What inspired you to start teaching geography? Was there a particular moment or event that you consider a tipping point in your move to become a geography educator?
While I was in graduate school at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University I was part of an intern program for teachers. Unlike the majority of student teaching positions where you only teach for 6/12 weeks we taught for the entire school year. My first teaching assignment was at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Nashville and I was assigned to teach 7th grade geography with a woman named Catherine Kelly. It was also her first year teaching AP Human Geography. It was teaching 7th grade geography that I fell in love with the discipline and never looked back. I think I was always meant to teach geography, even though I majored in history and Spanish in college.
This is your second year coordinating the Maryland Geographic Bee. Can you tell me about the competition last year? What were some of the highlights? (What were some differences in this year’s Bee?)
Coordinating the Bee has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been involved in. I love that students with an early passion for geography have a place and forum to share their enthusiasm for the subject and are surrounded by other students that share the same enthusiasm.
The Maryland Geographic Bee is unique because it is held at Maryland Public Television and is televised a few days later. We’re also lucky to have reporter Hilary Howard of WTOP moderate the final round. Needless to say there is a lot of excitement around the Bee. It’s also a great opportunity for students because they get to see first hand and experience how a show is planned, taped and televised. What could be cooler!
As I’m expecting my first child within days of the Bee, Jill Ferris has been working to co-coordinate the Bee with me. It’s been an amazing process to work with Jill as she is filled with such cool ideas! I can’t wait to show students the Bee swag they’ll receive! And, it was all Jill’s idea. I’m not the most creative when it comes to things like that, so Jill has been invaluable.
You received a Bachelor’s in both history and Spanish. How has your foreign languages background informed your approach to teaching geography?
Having knowledge of a foreign language has helped me immensely. It is true what they say that each culture expresses itself differently and language is the “window” into that culture. When I talk about this with students I’m able to give them examples of this. One of my favorite things to do is to begin the unit on language with me teaching 100% in Spanish and to see the looks on their faces. Some students catch on because they have some prior knowledge of the language and others are completely lost. It’s great because they get a taste for what it feels like to not only not know the language, but the culture attached to that language. I think this helps them to understand the importance of language to one’s cultural identity and they are able to better empathize with people who may not necessarily speak the dominant language of the area.
Under your bio on your school’s website, it states that you actively integrate technology in the classroom. What kinds of technologies do you use? What technologies do you suggest other geography educators use in their classrooms?
I’ve been blessed to teach at Bullis School. We have incredible access to different types of technology and even have a specialist who helps us to integrate technology into our teaching. The school is also considered 1-1 so each student has a computer. I don’t think a day goes by when my students haven’t done something with technology. Recently, I’ve had my students do more with GIS and I’m looking forward to expanding on its use next year. In class, we use programs like EdPuzzle to make viewing videos more interactive, Pear Deck which is an interactive presentation tool and for research we use the citation tool NoodleTools.
Summer is coming up and a lot of educators are attending summer institutes and workshops. Do you have any plans to participate in professional developments this summer? Can you tell me about some of the professional developments dealing with geographic education you’ve attended in the past?
This summer will be different from most of my summers since I will have my baby girl to hang out with. I will be attending the NCGE conference, which happens to be in my hometown of Albuquerque. I’m looking forward to bringing my daughter to her first of many geography conferences!!! This past summer is more of an indication of what my summers are like typically. In June I spent 18 days touring all over China with 14 other educators from my school, then 48 hours after I got back my husband and I went to South Africa. I got back and then went to the NCGE conference in Tampa and an AP institute in Atlanta. I counted the days I was actually in Maryland last summer and it came out to a total of 16 days.
Can you explain why geography needs to be more prevalent in K-12 curricula?
I’m sure it’s been said before, but I think that geography is the window through which the world is made sense of. There are so many lenses through which to see a problem, but geography not only tells us where something is happening, it tells us why it’s happening. I think that when a conflict or issue arises we often forget that there is a geographic explanation and that without it we often misunderstand the origins of the conflict or issue. If more people had a geography background the course an event takes would likely be different.