and get on a plane. My nurse actually said, “I’ve never heard of someone so upset about missing a conference. It must be pretty special.”
It was at the NCGE conference in San Marcos that I had the opportunity to meet my idol, Harm De Blij. I was standing in the exhibit hall talking with the Wiley representative about how much I enjoyed using the Fouberg, Murphy and De Blij text from his company when out of the blue, he asked if I would like to attend a dinner honoring Harm De Blij. Would I? Would I?! That night I was star-struck! I’ve met movie stars and famous singers, but I was never so nervous as I was to meet the author of my favorite book “The Power of Place.” Harm was such an intelligent, thoughtful and genuine person. The conversation centered around wine, travel and the importance of enjoying life. I’ve rarely enjoyed an evening more.
Not only did I have the chance to meet my idol, but NCGE has also offered me the opportunity to meet many amazing geographers who have made a profound difference in my teaching and professional life. At every conference, I attend sessions that change my lesson plans for the better. I learn about new technology, teaching strategies and information. Without fail, I come home and spread the word to other teachers in my district and state. I have presented information that I learned at NCGE at our Southern Nevada Council for the Social Studies conference for the past several years. That exposure is one of the reasons I was elected President of the Southern Nevada Council for Social Studies in March of 2016. Another opportunity that entered my life due to GAIN and NCGE was my chance to travel to South Korea in the summer of 2015 to speak at the 6th Annual Conference on Geographic Naming. The delegation was made up of AP Human Geography teachers, many of whom are also NCGE members.
NCGE has been so valuable that I am now consistently working to convince more of my colleagues to attend. On a regular basis, I bring up the importance of the connections and information. I lend them issues of “The Geography Teacher,” or tell them about lessons I read about in NCGE journals. I send them links to information I learned about from NCGE emails and webinars. My hard work is starting to pay off, and this year, several of my fellow teachers will be joining me in Tampa.
Because of my involvement with NCGE and GAIN, I have been able to make progress on that childhood dream to go everywhere in this small world. I’ve been trapped in the basement of a pub in London due to a car bomb. I’ve been stuck on the roof of the Vatican, with a broken ankle. I’ve fallen into a hedgerow in Devon, England, and visited the ER in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I bought jewelry while hanging out of a train window in Peru, and purchased art from a street vendor in Scotland. Last summer, I explored South Korea and later visited the White House. I’ve shepherded students through Florence, Paris, Germany, and Australia. I have hosted teachers from Russia, Poland and England in my home because of connections made through GAIN and NCGE. I know there are more adventures and friends to be had.
Sometimes I wonder why I teach. It is tough work, and the pay isn’t all that wonderful. At the end of this school year, a student said something to me that reminded me why I teach this class. “Ms. Bash, at the start of school, I was mad I had to take Human Geography. Now I can’t imagine my life without it. I look at the world in an entirely different way. I see connections where before I saw nothing. I see that there are no easy answers to the world’s issues, but there are answers, you just have to know how to find them. Geography teaches you how to find them. I can’t wait for college because I want to be a geographer and find ways to make the world a better place for everyday people.” It made me cry. Geography makes a difference.
When I started my Ph.D. in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability (DGES) at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in 2010, my mother handed me a story that she had saved of mine that I wrote for an assignment when I was in the fourth grade. The teacher wanted us to describe our favorite part of the school day. My first sentence was to the point: “My favorite part of the school day is leaving!” Twenty-years later, I still haven’t left!
If someone would’ve told my parents then that their son would go on to get his Ph.D., I think they would’ve steered the conversation in a different direction. And if that wasn’t enough, to say that my subject of study would be geography, I can only imagine how their mouths would’ve dropped. That very story, however, provided important clues about my love for exploring landscapes and ultimate interest in geography—a subject/profession I didn’t know existed until I was 20-years old.
I don’t recall ever taking a geography course during my K-12 years. In fact, I don’t even remember what class it was that I had to do the most basic geographic task of reading and identifying features on a map, though I distinctly remember my grandfather teaching me how to read his Rand McNally Motor Carriers Road Atlas and him having me navigate our summer road trips. In college, however, I wanted to learn how the Earth worked. And what better way to study the processes that make our home tick than enrolling in a World Regional Geography course? So, in the summer of 2006, I heeded my academic advisor’s advice and began my eight-week tour in a class at the University of Central Oklahoma taught by Doug Hurt, who’s now at the University of Missouri.
Doug had just returned from Peru, and on the first day of his class, I can remember him showing us photographs of his trip. My immediate thought was: “this is what a geographer does?” Shortly after starting Doug’s course, I made an appointment to meet with him, thinking I wanted to switch my major to geography. It was after our meeting that I became a classic undergraduate student, changing my major a handful of times, from music to math education to social studies education, and then, ultimately, to a double major in geography and history.
My love for exploring was finally being satisfied with courses that fueled my curiosity, including a newfound love in cartography and GIS. For instance, I had the opportunity to design two independent studies in which I examined the emerging Oklahoma wine and agritourism industry, and one that received undergraduate research funding for exploring the diffusion of coffeehouses in Mexico City. I also had the chance to take a field geography course to New Mexico and participate in a service learning project in El Cerrito—a tiny Hispano village located in the Pecos River Valley. There, I met Richard Nostrand, who to this day remains a mentor and close friend.
My interest in designing maps led me to apply for and accept an internship as a GIS Specialist with the planning division of Urban Redevelopment at the City of Oklahoma City in 2008. Later that year, just before I completed my degrees, I prepared my application at the City to become an urban planner. There were no jobs, however. The Great Recession was in full swing. Doug encouraged me to pursue graduate school, so I began a master’s degree in history under his guidance, and the City allowed me to work as a part-time employee.
During the first year of my master’s in 2009, I became a member of NCGE, and I attended and presented a paper at the annual meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. What a prime location for a first timer! On my flight there, I sat next to Kathy Davis, who’s part of the Arizona Geographic Alliance team. I quizzed her about NCGE and what the Alliance Network did for K-12 educators. Essentially, she sold me on becoming more involved in geography education. On the ground, I had the opportunity to network with several other educators, including folks who’re part of the Oklahoma Alliance for Geographic Education (OKAGE). Among them was OKAGE Program Coordinator, Gary Gress, who’s also an instructor in DGES at OU.
I was 90-percent sure that I wanted to get my Ph.D. in geography when I landed in San Juan. After meeting and chatting with Gary, I became 100-percent sure. I also knew that I wanted to go to OU so that I could become involved with OKAGE. Luckily, the department accepted me with funding. And once I began my program, it didn’t take long for Gary to find me.
Since 2010, I have been a part of several OKAGE programs, either as a geographer-in-residence, delivering content-specific lectures; as a field institute co-coordinator, designing field experiences and field guides; or as a workshop sponsor, facilitating opportunities for teachers to gain hands-on experience using geospatial technologies. Working with OKAGE and interacting with the dynamic K-20 teachers the alliance serves, has truly transformed how I teach my own courses and has made me dedicated to improving geo-literacy.
I entered the tightening academic job market when I went ABD in 2013. I knew not having my Ph.D. in hand would be a check against me, and it was. I only received one call. It was for a GIS Librarian, tenure track position at OU that I applied for on a whim, but I received the offer. This is just one example of an alternative career path for a professional geographer in academia. But, as it turns out, the position is more than rewarding.
Not only am I somewhat free to create the position as I go, I’m able to work closely with a variety of students, faculty, and staff, enriching their courses and research projects with geography and geospatial technology content and skills. Additionally, I have been able to design and maintain an active research agenda that explores effective ways to integrate GIS, geography, and sustainability into college courses. This includes projects on the value of interdisciplinary, team-teaching environments in sustainability focused geography courses, assessing students’ sustainability thinking and outcomes in geography courses, and integrating primary resources and archival literacy into GIS courses. Presently, I am working with colleagues on a project that examines the value of alliance-led field experiences for K-20 educators, and how those experiences resonate in their curriculum design.
Indeed, I am a geography educator because I want to foster in students a zeal for discovering and learning about the intricacies of our world—themes I outlined were dear to me in that story I wrote in the fourth-grade. I now teach this diverse subject because I want to instill in the next generation the skillsets geographic education makes use of in analyzing the past, present, and potential conditions of our planet. I certainly think geo-literacy can increase our understanding of human and physical systems that affect our home. I genuinely believe that this understanding will assist us in making prudent decisions to improve our environments and sustain them for posterity.
I have been fortunate to have been a member of Geographic Educators of Nebraska (GEON) and NCGE since 2012. Association with GEON and NCGE has afforded me the opportunity to grow as a leader, to grasp a better understanding about the trends surrounding geography education, and to have a lasting impact on the community, schools, and children that I serve as Supervisor of Social Studies for Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Nebraska.
I grew up as a military brat, so we moved across the country every two or three years when I was a kid. This taught me two things that I think are critical to geography: 1. How to learn from and study people that are different from you. 2. How vast and different the world is, depending upon where you call home. So, the social science of geography has always been a part of my existence, but the formal hook on social studies started in high school and crystallized in college. I can remember back to Mr. Pulverenti’s history class (during my junior year at South High) when he showed the class a documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. I never will forget the images of seeing what cancerous repercussions and other inhuman monstrosities came to the survivors of those bombings in Japan. That was intriguing. If there was a question about my love for social studies after that experience, all questions were answered and put to rest after my freshman year of college when I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. How he used education and the study of history and society to outwit and debate scholars and silence the opposition was overpowering, particularly how his hajj to Mecca and his exposure to “true Islam” was so eye-opening to him because he experienced an enriching culture found outside of his previous context. His transformation led to my own.
I believe geography education possesses keys to our world’s advancement. There is value in all topics of education, but I truly believe at the root of all conflicts in this world and throughout time is a lack of understanding, sympathy, and/or compassion for the human experience of those outside of yourself. As our world’s population continues to boom and technology brings us closer together, we are going to have more opportunities than ever to interact with people who don’t look, sound, or think like us. Geography is the foundation to ensure that when these opportunities present themselves, we are prepared to treat others with respect.
I’ve been the beneficiary of a lifetime of great leaders as mentors that took the time to inspire and guide me. I became a leader by being a good follower and by doing what I feel is best for students. I have been blessed in life to have enough perspective to see what good leaders do and replicate that, and also to see what bad leaders do and avoid that. From my mother, to my pastor, to my older cousin, I have seen how people will follow you if you show that your actions are sympathetic to their needs. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by my predecessor as a social studies leader and GEON steering committee member, Harris Payne. Harris never slept. He was a dutiful leader that had high expectations. He would only hold you accountable to those expectations if he gave you a fair shot to achieve them. He knew for you to succeed he had to provide the tools, instruction, and direction you needed to meet the goals he had for you. That is something that I look to replicate in my leadership style.
I think I am insightful and try to find different ways to do things outside of the traditional or the norm. I research for innovative and thought provoking ideas and practices that help to serve the social studies community and the students we serve. I also do a great job of seeing how resources connect to people, and think about what people are in most need for specific resources. This has led to many geography projects that I have supported while supporting the instructors in my school district. Within my school district, I have focused on connecting teachers and their students with ongoing education, curriculum, and resources that will help to develop a passion for geography, and to foster a more geo-literate population. I have empowered teachers to apply resources that will help them to assess, not only students’ understanding of place and location, but students ability to resolve issues in our local or global community. Our secondary district assessment asks students to examine statistical data about nations, develop an inquiry about this data and then conclude their research by developing a solution or proposing an action. Moving forward, our district will incorporate Global Information System (GIS) technology into classroom instruction. Our goal will be to help prepare our students for a world with the constant evolving presence of technology, as well as career fields that reflect these shifts.
I recommend that people be open and willing to take risks. I once heard Kentucky basketball coach, John Calipari, was upset that his undefeated Wildcat team was not turning the ball over enough. He wanted the team to try new things to take new risks because if they continue to limit themselves to just running the offense as it was written, how could they really know what heights they could reach? I think the same could be said about those who aren’t involved, or are hesitant to get involved with social studies leadership or the NCGE. How can you know what leadership capabilities you possess if you don’t take the risk to lead?
My journey as a GeoEducator was not linear; teaching was not even in my original career plans! In middle school, I aspired to become a disc jockey because I loved music--and I wanted to meet Springsteen! In high school, I joined the school newspaper and aspired to become a journalist. Girls could be the next Woodward and Bernstein, right? A summer job as a camp counselor led me into education, and as social studies and English were my best subjects, I became certified in both and began teaching middle school in 1992. Halfway through my third year, the principal “voluntold” me I would be attending a three-week summer institute at Virginia Tech University, sponsored by National Geographic. I was intrigued!
Arriving in Blacksburg, Virginia and the campus of Virginia Tech (VT), I was greeted by professors Bob Morrill and Bill Carstensen, and joined by teachers from across the state. Some were veteran teachers and others, like me, were just beginning their careers. None of us imagined we would be immersed in a “Geography Bootcamp,” exploring new corners of the Commonwealth, engaging in conversations across all content areas and grade levels, and looking at the world in a new way. Bob and Bill led us in discussions about the Five Themes, finding a Sense of Place, Reading the Landscape, and revealed our interconnectedness between human, physical, political and economic systems. I felt like Nancy Drew, finding that last clue which helped me solve the mysteries of teaching--geography was that missing piece, the bridge through which I would return to school in the fall and look at my teaching and my students’ learning through a lens built around these Five Themes!
We learned the “Binko Method” for delivery of professional development to our colleagues. We prepared and gave mock presentations to our peers, with feedback and support. I can honestly say that three weeks was, and continues to be, some of the most meaningful professional learning of my career. I left VT ready to teach in a new way, as a NatGeo Teacher Consultant, or TC! Some even called us “GeoEvangelists” as we left Blacksburg ready to promote GeoLiteracy. More importantly, I now had the ongoing support of Bill and Bob, the “original GeoMentors,” and a close-knit group of friends from the summer institute who stayed in touch and continued to support me on my journey.
Most of us had no idea we were about to become part of something much bigger - the infancy of the NatGeo Alliance Network! This was only the third summer institute held, and already Virginia was forming a strong cadre of K-12 teachers, professors and community partners, which over the years, continues to grow and thrive. Many of us from that summer cohort would soon join the Virginia Geographic Alliance and some of us were eventually asked to serve on the VGA Steering Committee. I was surprised to reconnect with my undergrad geography professor, Joe Enedy, who was also a leader in the VGA!
The following September I returned to school a new person, seeing opportunities to connect literature and writing, music and art, politics and economics -- everywhere I turned I was making connections to the lessons I was teaching and the Five Themes. Shortly into the new school year, Bob Morrill introduced me to a geographer from Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Marijean Hawthorne. Marijean was a true GeoMentor, taking me under her wing and hiring me as her summer teaching assistant. For the next few years, we offered week-long summer workshops, weekend academies, and 1 credit mini-courses in geography which were tailored to fit the needs of K-12 teachers, continuing to build a strong support system for our teachers and strengthening the bonds between the K-12 teachers and our university colleagues. One of the greatest strengths of these institutes, whether they were led by Marijean, Bill, Bob, Joe or so many others, was the collegial relationship between the teachers and professors, and the mutual respect we all shared for teaching and learning from each other.
My journey with VGA continued as I became involved with Geography Awareness Week and the GeoBee - eventually serving as both GAW and Bee Coordinator, and continuing to teach summers and throughout the year with Marijean. Marijean, Bob and Joe encouraged me to submit proposals to present some of our work with them at the state VCSS social studies conferences, and at NCGE. Eventually, I was nominated to travel to Washington, DC to attend training as the VGA Public Engagement Coordinator for the My Wonderful World campaign. Alliance members from several states spent a week working with NatGeo staff, developing a curriculum and awareness campaign for this new web-based resource. Soon, I was honing my Binko skills, presenting at NCGE and NCSS conferences, and eventually working on a new VGA project - developing a new state atlas and digital resources for teaching Virginia history and geography through the Five Themes. We spent a year working with teachers and VT cartography students, led by Bill Carstensen, and our final product was financially supported by the state to ensure that every elementary school received a class set of atlases and digital resources. We hosted week long summer institutes to train teachers on using the atlas and digital resources to enhance their content knowledge and help them make connections with colleagues across the state. These atlases are still used today, with periodic updates, and are now digitized on our alliance website. In 1992 and again in 2000, our work on the atlas and with promoting other alliance sponsored projects, earned me the honor of a Distinguished Teaching Award from my peers and colleagues in the NCGE.
In the fall of 1999, Bill and Bob contacted me and asked me to serve as their TC on a cross country traveling summer institute, Amtrak Across America. The idea was to recreate the Lewis and Clark expedition during the bicentennial of their journey via train, with stops along the way led by local guides from our state alliances network. I was ready to join their Corps of Discovery, and for the next five summers we continued to add to our VGA family, working with alliances in North Dakota, Montana, Oregon, Washington State, Colorado, Wyoming and Wisconsin, bringing this epic tale of the first government-sponsored scientific expedition to life through the stories, words and music of the Native Americans and early settlers who explored, mapped the landscape and catalogued new species of animals and plants, searching for the elusive Northwest Passage, and hiring a Native American woman and a man of color to join their expedition as barriers were broken and our view of America expanded. Later, we re-imagined the course to create a US/ Canadian cross-continental field experience, working with the Canadian Alliance. This summer, we are reinventing Amtrak Across America, this time exploring the southwest United States with a whole new generation of enthusiastic teachers and “GeoEvangelists!“
Inspired by my experiences with placed-based learning via the Amtrak Across America experiences, I applied for a new summer program in 2005 to work as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher with the National Park Service. For the next two summers, I worked alongside the rangers at several Civil War battle sites in and around Richmond, Virginia as well as the Maggie L. Walker Historic Site. During my time as a park ranger, I worked with the full-time interpreters and tour guides to embed K-12 state and national standards for geography and history into the lessons, tours and displays made available for K-12 teachers and visitors. During this time, I participated in a book study with other rangers, focusing on Richard Louve’s Last Child in the Woods, or as we affectionately renamed it, “No Child Left Inside.” Louve’s focus was encouraging teachers, parents and communities to work towards getting students interacting with nature, and not merely reading about it in a book or watching a video. His work reaffirmed the lessons learned at my first VGA summer institute, and subsequent experiences traveling across the U.S. via Amtrak -- “There’s No Substitute for Being There” is and always will be a focus of my work as a GeoEducator!
2008 brought the opportunity for me to travel abroad with a VGA sponsored course to the United Kingdom. For a month, we were immersed in British culture, landscapes and pedagogy. We explored London, the Cotswolds and the Lake District. Working with professors and local guides from the British Archives, Imperial College London and Nottingham University, we made connections between our British roots and our American history, government, geography and culture. I felt personally connected to my own family roots, tasting the traditional British foods we enjoyed at home on holidays -- Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasties and shepherd's pie! Looking at events in American history through a British lens gave better insight into how geo-perspectives can vary throughout time.
The highest honor of my career came in the fall of 2008 when Bob Morrill nominated me as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. As one of two recipients in the second year of the program, I was able to select an itinerary for the spring of 2009 which led to a month-long fellowship in the Indian Ocean, traveling aboard the Lindblad - NatGeo Explorer. Traveling from the Seychelles, the French Comoros, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique, I was immersed in African culture, landscapes, biodiversity and geopolitics. More importantly, I met and discussed my passion as a middle school GeoEducator with the ship’s passengers, crew and numerous people we met in our many stops along the way. One family on board the ship returned home and started a geography club and sponsored the entry fee for their grandchildren’s school to participate in the National GeoBee after hearing me talk about the Grosvenor Fellowship. In each place we stopped, I asked if I could visit a school, and shared maps, lesson plans and images of Virginia I had tucked in my suitcase with the hopes of connecting with some of the African educators. The lessons we exchanges, the images and experiences captured in those days traveling along the east coast of Africa continue to inspire me to work with students, teachers and legislators to establish the importance of place-based learning for all children.
After 21 years in the classroom, I moved from the safe haven of my own little classroom into a district position as K-12 Coordinator of Social Studies in a new city, Charlottesville. The gift of being able to make connections from elementary to secondary school, and vertical curriculum alignment decisions, allowed me the freedom to impact more students on a broader scale. As a division leader, I was able to spread the mission of GeoLiteracy into facets of not only social science but also science, language arts and CTE. During the first year, we reorganized the fourth grade curriculum into a standalone geography course for all students. The ripple effect of providing students with a strong foundation in basic geography skills resulted in raising student achievement over the next few years in the geography strand of the state social science assessments when this had previously been an area of weakness across the division. We also merged geography with other humanities courses into a regional Teaching American History Grant with support from the VGA, linking a cohort of central Virginia teachers with colleagues in the United Kingdom, accessing primary sources such as maps, images and documents related to the European and North American sugar trade, with a culminating field experience in Barbados. This grant served over 100 teachers over a three-year period, and was the catalyst for future grant funding from the Battelle Foundation and the VGA to support a GIS-based historical mapping grant, the iSTEM Teacher Scholars. With the later addition of the ConnectEd program with ESRI, the iSTEM teacher cohort later received a GENIP grant to teach an online GIS course for teachers from all over the United States, applying what they learned from iSTEM and redelivering that instruction in a virtual environment. Again, the ripple effect!
2014 brought a change in leadership to the VGA, as Bob Morrill and Joe Enedy, two of my personal GeoMentors, stepped down after decades of leadership, and Dr. Ed Kinman of Longwood University and I took the lead as the new state VGA Co-Coordinators. My journey as a GeoEducator is far from over, and in the first 2 years, Ed and I have managed a multi-state alliance NOAA grant, participated in the Alliance Network HUB and Certified NatGeo Educator pilot programs, forging new partnerships for the VGA with our state VDOE, museum, and environmental partner organizations, and other state alliances to continue promoting Geo-literacy across the state and beyond.
I may not have met Springsteen (yet!), or won the Pulitzer prize for journalism, and I still haven’t finished my Bucket List to travel to every continent, but I know in some small way the work we do in classrooms and out in the field, leading students and teachers to explore, observe, question and collaborate, is building the next generation of GeoEducators, GeoMentors and GeoLiterate citizens. Not bad for a middle school teacher from Virginia!
I’m lucky because I teach what I love, and I have the opportunity to learn more about geography every day. I guess I first discovered geography as a little girl. I was extremely fortunate and had the opportunity to travel to distant places and experience other cultures from an early age. My mother wanted to be an archaeologist and loved ancient culture. She passed this curiosity on to me. My parents would take us to every ancient ruin that was anywhere close to where we were vacationing. As a family, we would learn about ancient cultures. We climbed up the pyramid in Tulum, and climbed down the cliffs of the Anasazi. My grandfather used to stockpile National Geographic Magazines. I loved looking through those magazines when I was little, dreaming of faraway places. When I was 5, my fascination with physical geography began. I was spellbound by the lava in Hawaii. My family and I climbed into the caldera of the Mona Loa Volcano and I was hooked. When I was 8, I collected water samples from all over Mexico to do a science project. When I was 12, I wanted to know everything there was to know about the layers of rocks that I could see in the Grand Canyon. I fell in love with the petrified wood in the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert’s colors and the Meteor Crater in Arizona. My mother told me that I always had an unusual fascination with rocks and strata.
When I was in college I loved my Introduction to Earth Science class. I had a wonderful professor and mentor, Tony Brunello, at Eckerd College. He opened my eyes to the wider world of Human Geography and Political Science. I was also fascinated with human studies. I majored in Psychology and minored in Anthropology. I began teaching in 2004. The first few years I taught history, but then the opportunity to teach AP Human Geography arose and I pounced on it.
Most of my students do not have the chance to travel extensively, and have a narrow view of the world around them. I have the opportunity to open their eyes beyond the small suburb that they grow up in. Florida has written geography out of required k-12 course requirements. In October 2015, the US Government Accountability Office released a report on the lack of geographic proficiency in the US. This report saddens me. I feel so strongly that geography education is necessary to being a competent global citizen. When I look at my students, I realize that I am teaching the only geography course that many of them will ever probably take. It is awesome to watch lightbulbs go off, and to see students question the way things are. I think it is imperative that we help students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to thoughtfully analyze and criticize why things are the way they are, how they got to be that way, and how to make a better world.
My passion for Human Geography has led me to become a Member of the Florida Geographic Alliance (FGA) Advisory Board and Leadership Committee, FGA AP Human Geography Liaison, Newsletter Editor, and member of the Outreach Committee. I am also the Jacksonville United Nations Association President, and a Girl Rising Ambassador. In 2015, I was selected by Dr. Stoltman and the Northeast Asian History Foundation as a delegate to the South Korea AP Human Geography Trip. That was an amazing trip. I highly recommend to teachers that want to expand their cultural experiences that they apply for that trip. I am also a World Affairs great decisions teacher. I highly recommend that if you have a World Affairs Council in your area, you consider becoming a Great Decisions teacher. It is a wonderful opportunity for your students to examine critical, current global issues, interact with college professors and attend talks given by influential government officials, distinguished experts, and globally minded members of the business community.
I have been an NCGE member since 2009. I have greatly benefited from the teaching resources found on the NCGE website. NCGE has contributed so much to the geographic education community, and I appreciate the resources that are found on their website. Their annual conference is an awesome opportunity for teachers, and brings together some of the best and most motivated teachers and professors from around the country (and world). The conference gives teachers a chance to network, learn from leading APHG teachers and Test Development Committee Members, as well as exchange lesson plans and ideas. Members are so generous and willing to share strategies and lesson ideas. NCGE membership and member collaboration are an invaluable resource for teacher success.
My desire for meaningful learning and global citizenship has led me to become Project Coordinator, Web Curator and Designer for the Global Bridges Project. The Global Bridges Project was created by Lili Monk, and is endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Florida Geographic Alliance, and iEarn (International Education and Resource Network). The project connects American classrooms with classrooms overseas. Classes participate in curriculum based cooperative activities using video conferencing technology to communicate with students in foreign countries about parallel themed research projects. The projects require that students research pertinent local issues and make connections globally. Students work cooperatively and creatively with others to communicate and articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through the presentation media. It personally empowers students to become responsible world citizens, allowing them to create informed solutions to global challenges. The cultural exchanges make the curriculum authentic and meaningful while helping students to develop an understanding of other cultures and perspectives through direct interaction and contact. This approach allows students to achieve a more diplomatic and intellectual approach to world issues. So far, teachers have done projects on historical migration patterns, local urban morphological patterns, and impacts on local populations, global conflict and local refugee populations, population and sustainability, and women’s empowerment locally and globally. It is an excellent way to teach students about globalization, and interrelationship between local and global issues. I also encourage international travel and student exchanges. This type of study abroad is an excellent opportunity to visit some of the places we have been learning about in class. Through active learning experiences such as this, students’ are immersed in foreign culture.
Two of my students approached me a couple of years ago and asked if I would sponsor their “Girl Up” geography club. Girl Up is a United Nations Foundation Organization. Girl Up supports a comprehensive approach to ensuring that adolescent girls in developing countries reach their full potential. I was so excited that they wanted to make an impact on the world beyond what they had learned in class. Besides fundraising, the club raises awareness by presenting at festivals. They also hosted a discussion for the Jacksonville United Nations Association. Two of the club members were selected by the Secretary's Office of Global Partnerships at the US Department of State to attend the three week long 2015 Girls STEAM Camp in Rwanda. There are so many opportunities for students that want to become active in the community. I recommend offering an after school geography club to help students get more involved in geographical issues, as well as offering them additional opportunities.
The study of urban geography is of particular interest to me. I am interested in how economic and sociological processes have led to de facto spatial racial segregation and economic stratification in large urban metropolitan areas. In my class, I use local, urban examples to help my students translate abstract concepts and models from the textbooks into real and relevant issues that affect my students locally. “By connecting the real world to academic knowledge, students will have a better chance of understanding and using the model or theory.” (Ken Keller, NCGE Webinar, March 23, 2011 Prepping for the APHG Exam) Field trips or Goggle Earth virtual field trips are excellent ways to help students analyze real-word issues, cultivate a spatial perspective, and understand how events and processes at different scales are interrelated and influence each other. Urban Geography comes alive as students engage in authentic field work and original research through the use of photography and the interactive multimedia formats of maps, text, audio, still images, animation, graphs, charts, geo-spatial representations of information, and video.
In order to ensure my students’ success, I feel it is really important to focus on literacy skills and the process of dissertation. Writing enables students to think critically by pulling together, integrating, assimilating, analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing information to communicate their ideas effectively. Evidence supports that students retain subject matter information better and longer when they engage in meaningful reading and writing activities. Literacy skills are necessary for high order problem-solving, success on the AP Exam, and are important for college and workforce readiness. I utilize writing activities and free response questions (FRQ’s) often. Students apply principles learned in class to new conditions and practical real world situations. The FRQ’s I pose include material from the prior day’s instruction, activating students’ background schema (experiences and knowledge), priming them for the current day’s lesson. These questions ask students to synthesize, evaluate and draw conclusions from multiple sources of information. Free response questions ask higher- order questions that require elaborate inferences that go beyond what is explicitly taught. Students are asked to compare and contrast ideas and to explain and support their answers with sources and information. Students who think critically do better on Advanced Placement Exams than students who concentrate only on rote memorization of information.
In my classroom, I use formative real-time assessment tools like Qwizdom (student response system) clickers. I pose questions to students with the student response system as I lecture. This captures instant assessment data to gauge student comprehension to immediately identify individual learning needs and address any student misconceptions. This enables me to alter instruction ad hoc and tailor it to student needs. Students receive instantaneous feedback via the LCD screen of a correct/incorrect answer. The questions also allow students practice answering AP exam type multiple choice questions. Students may and do ask questions for clarification. If a significant portion of students chose the wrong answer it allows me to clarify the points that I made in class. Identifying misconceptions and providing frequent feedback is an important step in teaching. Clickers also engage students who are more introverted and uncomfortable verbally engaging.
My advice to new geography teachers would be to take a summer seminar in geography. In order to fill a need for professional development in FL, NCGE is offering a one day professional development to teachers on July 27th in Tampa, FL. The cost is minimal, but the course will be awesome for both new and experienced teachers. Past and current members of the College Board APHG Test Development Committee, as well as other distinguished teachers and professors will offer best pedagogical practices and lesson ideas to teachers. Teachers that attend this event will leave with ready to go lesson ideas that are tied to the objectives laid out in the APHG course outline. I also recommend that teachers read the course outline every year and notate changes in order to modify class curriculum accordingly. At the professional development given by NCGE in Tampa, Nancy Watson, a current member of the College Board’s APHG Test Development Committee, will go over changes that have occurred to the curriculum. I highly recommend that APHG teachers attend the entire NCGE annual conference, as well as the pre-conference NCGE full day professional development, and the College Board’s ½ day teachers’ workshop in Tampa July 27th- 31st. Furthermore, I recommend applying to the AP reading after teaching APHG for 3 years. It is one of the best professional developments for AP Human Geography. At the reading, teachers make lifelong friends and create a network of highly qualified professionals. I encourage all teachers to join the AP Teacher Community and to sign up for the free Bell-Ringers from NCGE. I wrote an article for the Florida Geographic Alliance to help new geography teachers with many good resources. If you are interested, an excerpt of that article can be found at here.
Ellen J. Foster
“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
I seem to have lots in common with the Hobbits of Middle Earth – including my wandering pathway to geographic education.
I studied agricultural economics at Texas Tech University. When I made the decision to seek teacher certification, I added six hours of geography to my course plan. One of the classes I took was Geography of Mankind, taught by NCGE award winner, Dr. Gary Elbow. We read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, and The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin. I was hooked!
I taught high school geography in Texas before I made the decision to start a Ph.D. in geographic education at Texas State University-San Marcos. I met with Fred Shelley (then graduate coordinator at Texas State), Dick Boehm, and Lawrence Estaville about the “new” program at Texas State. Dr. Susan Hardwick was transitioning to Oregon, as was Susan Hume. I met Susan Hume and rented her apartment when I was accepted. I worked three of the four years of my assistantship at the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education (my voice is still on the answering machine). I was the 2001 Geography Awareness Week Coordinator for Texas, and traveled to DC with other GAW coordinators to work with Michal LeVasseur and Joe Ferguson of National Geographic Society.
I joined NCGE in 2000 when I started my doctoral studies at Texas State. I attended my first conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I worked a booth for the Texas State Department of Geography, and the Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education in exchange for my conference registration. I connected with other graduate students and met folks whose work I followed in my coursework. All of the people I met at the First Timers’ Breakfast, the Grosvenor Center booth, and in sessions welcomed me warmly into the community of professional geography educators.
Through my work with the NCGE, the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education, and the Grosvenor Center, I made connections with many award-winning geographic educators and past presidents of NCGE — Sarah Bednarz, Dick Boehm, Lara P. Bryant, Susan Hardwick, Susan Hume, Eric Fournier, Madeleine Gregg, fcJ, Joseph Kerski, Jodi Smothers-Marcello, Joe Stoltman, and so many others. All of my colleagues at NCGE contributed in some way to my growth as a geographer and geographic educator, whether it was how to design a quality research proposal, mentoring graduate students and junior faculty, or simply modeling good scholarship.
I returned to the high school social studies classroom in 2004, while I finished up my degree, and taught world history and world regional geography at Thomas Jefferson High School in the San Antonio Independent School District. Additionally, I taught geography for the Alamo Colleges at St. Phillips and Northwest Vista as an adjunct instructor. In 2007, I transitioned to full-time postsecondary education and accepted an appointment as the secondary social studies faculty in the School of Education at the University of Mississippi. I began serving on the Mississippi Geographic Alliance Steering Committee in 2009.
Additionally, I have worked with ETS on the Praxis II National Advisory Committee for Geography, and as a reader for the AP Human Geography exam. It was through my work with ETS that I met Kristi Alvarez, Paul Gray, Barbara Hildebrant, Ken Keller, and Kelly Swanson. The AP Human Geography program – the community of APHG teachers and readers – helped me more clearly see a future for geography in the K-12 classroom. Through their eyes, I have been able to see a future beyond place-name geography. While some geographic educators lament that ninth graders take the course in some states, I think this is a great opportunity to force students, teachers, and parents to think outside the box and redefine high school geography.
In 2009, then NCGE President Joe Stoltman asked me to fill the unexpired term of the Recording Secretary. I became the de facto parliamentarian and keeper of the institutional memory as presidents rotated off the board. I served NCGE in that capacity until my election as Vice President of Curriculum & Instruction, nominated by my friend and mentor, Kristi Alvarez. Being a non-voting member of the Administrative Committee (now the Board of Directors) provided me with an opportunity to understand our century-old organization and ask questions about how we can better serve our members and the greater community.
I am currently the Social Studies Teacher Educator for the University of Mississippi, named in the Grosvenor Center grant proposal (the DRK-12 Project). In terms of my teaching style, I tend to model the teaching I hope for my teacher candidates to use in their own classrooms, which is inquiry and/or problem-based, and very hands-on and relevant. My graduate students collaborated with leadership from the Natchez Trace Parkway National Park to create story maps and lessons to engage students in the geography of the Trace. I also created two graduate courses in geographic education for the University Of Mississippi School of Education to help better prepare teachers for the courses they teach.
I am excited to serve NCGE as the President of the (reimagined) Board of Directors (BOD). The modern system of governance for non-profit organizations will bring the organization strength as we move forward. The elected and appointed members of the BOD bring a variety of experience to our organization not only in their knowledge of geographic education, but of policy, investment, and governance. I look forward to working with each of them and sharing our work with you – our members.
We have been selling geography and geographic literacy to the American public for 100 years. Many of the problems we face today are not new. The October 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the lack of geographic proficiency is old news, and all of this is very frustrating. Despite this, I’m motivated by the fact that folks continue to see the relevance of what we do as geographers and geographic educators. This is evidenced through the growth of AP Human Geography (and now the AP GIS proposal), and other recently funded projects like the Road Map to Geographic Literacy, and the new Every Student Succeeds Act, among others. In spite of the challenges we face, I feel that the time is right for great gains in geographic education and literacy. Geography is more important now than ever, and through collaborative work with other organizations (e.g. GENIP and NCSS) and disciplines, more students can learn about geography in a greater variety of places than ever before. Furthermore, the work of students in APHG classes and the ESRI/4H projects completed by middle and high school students is all very inspiring. My sincere hope is that NCGE continues to lead in the research and development of quality materials for geographic education that allow teachers and students to apply the geographic lens to problems that face us all – locally and globally.
Ellen J. Foster
My career in geography from university to retirement seems to have been underscored by good luck. On many different occasions, I was fortunate enough to be in the right spot at the right time, and consequently, met and worked with wonderful people.
My good luck started in my first week at university when I accidentally stumbled into geography. As a freshman at Mount Allison University, I had no idea what program I wanted to pursue. Fortunately, Dr. Eric Ross, the Chair of the brand new Geography Department found me examining the posters on the Department bulletin board one day and asked me if I was interested in geography. I quickly responded, “No, I just really like the landscape images that are on display.” Based upon my high school experiences, the only people who took geography were the non-academic students, and the course was little more than Capes and Bays Geography. Thankfully, Dr. Ross was not deterred by my answer. He put his arm around my shoulder and escorted me into his office saying that if I was impressed with the landscape images, I probably was interested in geography and just didn’t know it. Within two weeks of starting my first geography course, Economic Geography, I was hooked and knew that I wanted to major in the subject. The only problem was that the new Department only had two professors, and consequently offered so few courses that a major was not a possibility. I decided to assume that a major would be possible by the time I needed it, and so I started on my path to becoming a geographer. The next summer, a visiting geography professor offered a course not regularly available at the university, so I remained on campus, worked an evening shift at a local truck stop, and attended the course during the day.
By my 3rd year, two new, young, enthusiastic professors joined the Department. While it was the personal touch of Dr. Ross who got me into geography, it was Dr. Peter Ennals and Dr. Larry McCann who kept me there, and made me realize that I wanted to do more than just be a geography major. All three of these gentlemen took a personal interest in both my academic and personal life. Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, their interest in me, their passion for the discipline, and their teaching styles all had a huge impact shaping my teaching style and my entire career.
During my final year, the University Senate approved a major in geography. They expected to start awarding the degree the following year, at the earliest, and likely, two years down the road. The university registrar was shocked when I showed up at his office and indicated that I hoped to walk across the stage and be granted an honors degree in Geography. He informed me that it wasn’t possible since the program had just been approved, and there was no way I could possibly have the number of courses required. After I asked him to check my transcript and count my credits, he realized that I had everything I needed. The summer course from the visiting professor made it possible, and in 1975 I became the first honors geography graduate in the Maritimes provinces.
That summer, I landed a dream job and worked with another person who had a very significant influence on my career. I worked with Mr. George Maston creating a new type of canoeing maps for rivers in Nova Scotia. These orthophoto maps were produced on a waterproof /rip proof paper, and folded in an accordion style that resulted in very little map exposed to the wind at any time. Contour lines were superimposed on the orthophoto base, and as we canoed, we proceeded to mark in potential campsites, prevailing winds, points of historical or cultural interest, portage trails, obstacles in the water, and significant property boundaries, as well as rapids, rips, and riffs.
While crossing a lake on one trip, George offered me advice that I have never forgotten. He whispered to me to look at the pair of deer on the far shoreline. I was most embarrassed to admit that my young 21 year old eyes could not pick out the deer that the ‘old’ guy with glasses was seeing. He told me that my problem was that I was trying to zoom in before I found what I was zooming in to. He suggested that I zoom out and look at the entire section of shoreline searching for something that didn’t fit. Then zoom into whatever I had noticed didn’t fit. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to find the deer when I followed his advice. This advice has served both me and my students well over the past several decades. Think of all the situations we face as geographers when we are looking at a map or a landscape and seeking patterns. So often, it is what doesn’t fit the normal or expected pattern that is so interesting. When we zoom into the oddities, they provide us with the catalyst we need to explore and examine why these peculiarities exist in the spatial pattern. A huge amount of learning takes place based upon the students’ inherent interest in solving the ‘puzzle of the oddity(ies).’
Economic development was my primary interest when I attended graduate school at University of Waterloo, and becoming a teacher was the farthest thing from my mind. During my 2nd semester, I had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant with Dr. Geoff Wall. He was a tremendous mentor and helped me discover that I really enjoyed the teaching experience. As a result, I decided to earn my Education degree and pursue a high school geography teaching career.
Shortly after starting my teaching career, I became aware of NCGE and became a member. After attending my first NCGE conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 1989, I was hooked; it was a wonderful experience! I had never attended a conference where there was no sense of segregation based upon academic background. University professors were mixing with elementary, junior high, and high school teachers, and the common love of geography education superseded people’s academic background. The field trips were outstanding, and the opportunity to share ideas and gain information from such a diverse group of geographers was fabulous.
In 1992, I attended NCGE’s Annual Conference in the Dominican Republic, where countless things went wrong on the pre-conference field trip. It was amazing to see the entire group of us laugh the problems off and ask the local tour guide to simply find another option for us to pursue. For example, when the manager of the rum factory where we were scheduled to stop suddenly cancelled our visit, we ended up at a cigar factory instead. At the end of the 3 days, the local guide said he had never worked with such an understanding group, one that was not only accepting, but excited by the dynamic nature of the schedule. Every day of the conference, he tracked down one of us from the field trip and told us about an opportunity he had just arranged for us that evening. The following year, I was the program chair when the Annual Conference was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over the years, I have continued to be a huge fan of NCGE, and one of the first things I do with the pre-service teachers that I work with is encourage them to become NCGE members.
My membership in NCGE has allowed me to work with Dr. Stuart Semple, the Chair of the Halifax NCGE meeting. This has turned out to be a very fortunate relationship for me, as Stuart has been instrumental in helping and encouraging me throughout my teaching career. His passion for geography and education is contagious, and I feel extremely fortunate to have had Stuart as a mentor and a friend.
It was during the NCGE conference in Halifax that the formation of the Canadian Council for Geographic Education (CCGE) was announced. Once again, because of having met a number of key Canadian geographers at past NCGE conferences, and because of my involvement in the Halifax Conference, I was asked to become the Atlantic Canadian representative for the CCGE. The Chair of the CCGE was Professor Dick Mansfield of Queens University, and he and the other representatives on the Council were wonderful to work with. Dick asked me to accompany him to the NGS Geography Bee’s National Final in Washington the next year, and when we returned, along with several others, we started the Canadian version of the NGS Bee, known as the Great Canadian Geography Challenge. What a rewarding experience it was to be involved with this program and work so closely with Dick and others.
My luck and good fortune continued, and in the late 1990s, I became part of, undoubtedly, the most rewarding experience of my entire five decades in geography. I was invited to attend a meeting in New York City to discuss the possibility of creating an Advanced Placement Geography course. What a privilege it was to be involved with this group of 18 other Geographers (16 from the US, and 3 from Canada). A few months later, I was invited to be part of the initial 9 person APHG Test Development Committee, where I remained as a member for 7 years. I believe the fact that a few key people on the Committee knew me because of my NCGE connection most likely helped secure my position on the TDC. Throughout those 7 years, I had the opportunity to meet and work with many fabulous geographers, and I know I learned more geography during our meetings than I did throughout my university career.
Because of my time with the TDC, I also had the opportunity to participate in one of my favorite activities, working with new APHG teachers at weekend workshops and summer institutes. As a College Board consultant, I get to travel extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada and work with hundreds of new APHG teachers. It has been a real treat to spend time with such a talented and enthusiastic group of teachers. The majority of the U.S. teachers I have worked with in this capacity arrive with very little or no university geography background. One of the most rewarding parts of this experience has been to see the excitement that these non-geographers experience as they start to see the great opportunities that this course provides for both the students and themselves.
The 3rd part of the APHG experience, which has also been a major highlight of my career, has been the AP Readings. It is the Reading where the tremendous growth of geography education has been most evident. Since the first Reading in Clemson in 2001, when 17 of us scored approximately 3300 exams, to last year when 600 of us scored approximately 170,000 exams in Cincinnati--has been a fantastic experience! As with the NCGE conferences, it is wonderful for teachers to work closely with the university professors in a very collegial environment.
It has truly been delightful to have had the opportunity to work with so many dedicated geography educators through my APHG experiences. People such as Dave Lanegran and Barbara Hildebrant, and the many others I have worked so closely with, have had a major impact on my teaching career, and I’m pleased to say, have become very good friends.
During my teaching career I always wanted my students to enjoy geography and to see the practicality of the discipline. I also believed it was important to have my students thinking like geographers and learning to use spatial reasoning and logic. It is seeing the enthusiasm for geography from my students, whether they are high school students, pre-service teachers, or APHG teachers, that makes me so pleased I changed my plans and opted to become a geography educator.
Now that I have retired after 33 years as a high school geography teacher, I supposedly have some spare time. Much of that time is spent doing the things that I still enjoy. I continue to teach Introduction to Human Geography to pre-service teachers, act as a Question Leader at the APHG Reading, teach APHG summer institutes, act as the Vice –President of the Geomatics Association of N.S., and have returned to work with the Canadian Geography Challenge (formerly the Great Canadian Geography Challenge) and represent Atlantic Canada on Canadian Geographic Education (formerly CCGE).
As fortunate as I have been in my geography career, I have been even luckier with my personal life. I have a wonderfully supportive wife and four children that I am extremely proud of, two great sons-in-law, and a beautiful granddaughter.
Dr. Megan L. Webster
Geography Education: Where do I begin?
Honestly, when I first started to write this piece, I felt like I was writing a scholarship essay or a teacher travel application. But in doing so, I realized my interest in geography education has been a result of several factors: experiences, travel, education, and people.
Experiences. So, how did I get here? Looking back on thirteen years since writing my philosophy of teaching as a first year teacher, I have learned so much. Now, after twelve years of teaching in secondary education, a Master’s degree in Education, and having recently earned my doctorate in Education, I realize that the art of teaching is from within.
Teaching is a difficult, but rewarding job. Each day in the classroom is an opportunity to reach students. How you teach students can change daily and sometimes within the same day. No matter how much you prepare, things will not always go as planned. But, this is what makes a teacher a teacher. Setting an expectation for learning, not being afraid to try a new lesson or integrate a type of technology, and having a growth mindset can foster teaching that is memorable and meaningful.
Our classrooms are diverse environments with many individuals of whom each has a unique background. Teachers must be cognizant of their students’ strengths and weaknesses, their interests, and find what motivates them to take initiative of their own education. We are not all the same, nor do we learn in the same way. Incorporating opportunities for students to think critically, discuss, and engage in the educational process can bring learning to life.
Knowing the content or knowledge students should learn is one thing, but exhibiting love and excitement for the material is key. Passion can inspire. Students may think you are a geography nerd, but they remember you and what you taught them. Teachers more often than not also care about their students and their success in learning.
We can always learn. As a teacher I learn each day. My students teach me about what they know and understand as well as their uncertainties or what intrigues them. Teaching requires you to absorb the experiences happening in the classroom and use that knowledge to grow. At the end of the day, if you can go home knowing that you provided students with new knowledge, and as a teacher, you learned something new too, education has succeeded.
Travel. I love to travel. Though my list is likely short compared to some, I have visited Mexico, Ireland, Denmark, and Germany, where I had the best brauts and possibly gained a pound or two! I have been fortunate to travel extensively with teacher education programs such as the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, where I climbed the Great Wall and drove a rickshaw in the Hutongs of Beijing, China. I also traveled to Turkey with the Turkish Cultural Foundation as a part of the Education Programs sponsored by the World Affairs Council, where I tasted some of the freshest tomatoes and bread in my life, and I like bread. Most recently I explored the Sonoma and Napa regions of California, truly a beautiful place. I learned early that it is important to see, explore, and savor all that I can of this world.
Education. I first became interested in geography while taking Dr. Byron “Doc” Augustine’s World Geography course as a student at what was then Southwest Texas State University, and present-day Texas State University ~ San Marcos. I was fortunate to take many courses from what I consider the “best of the best” in the field of geography, and try to use what I learned on a daily basis, especially when it comes to the energy my professors exuded while teaching. Though I am sure I am leaving someone out, I owe a great deal of gratitude for my success and early interest in geography to Doc Augustine, Dr. Richard Earl, Dr. Jim Peterson, Dr. Dixon, Dr. Butler and Dr. Lawrence Estaville; I learned valuable experiences from each. Upon graduating I decided I wanted to teach, and here I am thirteen years later doing just that.
As a new teacher in Richardson, TX, I taught Pre Advanced Placement World Geography and World Geography. Since that time I have taught AP Human Geography and a GIS course. Did I mention I love teaching geography? I have also been an AP College Board reader for the Human Geography test for several years. During the middle of my teaching career I had a short jaunt and worked for National Geographic as the Editor and Manager of the National Geographic Bee.
As an educator, I have taken an active role in my school district by writing curriculum, serving as a mentor teacher to novice teachers, presenting during professional development opportunities, and taking on a leadership position as the Chair of the Social Studies Department at J.J. Pearce High School.
When it comes to geography education, I am very involved in presenting instructional strategies and participating at professional conferences such as the Texas Council for the Social Studies conference, as well as the annual NCGE conference – one of my favorites! During the past two years I have been volunteering as a Steering Committee member on the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education. Most recently, I have had the opportunity to work with Maggie Hutchins with the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education, and Dr. Jeff Lash to present at Education Region Center workshops throughout Texas working with teachers learning how to teach Social Studies with digital maps. Additionally, I am currently a member of a writing team with Esri developing lessons that integrate ArcGIS online into Human Geography. Much of what I have learned as an educator has been a collaborative process from the knowledge I have gained from individuals directly associated with geography education.
People. One thing I have learned about geography educators is that we are all in it together, holding geography very dear to our hearts. At one of my first College Board AP Institutes I met Susan Hollier, who has since become a colleague and friend. I learned from Susan that a classroom environment must be stimulating and challenging by establishing high expectations in learning for students. In addition to presenting at conferences, I have attended numerous professional development conferences including the above mentioned TCSS and NCGE, as well as Esri Teachers Teaching Teachers T3G, and the Esri Educational Conference where I have been inspired in my teaching perspective gaining new instructional ideas and leaving most often with a few new friends. Mentors, including Marilyn Moore and Dr. Andy Milson, have played a valuable role in who I am as a teacher. Lastly, many of the instructional strategies and lessons I use in the classroom were created by what I consider the “crème brulee” of geography educators.
I would list every person here, but I am afraid that I would leave someone out and this might turn into a novel. Just know, I appreciate the ideas and knowledge that have been shared with me from the people I have met as an educator; you know who you are, thank you!
Dr.Megan L. Webster
I grew up immersed in geography. My mother, who had been a librarian in a children’s section of a city library before marrying my father, shared with me and modeled a love of learning and reading. Some of my favorite books in our home library were the Childcraft series, with topics like World and Holidays and Customs.
My father, a farmer, gave me a love of nature and the out-of-doors, as I worked alongside him. He also instilled in me a great geographic sense of bearing and direction, as we would go fishing on the nearby river, or for a drive through the nearby desert, which was filled with volcanic lava flows. He would often remind me that when the snow was gone on the mountaintop in the distance, the irrigation canal water that ran through our area would have to go off natural flow. We would then have to start drawing down on our water allotment, which came from reservoirs upriver.
In Jr. High school, I took Mr. Horning’s class, which was full of geography. I learned about the world and imagined what other places and people were like. (At that point, I never dreamed I would actually have the opportunity to travel to other parts of the world.) Next, came Mr. Peterson’s class in High School. He was a masterful Social Studies teacher who made the events, places, and people come alive, and helped build upon that spark of interest that had been ignited in me earlier.
Later, after finishing three years of college and university, I chose to serve a mission to Argentina for my church. What a perfect place for me, a farm girl who had never before even traveled on a plane, to go and experience. Before going, my travel group attended a culture class to help us in the transition to a new country and culture. Through the enthusiasm and efforts of the culture class teacher, I gained a love of the country and its people, even before I arrived in Argentina.
Once there, I quickly adapted to my surroundings and, although my castellano (the Spanish spoken in Argentina) was very limited at first, that preparation served me very well. I arrived during the first part of December at a city near a large river. This brought me my first real understanding of the hemispheres, as it was the middle of summer there, the seasons being opposite. On Christmas day, most of the Argentines were found at the river, or in parks, in shorts and t-shirts. I remember writing a letter to my parents to tell my father that it was so humid there that all a farmer in that region of Argentina had to do was plant the seeds, watch the crops grow, and then harvest them. (This was all very different from the gravity irrigation for the farms in the desert area back home.) While in Argentina, I also lived in a northern province area just south of the Tropic of Capricorn where the dirt was a deep red. That area had lush plant growth including grapefruit, avocados, oranges, etc. Lagoons and palm trees lined the dirt roads I walked daily.
For me, the time I spent in Argentina was not just a series of physical geography lessons, but it also provided me with a great opportunity to compare and contrast the cultural heritage, lifestyles, and traditions of four very distinct areas within Argentina. There were the different cities and regions, which had a very distinct Italian, German, or Spanish (descendants from Spain) influence, as well as, small pockets of Japanese neighborhoods. In addition, there were the native indigenous peoples who lived mostly in the north. During my stay, I also learned much about the natural resources and the economic factors that can play such an important part of understanding a region, or country.
Upon returning to the U.S.A., I finished my university studies with a degree in Elementary Education. My first year of teaching, a brand new Laotian refugee student named Somphaphone Phontirath, was placed in my class, (because I spoke a second language, Spanish??) Luckily, another refugee student, named Vinay, had lived in the U.S. longer and was able to act somewhat as an interpreter for the rest of us. Sharing that year with Somphaphone was a great way to start off my teaching career. My students learned a lot about Southeast Asia, and the cultural do’s and don’ts of much of that region. More importantly, they learned the positive lessons of human geography that I would not otherwise have been able to teach them.
The following year, I began teaching Spanish Immersion 5th grade. My goal was to not only have my U.S. students leave with the ability to speak Spanish, but also to understand the cultural heritage and geographic settings of Latin America. I tried to use my own experiences in Argentina to help emphasize that language alone will not help you truly understand the people of other countries.
In an effort to extend that understanding of cultural heritage and diversity to all the students at my school, I helped start an annual Foreign Language and Culture Week; a tradition that carried on for the 11 years at my first school, and that has continued for the past 19 years at my present school. It continues to be a powerful week of geographic learning. We include music, language, traditional foods and dress, along with artistic performances during a school wide assembly. I believe it truly opens up the world through the positive, exciting, and very engaging week celebration for our young students.
After moving to our new school, I was given the assignment to teach Social Studies to all of the 5th and 6th grade students in my school. Although I had personal experience traveling to other parts of the world, I was at a loss and thought, “Where do I start?” The 6th grade curriculum at that time was the Eastern Hemisphere, with 5th grade focusing on the Western Hemisphere. I quickly latched onto two really great atlases. Their lesson started off by teaching students “how” to use an atlas, maps, and globes. Then they proceeded to teach physical and cultural geography. Wanting more help and ideas, I started attending the Utah Geographic Association (UGA) meetings. The presentations and feelings of professionalism I was greeted with at those meetings, were engaging and renewing for me.
Around that same time, one of my teacher colleagues, Dallas Smith, invited me to become a member of the district Social Studies committee, along with Doug Anderson, the UGA Co-coordinator. One of the powerful teaching points that Dallas taught me was the importance of teaching geography. He always stressed that “geography is the stage where the action takes place, and the action is the history that takes place on that stage”.
My work on that committee led me to other committee and leadership opportunities. I served on our school district’s TAH grant steering committee as a member and master teacher, and I also served as part of the Utah State Office of Education 3rd-6th Grade Social Studies Core Revision Committee. Along with other members of those committees, I worked hard to ensure that geography always took its prominent place in our curriculum and in the teaching strategies and materials we used.
Another experience that helped me add to my teacher’s tool kit with strategies and resources was attending the Library of Congress Summer Teachers’ Institute in Washington, D.C. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. (And of course, I especially loved the Map Collection). Previously, I had tried hard to use primary sources in my teaching, but finding, and then going back to retrieve them at a later date had been so frustrating to me. That Library of Congress Educational Outreach training helped simplify the finding, harvesting, and teaching with primary sources. Now I even have my students find and harvest their own copies of maps, images, documents, etc., so that they can gain a better understanding of their curriculum topic. It’s also so exciting that many primary sources that were first in several different formats (print, audio, visual) are becoming available to all of us digitally. What a great wealth of resources that we can access right from our classrooms. I encourage teachers at all levels to visit, or revisit the Library of Congress Teachers Page. I believe you will be excited at what you’ll find already available, no matter what level of geography you teach (http://www.loc.gov/teachers/). Currently, I am a Teaching With Primary Sources Teachers Network Mentor, so I am happy to share with you another helpful site if you want more help, or ideas with finding, or using, primary sources. Check out the new TPS Teachers Network at: http://tpsteachersnetwork.org/register (TPS stands for Teaching with Primary Sources Teachers Network)
Several years ago, because of my previous committee associations, I joined the Utah Geographic Alliance (UGA) leadership team as the secretary. Within that organization, I have especially enjoyed working with the UGA Co-coordinators, Dr. Norma Jean Remington and Doug Anderson, and the other board members, to help organize UGA activities, conferences, and professional development sessions. Our goal continues to be to provide professional development opportunities that will continue to do for attendees what those first UGA meetings which I attended, did for me – be inviting, engaging, and renewing, while always treating our fellow teachers as the true professionals they are. Dr. Remington and Doug have been model mentors and I feel privileged to enjoy such a long, positive, professional association with them. In my mind, they have helped keep geography at the forefront of Utah’s curriculum. They are the reason I joined NCGE about four years ago and attended my first NCGE conference.
My attendance at the NCGE annual conferences has continued to provide me with personal learning opportunities that are easily transferrable to my 5th grade students back in my classroom. Since I am a very visual learner, each conference location has helped me complete the story for my students, by providing me a visual “stage” as Dallas Smith would say. From the Alamo (San Marcos), to the Mile High Capitol building for its Centennial Celebration (Denver), to the Shiloh Battlefield, the Corinth Crossroads, the Mississippi River, and the Civil Rights Museum, (Memphis), to this year’s fieldtrip to Tangier Island out in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, I have gained so much to include in my teaching tool kit. Hand in hand with the great geographic personal experiences, has been the warm collegiality I have felt. I have been tutored by fellow geographers, and teachers, while attending NCGE conference sessions, and while visiting with them at other conference activities.
Through state and national geography conferences, I have also learned of other professional development opportunities, such as the Goethe Transatlantic Outreach Program to Germany and the Japanese Fulbright Memorial Fund. Those experiences were full of cultural and physical geographic experiences that helped me gain a deeper understanding of those countries, and thus enrich and enliven student learning.
My goal as a teacher of geography (like my culture class teacher taught me) is to help the world, its natural beauties, and people, with their distinct cultures and backgrounds, come alive for my students. I encourage all teachers, but especially elementary teachers, to join and participate in the National Council for Geographic Education. Your involvement will enrich, renew and reinvigorate you and your teaching. That’s what my professional involvement in the Utah Geographic Alliance and National Council for Geographic Education has done for me.
Dr. Julie Dillemuth
My first encounter with the NCGE was visiting the website to order The People’s Guide to Spatial Thinking by Diana Stuart Sinton, Sarah Bednarz, Phil Gersmehl, Robert Kolvoord, and David Uttal. I poked around the site and realized that this was a professional society I needed to join!
I am a children’s author, and one of my goals is to fill a neglected but critical niche in the children’s book market: picture books with spatial themes. It’s an alternative career for a geography PhD for sure, but now, nearly six years in, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m thrilled to announce that my debut picture book just came out! Lucy in the City: A Story About Developing Spatial Thinking Skills is for 4- to 8- year-olds, published by Magination Press (see more at http://www.apa.org/pubs/magination/441B170.aspx#. There is a free K-3 Teacher’s Guide, too!).
As a geographer, my area of expertise is spatial cognition, or how we understand the world around us and use concepts of space for problem solving. It wasn’t until graduate school that I even learned that cognitive and behavioral geography was a field within the discipline. Yet people spend a great deal of their day thinking spatially and using spatial skills, consciously or not. Without spatial awareness we wouldn’t be able to navigate our toothbrush around our mouth or our car around town, pack a suitcase or backpack so that everything fits, sketch a map or a diagram, move a couch through a doorway, or communicate with spatial language and metaphors. Some activities that call upon spatial thinking skills we can do easily without a second thought, but others — that couch defying the doorway, the map or diagram worth a thousand words — can be more of a challenge; frustratingly so for some people.
As seems to be the case for many NCGE members, I wasn’t a geographer from the get-go. I found my way to geography through archaeology. I went to Yale University for a BA in archaeological studies, and became interested in landscapes and landforms, where people chose to live and why, and using satellite imagery and GIS as tools to learn more about people’s relationship to their environments. I absolutely loved archaeology: the thrill of digging, in all its painstaking detail, site mapping, analyzing artifacts. There was just one problem, for me: the lack of certainty that comes with interpreting the surviving clues from past people and cultures. I could never truly know what had happened at a site, what life had been like there in ancient or even historic times, especially since my interpretations came through the lens of my own time and place. As somebody who had always been plagued with perfectionistic tendencies, this aspect of studying the past troubled me.
Enter geography. I was happy to discover that as a geographer I would be able to ask those same interesting questions about people and their relationship with the earth: the landscape, resources, significant places, but in the present time, with living people. Empirical evidence! (Which, yes, still involves interpretation, but not to the same degree.)
I headed to graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Although I thought I might study how sand moves along the Pacific coast and how people interfere with that, Keith Clarke got me interested in cartography, Dan Montello, Reg Golledge, and Mary Hegarty got me thinking about spatial cognition, and an exciting National Science Foundation IGERT Fellowship with a media arts and technology theme had me considering a context of new technologies. These interests triangulated to a research focus on how people read and use digital maps for navigation. I incorporated my curiosity about imagery and GIS in testing imagery-as-maps (aerial photos) versus traditional maps for my master’s thesis. For my dissertation, I investigated how people deal with maps for decision-making and wayfinding when they are on the small displays of cell phones or GPS devices.
Part of my research involved how people learn an environment, or make mental maps, and that extended to an interest in how spatial skills develop. I was impressed reading about experiments that tested infants’ and children’s spatial thinking, including research that considered exposure to spatial concepts and language (check out the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center SILC (http://spatiallearning.org/) for a wealth of information in this area). I also learned that most children are not formally taught spatial thinking concepts, and even worse, can pick up “spatial anxiety” from a parent or teacher who doesn’t feel confident in his or her spatial abilities. Early experiences, or lack thereof, with spatial concepts and language can impact math and science learning later in school, and even play a role in a person’s career choice.
In 2009, a year after completing my PhD, I got the idea of writing a rhyming story for kids that would have spatial language in every sentence. It was about a day in the life of a baby, and I thought that through repeated readings parents might memorize some of the short, rhyming couplets and recite them to their child during daily activities, thereby increasing children’s exposure to spatial language. I started scribbling in a notebook, having fun coming up with rhymes and taking my character through her day with an abundance of prepositions and other positional words.
I had always wanted to write, but had never gotten very far with the bits of novels and screenplays I had started at various points in my life, and it had never crossed my mind to consider a career in writing. But suddenly, this story just flowed out of my head, beginning to end. Then it occurred to me: what if I could help lay the foundations for spatial thinking skills in kids through fun, engaging stories? In writing for children, picture books in particular, I discovered a genre that really clicked with me - short manuscripts (average is 500 words) and straightforward plots (not as complicated as novels). Soon I had more story ideas, and the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it; although the more I investigated the industry and how to get published, the more I realized how much I had to learn and how grueling the process could be. But I was ready to get serious about writing. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and started learning about the craft of writing for children and about the publishing industry. I finally felt that this was what I wanted to spend the rest of my career-life doing. Around the same time, I attended a talk by David Uttal (Professor at Northwestern Univ. and SILC researcher), who presented evidence that spatial skills can be taught and can improve with training. So my books could potentially make a difference!
In 2011 I became a mom, which gave me the courage to quit my job to be home with our baby and to focus on my writing. In 2012, I submitted a story to the Highlights Magazine Fiction Contest, and I was stunned and overjoyed to get a phone call a few months later telling me I won! More valuable than the cash prize and engraved bowl was the confidence boost and validation that came with seeing my story in print. I was a writer. I could write stories. Award-winning stories! This could be a viable career.
The following year, spatial development expert Nora Newcombe (Professor at Temple Univ. and SILC Principal Investigator) visited Santa Barbara and I met with her to talk about spatial themes for picture books. She loved my ideas and suggested that Magination Press, the children’s division of American Psychological Association (APA) Publishing, might be a good fit for my stories. I wasn’t so sure, from seeing all the books on their list about clinical psychological issues. But Nora knew an editor on the academic publishing side and offered to ask about a contact person at Magination and whether they might be interested in stories that supported children’s cognitive development. That set in motion the dream-come-true chain of events that led to my book, Lucy in the City, hitting bookshelves two years later. Lesson learned: you never know until you ask!
I hope Lucy will be my first book of many. And I hope it will make a difference in promoting awareness about what spatial thinking is and why it’s important to encourage kids to think spatially.
Dr. Julie Dillemuth
Dr. John C. Finn
“We realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present… a ruthless criticism of everything existing”
- Karl Marx
This quote, in an 1844 letter from Karl Marx to Arnold Ruge, informs my approach to geography education more than anything else. In its original context, this quote was about the difficulties of social change; the idea that, according to geographer David Harvey, “we can approach the construction of a new world through a ruthless criticism of the ideas and realities that constitute the old.”
It seems to me, though, that the basic idea encapsulated in this quote is much more broadly applicable, especially to geographic education. This quote reminds me of the necessity of remaining skeptical about the way the world seems to simply exist in a particular social and spatial order. As geographers and geographic educators, our goal should be to demystify that which seems natural, to denaturalize that which seems to be just the way it is. Our goal should be not to simply describe the world, but to understand the social, cultural, economic, and political processes that bring it into being in one particular way rather than in infinite other possible ways. That is, our goal should be to mount, together with our students, a ruthless criticism of the existing socio-geographical world, to ask not just how (and where) things are, but why things are the way they are, how they got to be that way, and if that’s the way they should be.
As a cultural geographer and geography educator, especially one who is a “stand-alone” geographer teaching exclusively non-geography majors, many of whom are enrolled in my university’s five-year BA/MA teaching program, I have found that the cultural landscape is a particularly powerful place where I’m able to simultaneously teach human geography and enable and empower students to engage in this kind of criticism. Key to this pedagogical approach is providing students with the analytical tools to think critically about the cultural landscape, both in terms of how it is produced and how the landscape itself actually plays an important role in shaping our understandings of places at all geographical scales. For students of all majors, focusing on cultural landscapes constitutes an active engagement with our everyday geographies and an unpacking and deconstruction of the world that we create, upon and within which we exist, and indeed that shapes us.
Though it may seem rather straightforward, the cultural landscape is not simply an innocent, objective cultural representation in the land (our “unwitting autobiography,” as geographer Pierce Lewis referred to it). Rather, the landscape is the physical manifestation of social struggles as they play out in place. And what’s more, in the words of geographer Don Mitchell, the cultural landscape does work, it occludes those social struggles that produce it in the first place, making both the produced landscape, and the social divisions themselves, seem natural. In this way, all kinds of socially produced divisions—race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality—are manifested, made physical, made real, and made natural in the cultural landscape.
In my experience, rather than being needlessly academic or abstract, I’ve found that using this approach to the cultural landscape is highly effective in getting all kinds of students to engage in just the kind of ruthless criticism that I think is so necessary in geography education.
For example, I recently led a Virginia Geographic Alliance-sponsored workshop with pre- and in-service social studies teachers from around the state of Virginia broadly focusing on the connections between race and cultural landscapes. The goal of the workshop was simple: to get participants to think about, to study, to see how race and the history of race in the U.S. plays out in the cultural landscape. The centerpiece of the workshop was half-day field trip and guided tour of Colonial Williamsburg. During one of the early stops on the guided tour we walked the perimeter of the Governor’s Palace, passing through a garden and coming upon a steep terraced hill leading down toward a man-made pond. The tour guide remarked aloud about the tremendous undertaking it must have been to create this recreational facility. Can you imagine the time and effort, before tractors, to dig this massive hole? he asked. In the brief discussion that ensued between the guide and several participants about the logistics of such an earthmoving project, there was not a single mention of the enslaved labor force that actually dug that hole. As we stood there experiencing our history through this landscape, there was nothing actually in the landscape that could speak back to us about its production. It was just there: a deep hole in the ground, now mostly emptied of water and attractively covered by grass, bushes, flowers, and trees. The production of this landscape, its creation by enslaved Africans and African Americans, was completely obscured by the physical fact of the landscape many centuries later, resulting in the complete erasure of slavery from this place. Several stops later in the tour we entered the expansive early 18th century home of Peyton Randolph, his family, and his slaves. The guide explained that while the slave children who lived there would have received a basic education, their main role was to haul water for cooking and laundry. The guide pointed down the path, from the slave shack to a place down a hill and just out of sight where the slave children would have trekked many times per day to fetch water. While outwardly attempting to bring slavery into visibility in this landscape, the guide essentially used the landscape—the physical location of the water source, and the need for water dispersed throughout Colonial Williamsburg—to shift the focus away from the dehumanization of a group of people based on their race, and toward a technological issue: the distribution of water throughout the area, and a technological solution: slave children carrying water. This example, I think, shows both the complex ways in which the landscape is both produced and productive, and also how both geography educators and students can start to denaturalize all cultural landscapes as such. Indeed, without this kind of critical engagement, the landscape has the power to shape racial narratives about place, and in doing so to shape the racial narrative of the country writ large.
To think that this is just a problem of history would be misguided. One need only to look as far as the recent uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson, to do a little research on the legal, economic, and social production of America’s racially segregated cities, and to remember that it’s not just the production of these deeply unjust landscapes, but the work that these landscapes, once produced, actually do. The landscape itself is a force in both mediating life in these spaces (for instance, leading directly to unequal economic, educational, and health outcomes) and in occluding the very nature of their production and thus naturalizing these American ghettos as just the way it is.
In a second example, I recently worked with three undergraduate students, all three majoring in history, on an independent research project that brought together history, gender, and the cultural landscape. As we describe in a forthcoming article in The Southeastern Geographer, statues, monuments, and memorials are part of the way we celebrate our country’s history. They are physical embodiments of local, regional, and national history cemented into the landscape. It is important to remember, however, that landscapes are not neutral; history inscribed in the landscape most often reflects those with the power to inscribe and naturalize their experience into that landscape. In using statues and other monuments to study cultural landscapes, the question is not only who is remembered and memorialized? But also: how are they remembered? who has been erased? And how do these physical monuments and statues contribute to the production of space? In our study we found that in the case of southeastern Virginia, a strong gender bias lurks in these monumental landscapes. Specifically, of the 23 statues we analyzed, only six represent women, and only two of those represented women unattached from men. In addition to women being vastly underrepresented in the landscape, we also found that the statues and monuments displayed fairly predictable representations of both masculinity and femininity. As we document, men are overwhelmingly depicted as powerful leaders and protectors of the land as their strength and intellect are literally carved into the landscape. Women, where present, are portrayed as either mythical heroines or fragile, passive subjects, and in both cases play only a secondary role in the landscape. Importantly, our argument is precisely not that these statues were individually or consciously sculpted to create, represent, or maintain blatant gender stereotypes. Rather, the cultural landscape seemingly innocently reflects broader power structures within society. And through this apparent innocence, unequal social structures are normalized and naturalized in the cultural landscape. Historian Laurel Ulrich has argued that “history is not just what happened in the past. It is what later generations choose to remember.” Through critically engaging with our local, mundane, almost unnoticed landscapes, these students began to see how the landscape allows for women’s contributions to society to be neglected, even erased from the places we inhabit.
It’d be dangerous to dismiss the importance of these memorial and monumental landscapes. Recent public debates over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the Confederacy have shown us how much symbols of the past really matter in the present. As a recent report from the Equal Justice Initiative argues, “the Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues, and monuments that record, celebrate, and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror.” But there are no signs of the nearly 4,000 lynchings that occurred in the American South between the end of Reconstruction and 1950. The report goes on, “the absence of a prominent public memorial acknowledging racial terrorism is a powerful statement about our failure to value the African Americans who were killed or gravely wounded in this brutal campaign of racial violence.” Indeed, who is remembered through the landscape? And who is erased?
In the end, I believe that one of the most important things that we can do as geography educators is provide students with the intellectual tools to destabilize their notions of the fixity of our social and geographical existence, to destabilize the seemingly natural, universal ground upon which we all stand. That is precisely the reason for the ruthless criticism of everything existing. And the geography classroom is a perfect place to start.
Dr. John C. Finn
Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology
Christopher Newport University
Dr. Andrew Milson
When I reflect upon the aspects of my life that have fueled my love for geography, several images and experiences come to mind. As a child in the 1970’s living in El Paso, Texas, I can remember looking out the car window across the Rio Grande River into Juarez, Mexico. It was so amazing to me that that river separated two countries, and that the houses and lives of the people right across the river were so different from mine. There was also the bulletin board map of the U.S. in my bedroom that I used to love to study. There were the two-day car rides from El Paso to Jackson, Tennessee to visit relatives, during which I peered out the window as the landscape changed so drastically. And there was my elementary school social studies teacher, Mrs. Stoezal, who taught us about world cultures using engaging methods, such as cooking and eating authentic dishes from the countries we studied.
Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize in high school or college that geography was at the heart of much that interested me--so, I didn’t take many geography courses. The exception was the very interesting economic geography course that I took with Don Lyons at the University of North Texas in 1992. It wasn’t until 1994 when I participated in a three-week summer Geographic Alliance Institute at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State – San Marcos), that I realized that geography was my true love. I had just completed my first year of teaching middle school U.S. History and Texas History. I loved (and still love) history, but the leaders of that summer institute – Dick Boehm, Jim Petersen, Byron Augustin, Rich Earl, and the experienced teacher consultants – sparked an enthusiasm for geography that has stuck with me for the past 21 years. I returned to my middle school teaching job that fall and infused much more Texas geography into my Texas history course. The next year I asked my principal to assign me to teach the 6th grade world cultures and geography class.
After a few years of middle school teaching, I decided to pursue a PhD and become a college professor. I struggled with whether I should do the PhD in geography, or in social studies education. I chose the program at University of Georgia because it allowed for me to do a bit of both. I took geography courses with Andy Herod, I.B. Logan, and Jim Wheeler, while also learning about educational research, comparative education, and educational psychology. When I completed my degree in 1999, I decided that maybe I should pay attention to this new World Wide Web thing. I became fascinated with how the web might be used to support inquiry learning and provide resources for history and geography teachers and students. I remembered the empty file cabinet and the lame teacher’s course binder that greeted me when I walked into my classroom as a first-year teacher in 1993, and imagined all the ways that web resources could offer so much more for new teachers.
I had heard of GIS during my graduate school years, but it seemed to be something that only computer guys played with. I didn’t consider myself a computer guy so I stayed away from it. Yet a few years of doing research with educational technology convinced me that I should give GIS another look. I decided to enroll in the GIS program through the Penn State World Campus. My first class with David DiBiase was absolutely outstanding. I gradually completed a series of courses through Penn State that made me feel much more confident about my GIS skills and helped me to think of ways to do research on GIS in education.
It was about this time that I decided to attend my first NCGE conference. I became a member of NCGE after the 1994 summer institute, but I didn’t attend a conference until 2004 in Kansas City. I was really impressed with the sessions and the friendliness of the attendees. The warmth of people like Kristi Alvarez, who spoke with me at my poster presentation, convinced me that this was an organization I could really enjoy. I began making NCGE my annual conference of choice. In 2005, I presented another poster at the Birmingham conference. Joseph Kerski stopped by and…well, anyone who has ever met Joseph knows what a great experience it is to meet and talk with him.
Today I teach geography at the University of Texas at Arlington. My primary courses are Introduction to Human Geography and a two-course sequence on the Historical Geography of the United States. I really love teaching geography at UTA. I’ve found that a discussion-oriented class is an excellent way to engage students with geography. In the Human Geography course, I have students read most of the chapters in the very thick book Introducing Human Geographies, edited by Paul Cloke, Phillip Crang, and Mark Goodwin. The readings really engage students in some deeply philosophical and theoretical ideas, and provide great fodder for class discussion. I think it helps students to see the geography in their everyday worlds and to recognize that geography goes far beyond memorizing place names. I also think that human geography can tend to trend too much toward the dead ideas of dead white guys, so for me it is important not to get too carried away with the likes of Von Thunen, Rostow, Christaller, and Burgess. In my historical geography classes we read D.W. Meinig’s Shaping of America series (all four volumes) across two semesters. Many of the students who take this class are history majors who are planning to become teachers. Thus, one of my goals in these classes is to help future history teachers understand how an eye for historical geography can make history teaching much more effective. Though I’ve been at it for 22 years now, I strive to be an even better teacher every semester. My friends at NCGE will continue to be an important part of my professional growth.
Dr. Andrew Milson
Barbara S. Hildebrant
My pathway to geography education was certainly not as directed as that followed by many of my colleagues - although my early life was not devoid of geography by any means. I fondly recall a wonderful wooden puzzle of the United States that I very nearly wore out fitting the states together in their proper order. The puzzle was brightly colored with capital cities and the principal products of each clearly marked. In this way I not only learned that corn and pigs were important to Iowa and people skied in Vermont, but it imprinted the map of the United States forever in my mind. There were a number of maps and atlases in our home, and Dad always supplied me with a map on every family road trip so I could follow along from the back seat. To this day, I enjoy a road trip, and no matter how many times I follow the same route, I need a map to mark my progress, to observe changes, to look at the names of the rivers, mountain peaks, and associated information, and to make notes of interest along the way. And of course, National Geographic came to our home every month. My one and only formal instruction into geography came through Mrs. Treible, my beloved 5th and 6th grade teacher who spent every Friday afternoon teaching us geography - US in grade 5, and world geography in grade 6.
I returned to my formal education when my two sons entered middle school, and studied anthropology and archaeology. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Drew University in Madison, NJ and a Master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Washington in Seattle, I spent several years as an archaeologist in Alaska, the American Southwest, and the northeastern United States working on sites from Vermont to Georgia. Geography became my focus rather by accident when Rutgers University’s anthropology department insisted that all doctoral students study paleoanthropology in Africa. I wanted to study the fauna of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest. Obviously a disconnect. An archaeology colleague suggested that I apply to the Rutgers geography department. Since I had a strong background in both physical and cultural anthropology, as well as archaeology, he thought it would be a good fit. This move opened up a whole new world - and for quite some time I lived in the dual world of geography and archaeology as I continued working in NYC as an archaeologist while successfully pursuing a doctorate degree in geography from Rutgers. In addition, I was teaching geography at Rutgers and Raritan Valley Community College and learning how much more I enjoyed teaching students geography rather than digging under the streets of Manhattan in the middle of the winter! The more I learned about geography as a discipline, the more I enjoyed it and hoped to find a full-time teaching position in a small college - or even a large university.
In January 1999, while snowmobiling in Montana with my family, I received a call from ETS asking me to consider a part-time position working on NAEP geography assessments. I was enjoying teaching and still hoped to find a permanent position in a geography department, but as the ETS offer was for a part-time position, I thought, “why not give corporate America a try.” I found I enjoyed the work, and in the following May, I accepted a full-time position in the Assessment Division to work on AP geography, a new course and exam launching in 2000-2001. This was the real beginning of a career in geography that took a different track from traditional teaching - although I continued to teach early morning classes at Rutgers and evening classes at Raritan Valley for a few more years. I attended my first committee meeting for APHG in Washington, DC, in August 1999 - and the first person I met was Martha Sharma in the lobby of the hotel, who asked if I was the new ETS person for geography. I probably had a look of terror and Martha thought I needed help! When I identified myself, she gave me a warm welcome and introduced me to each of the members - Alec Murphy, Larry Ford, Dave Lanegran, Debbie Lang, Adrian Bailey, Mona Domosh, John Trites - all dedicated to a successful launch of geography in the high schools.
My first exposure to NCGE was at the annual meeting in Boston, November 1999, where members of the APHG committee presented content and classroom strategies for teaching AP human geography. I recall the room was packed, and I ended up in a front-row seat. Once again, Martha took me under her wing, and even saw to it that I received a mug with the NCGE logo that was given to presenters that year. (This mug has a prominent place in my “mug rack,” and Martha is a close friend and traveling companion). I think that this was the point at which I fully embraced geography education as a career. This was more than teaching geography - it was a chance to make a real impact on the teachers and students through an understanding of the geography of humans on the landscape. I very much wanted to be a driving force behind APHG, and made a personal goal of 10,000 exams in 5 years. This seemed an ambitious goal as at the first reading in 2001, seventeen geographers gathered at Clemson University to score 3,272 exams. At our fourth reading in 2004, 58 readers scored 10,471 exams. By 2009 over 50,730 exams were administered, and in 2015 we exceeded 160,000 exams. The early cohort of schools numbered 305 - APHG is now taught in more than 3,541 high schools by our dedicated teachers.
Understanding that the teachers were key to the growth of geography in high schools, I organized workshops for APHG teachers at subsequent NCGE meetings at which committee members and experienced teachers presented content and teaching tips to AP teachers. The first of this series of events was held in Philadelphia in 2002 and was limited to 35 participants. The workshop filled an entire day and was far more successful than we hoped. I was shocked at the number of teachers who came to this workshop, some of whom stood at the back of the room. We ran out of hand-outs, but the teachers shared with each other, exchanged emails, and somehow, we got it together. I learned from that first experience - the best it could be called is “organized chaos”- but I continued to plan a workshop for teachers each year, always with the backing and help of committee members, most of whom continue to volunteer participation after their tenure on the committee ends. During the workshops it has been my privilege to watch teachers with no formal geography training “get geography” to the extent that teachers from the first workshop became the presenters at the second, and soon down the line - teaching each other, learning geography, and gaining the knowledge and enthusiasm that are the foundations of the of the success of geography education in the high schools. The meeting rooms are always packed. I continue to look forward to the event every year, only missing a couple of times for family emergencies.
I have participated in NCGE conferences with various presentations outside of the AP workshop series and also presented at AAG and IGU conferences often “selling” APHG, but also simply as a “geographer”. AP-related articles include “Assuring Quality in Advanced Placement Human Geography: Development and Assessment,” with Tim Strauss, in Proceedings of International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Education Symposium, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 2004, “Advanced Placement Human Geography: The First Five Years” with Paul Gray and Tim Strauss, in Journal of Geography, 2006:105 pp 99-108; and “14,000 Students Can’t Be Wrong! The diffusion and dispersal of AP Human Geography Students 2001-2005,” in Proceedings of International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Education Symposium, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 2006;.
In 2008 my work with AP human geography and its contribution to geography education in the high schools was validated when I and Alec Murphy were co-recipients of the Gilbert Grosvenor Honors for Geographic Education at the Boston meeting for the AAG. This award would not have been possible without the diligence and hard work of the geographers who gave their time and expertise to the work of the APHG development committee as well as the increasing number of Readers every year. Their support is unending, valuable, and much appreciated.
I was privileged to be a part of National Geographic’s Roadmap project - Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education Project (2013) led by Danny Edelson, a framework intended to guide curriculum and assessment throughout a student’s educational experience. I worked with geography colleagues that I met through AP and NCGE on the Assessment part of the project - Dave Lanegran, Bob Morrill, Jody Smothers-Marcello, Marianne Kenney - and met new geographers, as well. It was an amazing opportunity, and I know that my association with NCGE enabled me to be a part of this exciting project.
Certainly my work at ETS on the APHG exam is an integral part of my job, but I can honestly say that my 15 years as a member of NCGE, and the annual conference with the teachers’ workshop gives me the impetus and recharges my enthusiasm for geography education each year. I meet life-long friends, dedicated teachers, long-time readers, new readers, and knowledgeable geographers.
As I look forward to receiving the Miller Award at the Centennial Conference in Washington, DC this coming August, I firmly believe that in order to bring geography to the attention of policy makers, geography educators need the support of a strong organization that influences public policy toward geography education and expands the visibility of geography within other professional organizations, the business community, government agencies, and the general public. NCGE fulfils this role, and I am proud to be a member of an organization that welcomes all geography educators without regard to our path to geography or our role in the educational process.
Barbara S. Hildebrant
Even as a child, I’ve always had an affinity for maps. I had a shoebox full of them that I occasionally pulled out and played with. These maps brought to life imaginary journeys to uncharted wilderness, or served as the marching routes for my warring GI Joes. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to navigate in the woods with a map and compass, a skill that would send me years later to forward observer school in the US Marine Corps. As a Marine at Camp Pendleton, I hiked up and down hills seeking out camouflaged caches, miles apart. My only tools were a map, compass, and some coordinates. During “the surge” in Iraq, I patrolled Fallujah on foot, navigating the city's streets and alleys with a map created from satellite imagery. While working as a researcher and organizer for a labor union, I used GIS software to map data showing the lack of access to fresh food in Detroit. At the time, there was not a single full-service grocery store in Detroit, which is a city with an area bigger than that of Boston, Manhattan, and San Francisco combined. I’ve climbed up Mt. Hood, Mt. Olympus, and Mt. Rainier in whiteout blizzards, relying on just a map and a compass, with cliffs and crevasses waiting to swallow my rope team with a single misstep. Most importantly, today maps adorn the walls of my classroom in Taiwan, and serve as tools of inspiration and learning.
Like many American geography teachers I have met, I stumbled haphazardly into teaching geography. In American schools, geography has too often been relegated to the front matter of a world history book, with a few world maps and short blurbs about map projections. Harm de Blij daftly describes the marginalization of geography within American curriculum in Why Geography Matters More than Ever, as geography and history classes were integrated into one “global studies” class starting in the the 1970s. Geography in every other MEDC, however, has retained relative parity with other social studies disciplines. I am a product of American public schools, and thus, I entered the University of Michigan-Dearborn with an over-inflated sense of the importance of history and a complete ignorance of geographic concepts. This historical bias led me astray from taking a single geography course in college, save for one online class, which was a prerequisite for my Portland State University Graduate Teacher Education Program. However, I have since come to be a self-described geographic evangelist.
Upon graduating with my Master of Education, the US was still in the midst of the Great Recession and few schools were hiring. Despite the Post 9/11 GI Bill, I was also straddled with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. My desire to travel the world, coupled with my economic situation, led me to teaching in Taiwan. As a first year social studies teacher, in a foreign country, with no formal geographic education, I found myself assigned to teach Advanced Placement Human Geography and world geography, amongst other classes. The Journal of Geography and The Geography Teacher were instrumental to my own professional development. I have applied articles in my classroom to do things like creating student geography blogs and using Gapminder World to not only teach geographic concepts, but also basic statistical analysis. Additionally, NCGE’s webinars and weekly AP Bell-Ringers have been valuable resources. Currently, I am teaching my students to do basic GIS analysis using ArcGIS Online and hopefully QGIS (free and open source software) later in the year.
As a combat veteran from the second Iraq war, I know all too well the horrific consequences of geographic illiteracy in America. With even the most rudimentary geographic education, American policy makers and media should have been able to forecast the ethnic tensions between Sunnis and Shiites that would be unleashed by toppling Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime. Similarly, an understanding of geography should have led the US media to question any connections between a secular Baath Party member like Saddam, and the Islamic fundamentalist Al Qaeda network. Unfortunately, such geographic ignorance helped propel me into house-to-house gunfights and stole the lives of too many of my friends. I narrowly escaped death dozens of times, whilst my comrades were injured and killed. I returned home from Iraq suffering deeply from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, moral injury, and depression. I was psychologically completely broken. From such meaningless loss of life, it has been a long and bumpy road to recovery for me, but I have found new meaning by using my personal story as a cry for improving public (especially geographic) education.
The single most important lesson I learned in Iraq, was just how truly horrific warfare is. This is what makes geography so meaningful and powerful, because the multicultural learning of geography breeds compassion, tolerance, and understanding. No other single course can transcend cultural and political divisions, to sow the seeds of peace and reconciliation, than geography. This is because geographic learning fosters deep understanding of diverse cultures and analyzes the many complicated dimensions of political conflicts. If we understand each other’s issues, we can create a more peaceful and just world. Similarly, while my students were studying microfinance as an economic development strategy last year, they lent money to a 37-year-old Iraqi mother of seven children. Suad was able to purchase a sewing machine and table with that money, to help supplement her husband’s income. This was an incredibly meaningful act of reconciliation for me, and a symbol of the power of geography education.
With American military forces and contractors deployed around the world in a fight against radical extremism, geography has never been more relevant with its explanatory power. Geography can explain the roots of violent jihadists in places as diverse as the Philippines, Yemen, and Nigeria. Where Islam is the easy answer, as the only obvious common denominator amongst such diverse insurgencies, geography provides a far more nuanced understanding of the causes of this violence. Corrupt and ineffective governments, economic stagnation, cultural and religious differences, historical legacies of ethnic exploitation, and other factors account for the unique causes to such varied jihadist movements. It is geography’s power to right misperceptions regarding Islam, as a religion that incites violence and hatred, or a post-Saddam Iraq easily emerging as a democratic nation-state, that truly make geography the most important discipline to understand the world. As I tell my students, if you were to take just one social studies course in school, geography would do far more to explain the complexity of the entirety of the planet than any other single course.
I am in my third year of living and teaching in Taiwan. My own occasional musings and work can also be found on my blog.
Nancy H. Watson
I teach Pre-AP World History for 9th grade students and AP Human Geography for 10 -12 at Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, Florida. I have been a member of NCGE for 5 years, since joining the APHG Development Committee. I did not know what a valuable resource I had been missing.
As a junior and senior high school student in rural communities, geography was only a minor part of most social studies classes. I was the first in my family to attend college, where I earned a degree with a double major in History and Criminology at Florida State University. I took a geography and oceanography course as a part of my studies, and although I did not know it at the time, they would become important tools in my still unexpected teaching career. Shortly after graduation, my husband and I moved to Oklahoma where I worked as a Juvenile Counselor.
Working and traveling around Oklahoma was a great geographic experience. After returning to Florida, I began substitute teaching, which eventually lead to my teaching career. I found that I really liked the interaction with the students and felt that I could prevent students from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system while encouraging them to stay in school and create opportunities for themselves.
One of my first assignments was teaching World Regional Geography to sixth grade students. My sixth grade students were not well traveled, but were fascinated by cultures and places that seemed so exotic and so far away. I was also fascinated by a course where we could investigate the Smells of the Rainforest and analyze climagraphs for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I even had the students design the “Ship of the Desert” using the descriptors of the Camel, without telling them that the “ship of the desert” is actually a camel. Sixth grade students have a vivid imagination! I learned so much geography teaching 6th grade. I used several of my geography lessons to win grants for my classroom. One grant provided a large screen TV (small by today’s standards) and a connection to the one Apple Computer in my classroom. There were no computer labs in those days, so the students were excited to be able to work in groups so they could have one day using the computer for activities like the Amazon Trail or Biking across Africa. We learned together about the spatial layout of the world and the significance of place.
After 15 happy years at middle school, I decided to move to the high school. I found teaching 9th grade geography was not that different from 6th grade geography. The students did not have much background, but were interested and eager to learn. They created wall size maps and used Culturgrams to investigate the world outside of their own domain.
Lawton Chiles High School offers over 20 Advanced Placement Courses. When I learned that there was an AP (Human) Geography course, I was determined to make that my course. I attended an AP Institute lead by Martha Sharma, the APHG guru, who provided the tools and support that I needed to teach the course. Martha’s leadership and support was invaluable to me. The first year, I only had eleven students. Learning to teach the class was challenging, and at one point the students said, “Mrs. Watson, you are killing us!” We took a short break to recover and went on to have a great year. That was eleven years ago, and the numbers in the class grow every year. The students are the best ambassadors for recruiting for the course because they love learning about things they can see in the world around them and how these things relate to the world beyond. I have the students use their smart phone cameras to capture photos that reflect a sense of place, or photos that capture the definition of critical vocabulary of the course. This makes them look differently at the world around them.
In the beginning, I borrowed heavily from the APHG teachers with established courses, like Dan Snyder, who very generously allowed me to use the materials on his website. As I became more proficient in the content, I created my own website (http://www.mrswatsonsclass.com/aphug/) in an effort to support my students and have cheerfully paid it forward as new APHG teachers have come upon and requested the use of my materials.
A friend who was a reader for AP US History encouraged me to become a reader for APHG. It was the best advice I have gotten with regard to teaching the course. In 2006 I became a reader and met a cadre of APHG teachers who love the course as much as I do. Many of the readers were NCGE members, who willingly shared teaching strategies and encouraged joining NCGE.
I made my first presentation at the NCGE in Savannah, then Portland, and this past summer in Memphis, where I was honored to be one of many Distinguished Teachers recognized by the NCGE. These experiences have widened my perspective on geographic thinking and motivated me to learn more for my own teaching practice and share what I can with others. NCGE makes a valuable contribution to the support of geography educators and geographic understanding.
I have had the opportunity to shape the future of geography through work with the APHG Development Committee, which develops the Course Description that provides the framework for the course. The rapid growth of the course has resulted in an opportunity for many more students to be engaged in the study of geography and to promote students’ consideration of geography as a major and career.
After many years of teaching geography, I consider myself a geographer first and social studies teacher second. I love seeing the interest and excitement of my students as they discover the world through the study of human geography. It is always a pleasure to receive emails from former students who take the time to send me an article that they have read that pertains to the course content, or to tell me about experiences that made them remember things we had discussed in geography class.
Nancy H. Watson
Robert (Bob) Morrill
In seventh grade geography, Miss Silk, a stern and memorable teacher and principal, used her collection of pull down wall maps to require her students to identify and memorize place names and prominent physical features. Her class was my first and only experience with geography as a K-12 student. In the 1950’s schools in Massachusetts offered very little geography and mastery of facts ruled the day. My next geography courses came in the late 1950’s as an undergraduate enrolled in economic geography and political geography courses taught by a non-geographer. The courses were descriptive and fact oriented with little or no mention of spatial and environmental perspectives, analysis or systems.
I knew nothing of the National Council for Geographic Education until I was in graduate school at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts pursuing a master or arts in teaching degree. My professor was Earl B. Shaw, a past president of NCGE (1949).
He asked his students to read articles from the Journal of Geography that he and others had published. Although he had acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of world regions, he also had interests in topics such as The Geography of Baseball (Journal of Geography, February 1963). He was a fine teacher and I was impressed with his range and depth of knowledge.
After completing my masters degree program in 1964 I began teaching in my hometown junior high school in Spencer, Massachusetts. This is where I had learned basic geography facts from Miss Silk. Possessing a general social studies teaching certificate, I was deemed prepared to teach seventh grade geography and eighth grade civics. I did not feel ready to teach geography based on the slender reed of three college courses and a six-week student teaching stint in United States history.
I was the only geography teacher in the school system and had a lot of catching up to do. It was sink or swim—learn geography at the same time as learning how to teach junior high school students. Classes were large with 35-40 students and no experienced geography teacher colleagues to consult. I was engaged in a trial and error process with plenty of errors to reflect upon. Professional development opportunities were sparse so I took a series of regional geography courses at Worcester State College, a traditional teacher preparation school, to enhance my knowledge. The courses were useful for acquiring information but did not help me teach geography to young students. The courses offered lots of facts to master but not much in the way of conceptual frameworks to organize the facts gained.
After four years teaching junior high school students, I entered a one-year graduate fellowship program in geography and history at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Unexpectedly, that year turned into four and a PHD in Geography. The experience at Clark was multi-disciplinary with seminars in geography education and opportunities to engage with teachers and students in local schools, including working for one year in an alternative public high school. My perspectives on geography and geography education expanded and transformed. At Clark graduate students were encouraged and funded to engage in professional activities. I attended and presented at national geography conferences. There, I met people from around the country and many were active members and officers in NCGE.
Upon completing my doctoral degree in 1973 I accepted a joint appointment in geography and education at Virginia Tech. I taught several geography courses, courses in social foundations of education and worked each week with an off campus alternative school. I was totally immersed with colleagues in building a geography department while simultaneously reflecting on a wide range of education issues. I became more active in professional organizations through presenting and serving in various capacities. My activities with NCGE expanded from serving on awards committees and nominating committees to election as an Executive Board member in 1984 and later as President in 1989.
A major highlight of that period was serving as an NCGE member on the NCGE/AAG Joint Committee on Guidelines for Geographic Education (1983-1984). I was fortunate to share that rewarding and productive experience with Dick Boehm, Jim Kracht, Dave Lanegran, Jan Monk and the late Sam Natoli. This effort marked the first time that the Association of American Geographers and the National Council for Geographic Education collaborated on developing geography guidelines for K-12 schools. The result was the Guidelines for Geographic Education (1984) presenting the Five Themes of Geography that later became widely adopted among teachers, curriculum writers and publishers. Five thinking skills also were presented but were overshadowed by the widely popular five themes.
The formation of the Geographic Education National Implementation Project (GENIP) followed soon after the Guidelines were published. GENIP brought together the Association of American Geographers, the American Geographical Society, the National Council for Geographic Education, and the National Geographic Society in a cooperative venture to implement the Guidelines and shape the future of geography education. I was pleased to serve for six years as an NCGE representative and Treasurer of GENIP.
Notably, important elements of the Guidelines live on in succeeding geography education related publications including Geography for life: National geography standards (1994 and 2012), the Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education Project (2013) and The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (2013). I appreciated the opportunity to work on these projects with so many capable colleagues.
I realize that over the years being an active NCGE member brought invitations to participate in these and other geography education projects. I consider NCGE as my home base national professional organization. I know that I would have had far fewer opportunities to join in such enjoyable joint learning adventures without my NCGE colleagues and friends supporting me. I take this opportunity to thank you---and you are far too many to name here. You know who you are.
In closing, I must affirm that a significant and substantial part of my geography education journey is with Virginia Geographic Alliance colleagues, extending from 1988 to the present. I served as VGA co-coordinator with Joe Enedy from 1992 through 2013 and can recount numerous delightful experiences with teachers at all grade levels as we explored Virginia by van, bus and train, the United States and Canada by train, bus and boat, and Ecuador and Brazil by plane, bus and boat…and all the while sharing autobiographical maps and sense of place reflections. We all agreed that, “ There is no substitute for being there.”
I often wonder what Miss Silk would think of the changes in me and in geography education since I was a student in her class in 1952. She might share the sentiment in an observation attributed to Soren Kierkegaard. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I came to the wonderful world of geography in a roundabout way - by the chance of a teaching assignment at age 22. At that time, I didn’t know I wanted to be a geographer and geography educator. I was fresh out of college and just needed a job. Like so many other geography teachers, my degree in history made it possible to teach social studies, and during my first year as a social studies teacher, I was assigned six classes of geography. Despite having never taken a geography course in my life, I was thrilled at the idea of teaching 150 ninth graders about the world.
I quickly found out that being a teacher was much harder than I could imagine (it is still the most challenging job I have ever done). I found teaching geography, specifically, an even harder challenge for a group of students who had mostly traveled less than an hour from their hometown. Talking about spatial patterns in Africa or South Asia was equivalent to talking about nuclear physics. It had little meaning to my students – those were just abstract places on maps that had no relevance to their everyday lives as teenagers. I struggled to find ways to engage my students in learning geography, but I also became increasingly intrigued with learning more geography myself and improving my abilities as an educator.
It was during those years of teaching high school that I found my professional home in geography. But I suppose I was a geographer since my childhood and just didn’t know it. I have my parents to thank for that – we spent our childhood vacations on long road trips, sleeping in tents, hiking and canoeing in wild places, and exploring the world around us. We didn’t have cable TV or computers, and I rarely spent a day inside. I was more at home running down a trail than anywhere else in the world. Like most children, I had a natural curiosity about the world and my parents provided many opportunities for my siblings and myself to explore those curiosities. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that my brother pursued a degree in geology, my sister pursued a career in environmental science education, and I found my place in geography - we all loved learning about the world at an early age.
As I got older, I remember pouring over atlases with my dad before our family road trips to make sure we had found the best route to our destination (I still do!). As a young adult, I spent hours talking with my grandmother about geography. We talked about all the interesting places in the world we would like to visit and we would share National Geographic magazines (between the two of us, we subscribed to all the NG brand magazines!). It was my grandmother who convinced me to pursue a Ph.D. in geography education.
After three years of teaching high school, I found myself enrolling at Texas State University’s Department of Geography to begin an intensive summer of doctoral courses in geography education, under the direction of Dick Boehm. That was the most academically challenging summer of my life and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. During those ten weeks, my dedicated cohorts spent at least four hours each day in class together and at least twice that much time working together outside of class. We were a group of classroom teachers, college instructors, and school administrators, but were all bound together by our love of geography and our commitment to improving geography education. That first summer of doctoral studies also marked my first year as a member of NCGE, the Alliance Network, and AAG. That was 2005.
Over the last ten years the world of geography education has offered opportunities I could have never imagined that first year teaching high school geography. I have been fortunate to work with so many amazing individuals and organizations that continually inspire me.
Perhaps the most professionally rewarding project in the last ten years has been working on the Geography Road Map Project (www.natgeoed.org/roadmap), led by Danny Edelson and partnering organizations: National Geographic, NCGE, AAG, and the American Geographical Society. I found myself coordinating the efforts of the Instructional Materials and Professional Development committee – a group of individuals who I can honestly say are the best people I have ever worked with: Emily Schell, Kathy Roth, Keith Barton, Mark Bockenhauer, Bert Bower, Paul Gray, Susan Hardwick, Verneda Johnson, Lydia Lewis, Betto Ramirez, Gwenda Rice, Ann Rivet, Andy Shouse, and Jan Smith. In addition to this group were those leading other Road Map committees and project activities and included Danny Edelson, Rich Shavelson, Jill Wertheim, Sarah Bednarz, Susan Heffron, Niem Tu Huynh, and Virginia Pitts. The commitment to improving geography education among the Road Map committees is truly astounding and I am incredibly thankful for all that I have learned from these individuals. A single statement from the Road Map project that really resonated with me is:
Geography can be a great equalizer. Every child has a “place” and knows something of the world around her or him. This common base of experience—place—is a core theme in geography, but it also is an important means of equalizing opportunity and legitimizing the experiences of children whatever their background.
Thank you, Andy Shouse, for so eloquently tracking this change into a draft of the Instructional Materials and Professional Development report! This statement captures the reason I fell in love with learning geography and teaching geography. All children’s experiences in the world matter, and geography is a way for those experiences to take shape and provide meaning for the world in which they live.
Today I find myself working at the intersection of geography and science education, as a research associate at BSCS, a science education non-profit in Colorado. I mostly work on environmental and Earth science projects, but try to keep my hands in geography as much as possible. My favorite project right now is an elementary video-based lesson analysis project, under the direction of Kathy Roth. It is a curriculum and professional development program in which elementary teachers work in cohorts to watch and analyze videos of classroom science teaching and learning (their own classrooms and colleagues’ classrooms) to better understand student thinking and misconceptions about big ideas in science. It is also includes helping teachers create a “science content storyline” for students in order to provide coherence, relevance, and focus for teaching big ideas in science. I have worked with teachers in grades K, 2, 4 and 6 on topics such as uneven heating of Earth’s surface, plate tectonics, weathering and erosion, landforms, and weather (see http://bscs.org/reinvigorating-elementary-science-through-partnership-california-teachers for more information, and also www.bscs.org/stella and www.bscs.org/vista for related programs).
Each year I look forward to the National Conference on Geography Education, as it feels like coming home to family. I think back to 2005, my first conference, and how I didn’t know anyone there, except my fellow graduate students. Very quickly I was welcomed into this wonderful professional community. I would like to add a big thank you to Joseph Kerski for his warm welcome at the first conference I attended- it really made a difference to a shy, young geography teacher attending my first national conference!
NCGE and its membership continue to inspire and challenge me, both professionally and personally. Even though I found my way to geography by that chance teaching assignment many years ago, I have never felt more at home working on geography education projects with colleagues and life-long friends that share the same passion I have for learning about the world and teaching others.
This month, NCGE is proud to honor Charlie Fitzpatrick--one of our Life Members! Charlie has been an NCGE member for almost thirty years, and has contributed greatly to the world of geography education.
- Esri K12 Education Manager, June 1992 - present
- Teacher, gr.7-12 social studies (mostly gr.8 geography), St. Paul Academy (St. Paul, MN), Nov 1977 - June 1992
- NCGE Distinguished Teacher Award, 1991
- NGS/IBM Educational Technology Leadership Institute director, 1991-1992
- NGS Summer Geography Institute technology instructor, 1989-1992
- Master of Arts (Geography) 1976, University of Minnesota
- Bachelor of Elected Studies 1974, University of Minnesota
Those are the bullets that most people seek when they ask about me, and each has great meaning, but other elements have shaped me in powerful ways.
I grew up in what was the rural fringe of St.Paul, MN. My parents and three older brothers and I were mostly a family of scientists; I expected to be a marine biologist (loved Cousteau, but the oceans were distant) or ichthyologist. In my first quarter at college, the biology classes were full, so I took a physical geography class and loved it (thank you, T.A. John Berquist). Next quarter was human geography; I loved it too, and switched directions. For six years, professors of geography, anthropology, and futures studies rocked my world. Toward the end of grad school, I realized my future was in education (like my mother and all three brothers), so I began a certification program, but interrupted it to take a job where I was student teaching…my old school.
My teaching mentor (Joanna Victor) was a quietly stellar coach of the craft of teaching, the arena of social studies, and life in general. Watching her teach, deal with kids as people, with routine as a chance for creativity, with groups as exercises in democracy, and with every situation as deserving analysis and holistic understanding, my views of the world and my role in it "fractalized." One phrase stuck with me: "We sometimes teach least well that which we enjoy most, because we are enamored with things that not everyone enjoys as much." I learned to focus on key elements.
I had grown up navigationally challenged and nearly incapable of "big pictures." The world seemed an infinite collection of random details. Studying geography helped me start to see patterns, relationships, and systems. But it was still hard, and I was always "the odd little geographer."
My life changed in 1986, at a summer institute at Macalester College. Geography professor David Lanegran helped 30 of us see more easily and, more importantly, share with pride the magic of patterns and relationships we saw everywhere. Teacher Jim Hanson introduced us to AppleWorks, and what could be done with an Apple IIe and simple databases. It was as if two people had taken the brakes off what I could do and given me glasses so I could see.
The '86 institute clarified my direction, and a 1987 National Geographic Summer Institute lit booster rockets. The next several years were a blur of classes, computers, databases, telecommunication, and teacher PD events.
I learned about NCGE in 1987, joined, and discovered a bank of remarkable folks to learn from and share with. Buried treasure! A whole organization of people who saw the world with a geographic eye, and wanted to share it. The conference quickly became an annual highlight, where educators from grad school down into grade school all shared their expertise and valued each other's, whether it was about urbanization, or how to classify data, or making dough maps, or using brightly colored yarn to show community connections. I learned more ways to integrate knowledge by doing, more teaching styles, more great ways to teach critical content, but also saw more people struggling with computers and hungering for maps that could adequately represent the complex fabric of the world.
In 1989, George Dailey, then at the Census Bureau, came to the NGS SGI and rocked my world with multi-scale and multi-variable data. Listening to him, I scrapped my annual plan (already in place) to change my classes around so we could handle a school census in spring - 80 kids managing 75 variables about 500 kids. But still, making maps remained tedious.
In spring of 1992, AAG was in San Diego, and I was on a team working on the NAEP Framework. In the exhibit hall, I saw a beta version of ArcView 1.0 for Windows. Think, point, click, map. "My god! This is exactly what I need in class!" I drove to Redlands, met Jack Dangermond, interviewed for a position being created, and began working at Esri on June 1. I fell behind by lunchtime, and have been racing to catch up ever since. Devices, software, and data have evolved radically, but it's been 22+ years of helping learners grasp why and how to analyze data, understand the world, and solve problems, by thinking geographically, using GIS.
Geographic thinking has never been more important. We face a swarm of issues, of staggering complexity. The world needs people disposed to learning, who seek holistic understanding and care about the future. We need tools which help us see the big picture, from many perspectives, including the relationships within and between elements, groups, regions, layers. We must learn anew how to learn, how to share, and how to see through the eyes of others, and it must become habit from a young age. Technology is bringing wonders ever more swiftly. Educators need to harness these new powers and opportunities, and share them with the world.
In May of 2014, Esri launched an effort in support of ConnectED. We want every school in the country to have full-power web-based GIS, with which to learn and share, for free. This is our Sputnik moment; we are making a commitment. We need geographers young and old to help learners young and old to think, point, click, map. We need students, employees, and citizens to understand and ask geographic questions, know how to turn data into information, combine disparate elements into broad knowledge, and share, so all may act with wisdom.
This is what wakes me up early, fills my day, and floats in my dreams -- the urgency to share our special view of conditions. It's why the most important map in my world is http://esriurl.com/usk12gis.
Dr. Robert N. Saveland
This month, NCGE is proud to honor Dr. Robert N. Saveland--our longest standing member! Dr. Saveland has been an NCGE member for more than 60 years. He has served NCGE as a member of the Publications Policy Committee, and has been a regular participant and attendee at our annual conferences. His articles and book reviews have been published in the Journal of Geography, and his book chapters have appeared in other NCGE publications. Dr. Saveland received the George J. Miller Award (the highest honor bestowed by NCGE) at the 2012 National Conference on Geography Education (in San Marco, Texas), in recognition of his distinguished record of service to geography education.
Dr. Saveland began his teaching career as a seventh and tenth grade geography teacher at a junior/senior high school in Kirkwood, Missouri, following World War II. As Dr. Saveland recalls, “By the summer of 1945 the war in Europe ended, the ship was back in the U.S. I married Gladys, my Washington University sweetheart, in St. Louis in August at the end of a 30 day leave. We were sitting in a Manhattan restaurant in New York City when the announcement came over the radio that the Japanese had surrendered. Everyone in the place, including the work staff, got up and walked down to Times Square. Gladys had to return to St. Louis because she was under contract to teach mathematics in a suburban high school. Since I would soon be released by the Navy, and the ship was in New York, I went up to 120th St. and entered a Master’s Program at Teachers College, Columbia. By doing a spring semester, pre and post summer sessions, I completed a master's degree in 10 months. I also had a job lined up to teach in Kirkwood, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. The major catch was, although I had a license to teach social studies in Missouri, I was going to be teaching geography in the 7th and 10th grades, and I had not had a geography course since 8th grade in Miss Hyland's class at Harding Jr. High in Lakewood, Ohio! I hurriedly enrolled in the post summer geography course being taught by Dick Tuthill, later at Duke. The first year teaching, we were using the Bradley World Geography, published by Ginn. At that time, I Iearned (along with the students) the significance of Geography.” Despite not having had a geography course in years, Dr. Saveland (along with his fellow Navy cohorts) would stave off boredom while at sea by sitting around drawing freehand maps (and conducting related competitions).
After two years of teaching at Kirkwood, the school principal offered Dr. Saveland good advice, “Go sit at the feet of the Great.” With the encouragement of his wife Gladys, who had just given birth to their first child, they took off together for a year and a summer living in a married student apartment at Teachers College, Columbia. The professor and mentor that had the most lasting and profound impact upon him was George Renner, a well-known writer of books on Air-Age Education. Dr. Saveland felt in sync with him, and found his lectures to be extremely interesting, thereby gravitating towards him, while the more traditional geographers were less enamored by Renner. For his dissertation, Dr. Saveland wrote Geography of Missouri for the lower middle grades, which was tested in the classrooms. After completing his coursework for his doctorate, Dr. Saveland went back to St. Louis as a Supervisor of Social Studies, teaching a Methods course at Harris Teachers College in the morning, and evaluating elementary schools the rest of the day. During the summers, he worked writing maps and geography programs for the new St. Louis educational FM radio station. During this time, the St. Louis schools were being integrated. Harris Teachers College and Stowe Teachers College became one.
Dr. Saveland feels that the most significant work of his career occurred when he was with Ginn and Company, from 1954 until 1968. During that time, he worked on a successful, groundbreaking series, Lands and Peoples of the World. It was revolutionary in that it provided a new perspective, cartographically depicting the world in ways in which it had never been seen before. In 1968, he moved to Georgia and became a professor in the Department of Social Science Education at the University of Georgia’s College of Education.
Much akin to his Viking ancestors, Dr. Saveland is an adventurer, with a great love of sailing (and boats). He is 94 years old, and has an unparalleled zest for life; as he has said, he “doesn’t take any medications—and a cane would just get in my way!” He has a new car (that he got last January) that he has already put 22,000 miles on. If he is traveling domestically, he only travels by car…and traveling often, he most certainly does! He attends several different annual conferences. As a geographer, he feels as if it is of great interest and a delight to experience places more intimately while driving, rather than flying. He is looking forward to attending the special upcoming 2015 National Conference on Geography Education, and has loved attending NCGE conferences (along with other conferences) over the years, as he appreciates all of the invaluable networking opportunities, and feels enriched by all of the people that he crosses paths with. “They add richness and depth to your life; everyone has something new to teach you...they expand your horizon, broadening your world a little wider....if you are receptive and open, you can learn about something you never knew. Everyone has something to offer and teach you, which enables you to see things in a new light.”
Dr. Saveland’s varied teaching and curriculum design experiences have provided him with keen insight into best practices in geographic education. He is a strong proponent of field trips, which allow students to be actively engaged exploring, making learning a more memorable experience. He also encourages teachers to use in depth detail and description in their teaching. “It adds color and life to a story, thereby adding interest and better engaging students. You lose so much if you omit it.” He also feels that teachers should integrate audio/visual elements when teaching about other environments and regions. “A good teacher should bring a great breadth and depth of understanding—they should infuse their curricula with life, so that students can feel as if they are experiencing different places and regions vicariously, and fully understand ideas and concepts.”
Dr. Saveland attributes his insatiable curiosity to his youthful spirit, which continuously keeps him active and engaged. He is most certainly an inspiring, resilient spirit, and we are ever so grateful that Dr. Saveland has allowed NCGE to share several adventures with him along the way! We are fortunate to have him as an NCGE member, as he has contributed so much to the geographic education community over the years.
Mark C. Jones
Mark C. Jones teaches history and geography in grades 9-12 at the Morristown-Beard School, a private secondary school in Morristown, New Jersey. He teaches world history and a pair of regional geography semester electives, Geography of the Developed World and Geography of the Developing World. Occasionally, a student approaches him to sponsor an independent study in A.P. Human Geography. He has been an NCGE member for 22 years, and has served on the executive planning board, on the publications and products committee and on the finance committee. He is currently a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Geography.
Mark first discovered geography as an undergraduate at Bucknell University. One of the required courses for his major in international relations was political geography, taught by legendary Professor Richard Peterec. Mark took that course and became an instant convert to geography. “Everything that I knew about history, politics and military affairs made so much more sense examined from a spatial perspective.”
After a few years teaching history at a boarding school, Mark earned a MA and then a Ph.D. in geography from Miami University and the University of Iowa respectively. His graduate work emphasized political geography and geography education. While at Miami, a professor learned that he had an interest in teaching geography and immediately recommended that he join NCGE.
“The professional benefits of being a NCGE member are clear. Reading the Journal of Geography and The Geography Teacher is a way to broaden and deepen your understanding of geographic pedagogy and curriculum. I attend NCGE’s annual conference each year, which is a valuable combination of paper sessions, field trips, plenary speakers and many conversations with old and new acquaintances. The people who attend the annual conferences are very talented and motivated individuals from all over the country. At the Denver conference, then-president Paul Gray made the observation in one of his speeches that NCGE’s conferences are like a family reunion. I agree with Paul, and look forward to reconnecting with people who I might see only once a year.”
One of Mark’s personal and professional interests is rather unusual for a high school teacher, writing articles for scholarly and semi-scholarly publications in both geography and history. “Right out of college I used to think that publishing was incompatible with being a committed teacher. While at an Association of American Geographers (AAG) meeting, I had a chance encounter with a prominent professor who encouraged me to think of publishing as teaching people who were not my own students. That was good advice, and I have tried to put my thoughts in print when I can make a contribution to the literature.”
Mark’s advice to recent college graduates with an interest in teaching geography is to immediately join both NCGE and a state geographic alliance. To increase one’s marketability, he suggests that new teachers develop the ability to teach another social studies discipline in addition to geography. Additionally, he advises that “after a few years of teaching, younger teachers should begin a master’s degree program to gain a deeper understanding of their subject areas and how to teach them.”
Christine Maloney is celebrating her first-year anniversary as an NCGE member this month! Christine is a Program Manager at Reach the World, a global education enrichment program headquartered in New York City. Reach the World’s mission is to build, deploy and evaluate a global mentorship platform to connect students to volunteer world travelers; through a highly-structured, Standards-based program of web-based journalism and videoconferences, Reach the World students go on virtual journeys with their global mentors and expand their worldview in the process.
“Joining NCGE is the best way to stay current in the geography education field,” says Christine. “As a member, I am able to engage with a network of like-minded professionals. The webinar series is my favorite resource!”
Christine developed a passion for geography through travel and teaching. After earning her B.A. in anthropology from Barnard College, Columbia University, Christine taught high school anthropology and sociology at West Island College International Class Afloat, a unique traveling school aboard a 200-foot tall ship. With Class Afloat, Christine completed two 8-month voyages, stopping at 45 ports of call and traveling over 30,000 nautical miles.
“It was through teaching anthropology that I realized how frequently the foundation to answer, ‘Why?’ hinges on an understanding of geography. A basic overview of local geography was the best introduction to each new port because it served as a window to my students’ comprehension of local industries and culture. We practiced a comparative study of geography and analyzed significance at every step of the journey.”
At Reach the World, Christine is able to continue to work in the field of global education. “I think understanding where you are is empowering,” she explains. “Reach the World students are able to vicariously access a comparative perspective. It is inspiring to participate in students’ discovery of both the local and the global.”