George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

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
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

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.

  • 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,, 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. 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.

Was this useful? (1)

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

Comments (12) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

françoise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

it is a wonderful blog et yes geography is very important in education to understand peoples, politics, borders, cultures, languages and land formations and climates. these factors help understands how peoples live. in france we emphasise more en our educational systems.

Gene Modin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so glad for all the efforts to learn and teach geography. I bought the game Maptitude and have been taking time to read through all the cards included to learn the countries of the world. It is a big world, until i have started to learn the names of the countries. To learn all the countries and where they are located gives you a hook for learning other things about the world. It provides a very basic understanding of the planet we live on. It creates interest in other people. Geography is the context of education.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There was a paper set of lessons that I received from NGS as a teacher in geography training.
We set out to see what the mind maps were that people had in their heads. So imagine these maps. My fifth graders drew the United States. Most got Florida, California, and the shape of Texas in this configuration of the USA. It was fun to label and put those away, and then come back to compare them later in the year. The physical map of the US was helped by using World Wind ( NASA) and Google Map, but also by making a physical map of the US.. a dvd of the US helped us think about the high planes and rivers and valley sections.

A mother helped in the old fashioned way by making cookies in the shape of some states.. but the best thing was that map game on the National Geographic web site.. the state falls down and you have to place it in the right place and then, name the capital.

There are five kinds of grants available .

GeoDave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Here in the United Kingdom we are fighting the same battle. We see Geography as a vital part of all students education if they are to become active citizens with a good understanding of the increasingly complex world that we live in. And yet the UK media either ignore Geography or in the case of certain major newspapers spend more time ridiculing it than supporting it.

A group of UK teachers have therefore started a national campaign to raise the profile of geography in the media and to get greater recognition of the important role that it plays. You can see our efforts on the campaign website.

We would be proud to have you support our campaign alongside the teachers in the UK who are busily signing up to voice their concern.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

GeoDave.. I will take a look at the campaign website and help support your cause.

Thank you for the invitation. Bonnie

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Google Earth maps history

From the Middle East Times: "Google added historic map overlays to its free interactive online globe
of the world Monday to provide views of how places have changed with time.

Google Earth engineers digitised one of the largest US map collections and integrated the information into its program, which lets users virtually navigate the planet and swoop in for closer looks. The collection of David Rumsey Historical Maps dated from 1680 to 1892 and included Cassini's Globe of 1790; Africa in 1787, and a map of Asia from 1710.

There have been over 100m downloads of the Google Earth program to computers since it was launched in June of 2005."

Mike's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agreed, geography is more important than many think. Geography equals borders which equal wars, this is history and history is a good educator!

I have to admit that geography in school was, well not the most interesting subject. I do how ever think thanks to Google earth and technologies such as GNSS, GIS (which is easy accessible nowadays) younger generations will have easier access to information in a interesting way which will make studying(maybe even outside the 'school-bench') more fun and easy.

Christy Bagasao's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We too have the Maptitude game, but ours did not come with instructions (second hand). Does anybody know how to play?

Michael N. DeMers's picture
Michael N. DeMers
Professor of Geography at New Mexico State University

As a practicing geographer I absolutely love this! There are organizations who's sole mission is the support of geography. Consider the National Council for Geographic Education (, the Association of American Geographers (, and for the technical squad Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) who's site has some wonderful mapping and map exploration tools. Also, the National Geographic Society provides funding for a national network of Statewide Geographic Alliances dedicated to supporting and enhancing K-12 geographic education. If you recognize the importance of geography, as our president does (, check out the network to see how you can help:

Thanks, Bonnie

Prossy Justine's picture

Here in Uganda Geography is an important subject. The challenges however we are facing are how to integrate ICT into classroom situation given our limited resources and devises. However, I think Geography is such a rich subject and so easy to bring alive to learners if facilities of the net are available

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.