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Without Geography, You Are Nowhere: Where in the World Is Geography in Our Schools?

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

It may be that the study of geography starts as a personal path. My personal geographic journeys started in the pages of National Geographic. I would read the articles over and over and dream about going to the various countries.

Then there were the Smithsonian Festivals on the Mall, in Washington, DC, which hinted of the world beyond my city. There were specialized foods and artifacts and people from different nations. Finally, a Fulbright excursion to India immersed me in thinking about the world in different ways. By studying a specific country in depth, I came to think more about my own country, and how people see it with the eyes of outsiders. Since then, I have become a world traveler.


My interest in geography has led me to ask, How much do we know about the world? How much do we teach, and how much do we really know? Fortunately, there are many new ways to think about the world.

Geography: A Passport to Knowledge About the World

Every subject -- from reading, writing, and arithmetic to science, economics, and foreign languages -- can include geography. Technology can be a passport to the global village!

Take a look at these tools at your fingertips:

World Wind lets you zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth. Leveraging Landsat satellite imagery and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data, World Wind lets you experience Earth terrain in visually rich three-dimensional views, just as if you were really there. Virtually visit any place in the world. Look across the Andes, into the Grand Canyon, over the Alps, or along the African Sahara.

  • GIS.com: The Guide to Geographic Information Services

Geographic information services encompass a collection of computer hardware, software, and geographic data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.

Where in the World Is Geography Knowledge?

In a global village, the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the daily news is a series of dots on the map. The images flash before our students on television, on handhelds, and in various types of media.

The dismaying results of the latest National Geographic-Roper survey sparked editorials in newspapers across the United States. The National Geographic Society polled 510 Americans ages eighteen to twenty-four and found that the majority of them don't know, in the broadest sense of the phrase, where they are. Most people cannot locate the places flashed before them on maps shown on TV news programs, even places of war and disaster. We don't know if younger students were polled, but you can take the test to assess your level of knowledge. You might do better!

What Is Geography?

We used to think of geography as place, but it is much more than that. Geography isn't just places on a map. It's global connections and incredible creatures. It's people and cultures, economics and politics. And it's essential to understanding our interconnected world.

With technology, we can access resources and experts and find the tools we need to understand our world. We can access webcams, and we can learn through project-based learning. We can peruse newspapers and digital libraries. We can talk to friends on listservs. We can sign up for workshops and global experiences -- teachers and students alike.

A Partnership to Improve Geography Education

MyWonderfulWorld.comThe National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and other organizations have partnered to improve geography education. Their incredibly rich Web site, MyWonderfulWorld.org, is worth looking at.

Additionally, Smithsonian Education has has created Geographic Resources from the Smithsonian, a new site to support My Wonderful World. There, you'll find geographic resources, including a map-based portal to a wealth of Smithsonian online features, from an interactive African art collection to a photo-packed tour of the ancient Silk Road. To get started, just select a continent on this site and go!

Exploring the World -- Without Leaving the Web

Xpeditions is home to the U.S. National Geography Standards -- and to thousands of ideas, tools, and interactive adventures that bring them to life. There is so much here, I can't describe it -- take a look for yourself. Through games, lesson plans, maps, and more, Xpeditions helps integrate the U.S. geography standards into learning -- both at home and in the classroom.

Join the National Geographic Society's EdNet, or Education Network, and be a part of a geographic alliance in your state, or become an international member. Here, you can get the news that National Geographic explorers, researchers, and writers use to keep current on the world. You can even sign up for a grant!

Think about it: Free printer-friendly maps -- crisp, clean black-and-white maps, perfect for projects -- are available, and with conservation maps, you can explore the richest, rarest, and most endangered areas on Earth through profiles, photos, multimedia, and lesson plans. Educators can use free, teacher-tested lessons, sorted by grade level and U.S. National Geography Standards.

NationalGeographic.com also has free games:

The GeoBee Challenge

Think you have what it takes to be a geography whiz? Test yourself with questions from the National Geographic Bee. Come back every day for five new questions and another chance to beat the Bee! Students can practice for the National Geographic Bee and join the thousands of U.S. students who compete every year in the premiere geography competition.


Quick -- how many countries can you pinpoint on a map? How about continents? You've got just a few seconds to find as many places as you can. Good luck!

And check out this resource from the site: National Geographic Map Machine

Library of Congress Global Gateway

The Global Gateway is a portal to rich primary source materials relating to history and culture. The library's twenty-one virtual reading rooms provide access to unparalleled global information.


Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Pat Harder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks, Bonnie, for sharing these great resourses. Your post has made me get excited about figuring out some ways I might use geography in my 7th grade English classroom. Two years ago, our school system removed geography as the main part of the 8th grade curriculum. Students can now only take geography in the high school and even there it is only an elective. Most of our kids will never have the opportunity to really study this content in any depth. What a shame since understanding so much of what happens in our world often comes down to geography.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Recently I was doing a workshop at NASA Ames, and we teachers came up with tools of technology integration, geography, earth science, and GIS are a way to do this ( geography) in some school systems, or if you are using project based learning , perhaps geography is a way to make the learning live.

I don't know what state you are from, but there is a geographic alliance in every state. Perhaps you could link with the geography advocates to see what can be done, and how they can assist you. There are grants, and state initiatives. I am not from California, but I have studied it extensively as a result of being a part of the geographic alliances. We studied water, and the water barons in the west.
For more information look at National Geographic. And, in some states, NCSS, NCGE and NSTA work all together.

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