Tag Archives: South Dakota Geographic Alliance

Geography Awareness Week

I am a Geographer.

In fact, I am currently serving as the Geographer In Residence for the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, but that is another wonderful geo-related story that I will have to tell later on. 🙂

Do you know what Geography is? So many people have it in their heads that Geography is all about memorizing states and capitals, or being able to name all of the major rivers in South America. (Editor’s Note: By the way, the Amazon River is not the longest river in the world – that’s the Nile River in Egypt. The Amazon, however, does carry the most water by volume of all rivers in the world)

Geography includes the people, the land, and how the two are related spatially, and how the two interrelate with one another. Geography teaches people critical thinking skills and allows people to make educated decisions based on their analysis of the world around them.

As a Geographer, I go to conferences where I can learn more about the field and how to share my passion with educators and students that I encounter with my work. This time I attended the National Council on Geographic Education [NCGE] meeting in Denver, Colorado.


I went a day early to attend a day-long training regarding Geography Awareness Week (November 17 – 23, 2013). This year’s theme is “Geography and The New Age of Exploration” which goes right along with celebrating National Geographic’s 125th Anniversary. What other group of modern-day explorers are as notable as those associated with National Geographic? We are getting away from specific themes, like last year’s “Interdependence”, and others from the past like water, individual continents, and so on. We are getting back to the real nuts and bolts of what Geography is at its essence.

As the Operations Manager for the South Dakota Geographic Alliance, I put together as much as I can to celebrate Geography Awareness Week. I work with grad students from South Dakota State University’s Geography Department who go into local classrooms to teach kids about Geography, I meet with elementary school kids and do some fun stuff in their classrooms, and I try to bring in a notable guest speaker to SDSU to speak to the public. Each year I try to add something different from the year before, and I’m currently in the process of putting this program together so that there are a number of Geography-related offerings in South Dakota that week.

[GAW 2011: SDSU Geography students created the “Wheel of Geography” trivia game and set up in the Student Union to quiz their fellow students.]


There are a ton of Geography Awareness Week resources online that are free and easily incorporated into the classroom. I used the “Global Closet Calculator” interactive game in classrooms over the past year – a game that has students look at the tags in the back of their shirts and other clothing items to teach them where their clothing comes from. There were some surprising reactions in the classroom – many kids had no idea that their clothing doesn’t come from the United States – after all, their clothes come from the mall, or Walmart, right? This program maps out the class’ clothing right there in the classroom. I had some classes that didn’t have a single garment from the U.S. I have used this game with 2nd and 3rd graders, and they really get into this exercise.

There is also a great link called “10 Ways to Give Your Students the World”. This page features all kinds of links and ideas that will help educators bring more Geography into the lives of their students. This page asks the educator if they are giving their students enough to live in our increasingly global world, and encourages us to tap into our student’s natural curiosity about the world in which they live. There are suggestions like having a Geography Family Fun night at your school, or creating a Geo-Club for students. There is a lot to think about on this page.

Then there is the Mission Explore website where the theme is “It’s an Adventure…But Not As You Know It”. This site is full of missions that are great for students, classrooms, and families, and are all about exploration. Pick a mission, go explore, and collect points to unlock rewards. This website is AWESOME!! If this won’t interest your students, I don’t know what will.

These are just some of the ideas that we talked about. The beauty of Geography Awareness Week is that each state, group, school, classroom, WHOEVER, can do whatever they want. Exploration is all about discovering new things about the world in which we live. National Geographic and others provide a ton of tools to help you learn more about Geography. Go. Explore. DO STUFF.


Doer of Stuff


I Am A Geographer

I attended the 44th Annual South Dakota State University Geography Convention last week, representing the South Dakota Geographic Alliance. I love this opportunity to see what the grad students are working on for their research projects and to hear guest speakers talk about issues in Geography. This year seemed particularly great – Fred Shelley, University of Oklahama, talked about the electoral geography of the most recent Presidential election, John Fraser Hart, University of Minnesota, shared his research about the changing landscape of farming in rural Wisconsin, Trisha Jackson, South Dakota State University, showed the effect of Perennial plants and root mass on the viability of soils, alongside other colleagues from across the country. I love the sharing of information in a smaller setting than a national conference.


[Joseph Kerski, ESRI, and myself at the 44th Annual SDSU Geography Convention]

I believe that my work is important. Being a Geography Educator, in my case supporting geo-literacy in K-12, is probably one of the most important jobs out there, though most Americans would disagree. Or not realize that the field of Geography actually encompasses more than ‘states and capitols’ or knowing the population statistics for the largest cities. People with geography backgrounds are urban planners, transportation specialists, environmental scientists, disaster risk analysts, emergency planners, economic developers, Geographic Information Systems analysts, teachers, professors, remote sensors, and others. Geographers work for the military, government, private industry, defence sector, homeland security, the census, the USGS, education institutions, non-profits, and so many other places across the globe.

The National Center for Education Statistics released their results from the 2010 National Assessment of Education Progress, and the lack of geography skills and knowledge was , unfortunately, well documented. Daniel Edelson, Vice President of Education at National Geographic commented that “…we have not invested in geography education at all in the last decade. Both for workforce preparedness and national security, there are big costs to neglecting geography education,” he said. “You need people who can reason about geographic challenges … people who understand water and energy systems. The more we wait to make these investments, the more we’re going to have to catch up to the rest of the world.”

Geography, as it turns out, is a rather critical subject for today’s young people if they want to be competative in the global job market. Other countries understand how Geography fits into the larger world around them and invest heavily in geographic education in both K-12 and at the University level. The United States? Not so much. Of the nine areas mandated by No Child Left Behind, only Geography has remained unfunded since the beginning of NCLB. Why? One reason I have heard for this lack of funding (while hanging out with academics for a few days) is that the United States has the ability to hire well-trained people from other countries to fill critical geography, GIS, and remote sensing positions stateside.

This “plan” is very short-sighted, though. According to ‘ESRI Insider’ (Oct 15, 2012), “…the need for geoscience jobs will grow far faster than the current stream of incoming geoscience graduates are entering the workforce. The combination of rapidly advancing Baby Boom generation retirements and constrained flow of new qualified entrants equates to a potential gap of 145,000 to 202,000 geoscience jobs left unfilled by 2021.” Has anyone heard about unemplyment issues in the U.S. lately? I’m willing to bet that there are a number of unemployed professionals out there right now that would love to have a career in the geo-sciences. Perhaps if we, as a country, had been taking Geography seriously in the past decade, we wouldn’t have such a high unemploment rate nor a growing gap in the number of geo-related jobs and the number of people in this country qualified for them.

Geography is one of those skills that allows a person to develop critical thinking skills and solid decision making skills. All a person has to do to understand this is watch the evening news. Why are particular countries at war? Are these wars strictly about culture and religion? How does the location of natural resources factor in? Where are water resources located? Take Israel, for example. If a person were to look at a political map, one that shows man-made boundary lines that seperate countries one from another by a nice, neat purple or green line, one might not understand why there is conflict in this region. After all, all of the countries have these very clear and well-defined lines drawn on the map. One must delve deeper into the layers of information out there to really be able to understand what is going on in the world around them. This is what a geographer does well.

israel map

Why does this matter? And what do I do with this information? If our government, for example, did not understand the importance of this kind of information (and some may argue that our government doesn’t), our country would not be able to take educated action in situations that require the U.S. to move quickly. But these questions are also very important to ask when planning long term projects as well.

Think with me on these hot topics for a moment:

Is it important to know if an area is likely to develop sinkholes in the future?


Will proper intelligence allow us to plan better when moving our military into a war zone?


Do we need to understand where flood zones are?


Questions like these are important for decision makers. Other people depend on the outcome of these decisions. This is why a geographic background is so important. Educated decisions are better decisions. A solid background in geography makes educated decision makers. Geography is important. And that is why I am a Geographer.