Charting a New Path for Geography Education

November 19, 2021

On a sunny Thursday morning at Fuller Elementary School in Tempe, a dozen first-graders wearing socks scrambled on all fours over a giant vinyl map of Arizona, hurrying to put their fingers on some black dots representing their favorite Arizona cities.

Taught by their teacher Amy Evans, they learned about people, cities and how to become more aware of space.

ASU’s Arizona Geographic Alliance, a Kindergarten to Grade 12 outreach organization, is the only group in the state that works to improve students’ geographic knowledge by providing teachers with lesson plans , educational tools and geographic leadership training. Photo courtesy of Gale Ekiss
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“The kids are so excited when they use the map,” said Evans, who teaches kindergarten to grade five in the Tempe School District. “We made predictions about why the dots were different sizes, and then we discussed the meaning of the population and how it relates to the map. Learning geography helps students develop spatial awareness and confidence in the world around them.

Arizona’s giant ground map activity was made possible in part by Arizona State University Arizona Geographic Alliance, a K-12 outreach organization aimed at bringing more geography to classrooms.

The organization, hosted within the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is the only group in the state that works to increase students’ geographic literacy by providing teachers with lesson plans, teaching aids, workshops, and geographic leadership training.

“We’re here to help teachers teach geography more,” said heather, a science teacher at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., for 13 years and now co-coordinator of the Arizona Geographic Alliance. “We want students to become more aware of space, so that they can look at the world differently. ”

Last month, the Arizona Geographic Alliance took a big step forward. Since its inception on ASU’s Tempe campus nearly 30 years ago, its programming has reached over one million Arizona students.

But those closest to the organization say the Arizona Geographic Alliance’s biggest impact is not in statistics, but in the individual influences it has had on students and in promoting the growth of teacher leaders. statewide.

“One million students affected sounds impressive, but I’d rather think about what the Arizona Geographic Alliance has done at the level of an individual teacher’s classroom and the students taught,” said Ron dorn, Arizona Geographic Alliance co-coordinator for over 20 years and professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “Every empowered teacher and every student with enhanced geographic knowledge is the raison d’être of the Arizona Geographic Alliance. ”

Teach children to be good stewards of our world

Launched in 1992 by emeritus professors of geography from ASU Robert mings and Malcolm Comeaux With funding from the National Geographic Society, the Arizona Geographic Alliance began as a small group of nine dedicated elementary and high school teachers with a common goal: to advocate for geographic literacy in Arizona.

Flown to Washington, DC for a month-long geographic immersion, men and women from various Arizona school districts underwent training, learning from National Geographic photographers, videographers and writers on the art of storytelling geographic location and the use of creativity to reinvigorate learning in the classroom.

“It was a magical experience to be in Washington,” recalls Gale Ekiss, a teacher for the Mesa School District for 28 years and one of nine teachers who traveled to Washington in the summer of 1993. “Not only did we have learned from National Geographic, but we took field trips everywhere. They taught us how important it is for kids to have that winning combination of field study and knowledge that you get from a book, so how to tell a story. ”

Returning to the Copper State, the Nine worked together to build on what they had learned and incorporate it into what would become the foundation of Arizona Geographic Alliance programming, which would reach nearly 20 000 teachers over the next three decades.

Today, the organization has grown into a network of passionate teachers, administrators, and community members who provide support to fellow teachers and free educational resources to help inspire students in Arizona and beyond. of the.

Of annual conferences to full-day geography workshops on GeoLiteracy and GeoSTEM – integrating geography and science, technological engineering and math skills – and programming focused on English language learners, the Arizona Geographic Alliance provides educational opportunities teachers with varying levels of geographic literacy.

Through summer institutes, spring educational conferences, and annual field trips called “GeoDay Trips,” the Arizona Geographic Alliance has forged an interconnected network of like-minded educators who find it helpful to encourage students develop an in-depth understanding of the connections in our natural environment. world.

“We try to make teachers understand that we don’t like to read the map, memorize countries or capitals, or find places on a map. That’s not our goal, ”said Ekiss, who was Arizona Geographic Alliance co-coordinator from 2001 to 2019 and still remains involved as an academic professional for the group. “We want to dig deeper and examine the issues that affect human and physical characteristics and how we can teach children to be good stewards of our world. “

Arizona Geographic Alliance website is a knowledge hub for teachers and a model geography-focused resource page for other geographic alliances across the country.

It contains over 400 free lesson plans, hundreds of teacher-inspired cards, and educational resources such as activity books, worksheets, and links to upcoming events.

“I’ve always looked to the Arizona Geographic Alliance website as an example of how to provide information to teachers. Their library of lesson plans and resources is unprecedented, ”said Kurt Butefish, executive director of the Tennessee Geographic Alliance. “I have been involved with the alliance network for 20 years, I can say that the Arizona Geographic Alliance consistently provides students with professional development and resources of a quality as high as any of the alliances. ”

Educational advisers: carrying the torch for the teaching of modern geography

At the heart of the organization are the growing number of leading teachers called “consultant teachers” who are key advocates for geography education.

Trained at an annual Arizona Geographic Alliance summer geography institute, teacher consultants hone their leadership skills and learn to make presentations that facilitate the professional growth of fellow teachers, in addition to grasping new ways of doing business. teach geography concepts to students.

“Becoming a consultant teacher for Arizona Geographic Alliance allowed me to grow professionally,” said Rachael Henry, professor of psychology and world history with distinction at Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Who is a teaching consultant. for over a decade.. “Our pedagogy must evolve with what is happening around us. They provided several trainings and resources that I could share with others in my more rural district.

Through geography institutes, teachers learn from their peers on a variety of personal development topics, best ways to give presentations, tips on how to approach people, tips on how to navigate to apply for school funding and how to apply for Fulbright scholarships.

The organization fosters a community among teachers from different districts and grade levels that spans professional connections.

“The Arizona Geographic Alliance community has become like an extended family. I can contact any of them for suggestions, ideas or advice on just about anything, and I know they can do the same with me, ”said Cheri Stegall, teacher Arizona Geographic Alliance consultant and seventh grade social science teacher at Cocopah Middle School in Scottsdale for the past 20 years. “Arizona Geographic Alliance has expanded my professional and personal life by providing me with colleagues who also have a passion to be the best teacher possible. ”

Jeannine Kuropatkin, a pre-AP world history and geography teacher at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Ariz. Who has been involved with the Arizona Geographic Alliance for over 25 years, agrees.

“We encourage each other,” she said. “Their victories show how we have a great organization and that we are there to support each other. We all share a great fellowship.

In education, sometimes you don’t have enough hours in the day, but then you remember that you have such a supportive network and no one will let you down. I have always felt supported by the Arizona Geographic Alliance.

Pay Next: A More Geographically Literate World

As the Arizona Geographic Alliance continues its work to educate, empower and strengthen geography in the Arizona community, its efforts are supported by anecdotes from teachers of former students who now work in geography-related fields. with their interest sparked by ties to an Arizona geographic alliance. resource or training.

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About Stuart M. McFarland

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