Geography Educators of Maryland: Ellen Hoitsma

We recently met with Ellen Hoitsma, a third grade teacher at the Park School in Baltimore, going into her 34th year of teaching, to discuss her summer travel experiences, how she integrates them into her curricula, and strategies to connect private school teachers with the Maryland Geographic Alliance.


Ellen’s passion for expeditionary learning was instilled in her at a young age. As a student just about the enter high school, her father, a math teacher, received the opportunity to teach in Barcelona, Spain for year, where Ellen would attend an American high school. At first, she was devastated at the thought of not being able to attend her first year of high school with her friends at home. Yet after taking courses in Spanish, she became excited and grateful for the opportunity. Ellen lit up as she listed all the countries she and her family were able to visit. Traveling around Europe and living in Spain sparked Ellen’s enthusiasm for expeditionary and global learning. As Ellen said, she “learned to leave the apple pie for the flan” in pursuit of a life of travel and global education.


More recently, Ellen was nominated as a 2016 National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is a professional development opportunity open to K-12 educators in the US and Canada dedicated to geographic education. Grosvenor Teacher Fellows are also tasked with bringing back the knowledge they gained from their experiences on the Lindblad Expedition to their classrooms and communities. As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, Ellen had the opportunity to climb aboard the National Geographic Explorer and set sail to the Arctic. She applied to be a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow three times before receiving the honor on her fourth attempt.


In preparation for this trip, she and 34 other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows, including her travel partners Amy Rothschild and Marcella Ovalle, first met and attended a training at National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. A few months later, she set off on a three-week excursion to the Svalbard Archipelago of Norway, Iceland, and Greenland’s East Coast. When describing her experiences – the sights she saw, the activities in which she participated – we shared in her enthusiasm for and devotion to global learning. You can read more about her experiences though her blog and through the daily Lindblad Expeditions reports.


As a third grade teacher at The Park School in Baltimore, Ellen incorporates her travel experiences into lessons for her young eight and nine year olds. She believes that connecting experiences from across the globe to here at home is a crucial part of her students’ learning process. Now as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, Ellen plans to do a cultural comparison of the Inuit and the 17th century indigenous peoples of the Chesapeake Bay as part of her obligation to bring her geographic learning experiences back to the classroom and community.


Ellen is also a firm advocate in formalizing the private school curriculum, especially within the realm of geography, so that students can expect a more comprehensive view of the discipline. She also suggested how the Alliance can reach out and connect with other private schools in Maryland through the Association of Independent Maryland & DC Schools. Because of her dedication to promoting geographic literacy, Ellen is the newest member of our steering committee. She will bring in important knowledge on geography education in private schools and incorporating global learning experiences into the classroom.