Geography Educators of Maryland: Allison Ewing

In this blog post, we’ll meet Allison Ewing. She is a teacher and the Social Studies Department Chair of the Upper School at the Bullis School as well as the coordinator for the Maryland Geographic Bee. On March 31st, you can find Allison at the Bee, alongside co-coordinator Jill Ferris and many young geography enthusiasts from around the state. Unlike some of these young minds participating in a geography competition, Allison got her start elsewhere. During her Bachelor’s program at the University of Michigan, Allison majored in history and Spanish. Her love for geography and geographic education, however, was first cemented during graduate school at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. During this time, she interned with 7th grade geography and AP Human Geography teacher. It was her experience teaching 7th grade geography that encouraged Allison to continue working within the field.


Allison’s multidisciplinary background has informed her teaching style as a geography educator. She often begins a new unit by teaching the first lesson exclusively in Spanish. Allison explains that starting off a lesson in this manner helps students empathize with those who do not speak the primary language and realize the cultural significance of any language. Allison noted that she thinks she was always destined to teach geography despite majoring in other subjects. Allison is also a proponent for using technology in the classroom. She’s recently used GIS (Geographic Information Systems) in her class and plans to continue in the years to come. She also uses classroom technologies like EdPuzzle, Pear Deck, and NoodleTools. Her teaching style is truly indicative of geography’s role as the bridge discipline, as Allison is able to draw upon other disciplines to contextualize the importance of geography.


Allison continues to stay busy during summers by attending conferences and professional development opportunities. Last summer alone, Allison, along with 14 other educators, spent 18 days trekking around China, traveled to South Africa with her husband, and came back to the United States to attend the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) conference in Tampa, FL and an AP Institute in Atlanta, GA. This summer, she plans to return to the NCGE conference, to be held in Albuquerque, NM (her hometown). Her service outside of the classroom continues during the school year as the coordinator for the Maryland Geographic Bee. She had the opportunity to coordinate the Bee for the second time this year. Allison recalls the enthusiasm and passion for geography from last year’s contestants – sure to be seen again this year. Unlike most other state Bees, the Maryland Geographic Bee will be televised via Maryland Public Television – a good opportunity for students to see how a show goes from the studio to the television set. This year, with help and coordination from Jill, contestants will be receiving their very own Bee “swag”!


If this wasn’t impressive enough, it should be noted that Allison is expecting a baby very soon (due shortly after the Maryland Geographic Bee) and continued to work above and beyond as an educator and coordinator throughout her pregnancy. Allison plans to take her daughter to geography conferences, starting this summer with the NCGE conference. I always ask why geography should be more prevalent in K-12 curricula; but with plans to bring her daughter to geography conferences in the future, Allison proves it’s never too early to start thinking spatially. Allison states “geography is the window through which the world is made sense of.” And if in the current time and space we occupy may be confusing and overwhelming, geography is able to provide the explanations and solutions.


Read the full Q&A here.

Geography Educators of Maryland: Cathy Cooper

Our next featured “Geography Educator of Maryland” is Cathy Cooper. As a valued steering committee member of the Maryland Geographic Alliance, Cathy is no stranger to the field of geography. Geography education was not Cathy’s first vocation, however. Her first job after college was in London working for a British bank. Working here helped spur her interest in geography as many of her colleagues seemed to know where every place in the world was. Living in London provided the opportunity for extended travel in Europe. Cathy spent most of her career in commercial banking. Eventually she had the opportunity to take a few geography courses at Montgomery College, and she decided to pursue geography.


Cathy went on to complete her M.A. in Geography and Ph.D. in Geographic Education at George Washington University and Texas State University-San Marcos, respectively. Throughout her geography career, she has been a part of many different organizations and always looks forward to seeing her “geo-friends.” As a member of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), she has organized some bird-watching field trips during the organization’s annual meetings. Cathy also recently attended the conference for the Middle Atlantic Division of the AAG. Among the highlights was the GeoBowl, a geography knowledge competition amongst university students in the region. Cathy is looking forward to the intriguing field trips offered at the National Council for Geographic Education Conference this July in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Cathy also serves as a contributor for different publishers and academic journals. Her most recent contribution for the Journal of Geography was a review of Choptank Odyssey by Tom Horton and Dave Harp. Cathy has also written a textbook on Ukraine and continues to follow the political developments of the country. She particularly enjoys studying and writing about her home region of the Chesapeake, as evidenced by her article about Captain John Smith’s explorations of the Chesapeake Bay and the coastal bays region near Assateague Island. While Cathy is not attending conferences or writing for academic journals she is busy helping out the Maryland Geographic Alliance with outreach events for the Giant Traveling Map of Maryland (find out more about this program here).


From Cathy’s perspective, not only is geography the foundation for and gateway into a wide range of careers; it also engages students of all grade levels in building their knowledge and problem solving skills at increasing levels of complexity. Students of geography are also able to apply a spatial perspective to civic issues of varying scales – from the local to the global.


Biography: Cathy spent most of her career in commercial banking. She then picked up an interest in academic geography and earned an M.A. at George Washington University and then a Ph.D. in Geography at Texas State University-San Marcos with a concentration in Geographic Education. She is particularly enthusiastic about online GIS and encourages its use as a tool in its own right and as a gateway to entice students into the content of geography.

Read the full Q&A here.

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.

Maryland Geographers: Emily Day

Meet Emily Day, current Permit Technician II (comparable to an “Engineering Technician”) at DC Water (District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority). Her job comes with many different responsibilities, including managing GIS data, reviewing construction plans, running quality assurance, in addition to overseeing a number of side projects. Essentially, Emily is the go-to person in the office when new projects need to be reviewed.


Emily graduated with a degree in Geography from Towson University in 2014. She explains that her geography education has not only developed her GIS and problem solving skills, but continues to serve as a foundation for the ways in which she observes the changing environment around her. While at the office, she collaborates with engineers on their quantitative research to help resolve issues. Outside of the office, she sees firsthand the positive and negative aspects of DC’s rapidly changing metropolitan area.


As a GIS user working in local government, Emily recently attended the Esri User Conference in San Diego. While there, she attended a number of presentations and young professional sessions that helped refine her GIS and office skills. There were presentations from local governments and utility companies that Emily made a special effort in attending. She recalls one presentation in particular where citizens in the city of Los Angeles can quickly access and contribute data, producing an up-to-date and accurate database.


With her academic and professional background in geography, Emily has learned the importance of geographic education. She emphasizes this need for universal geographic literacy so that people can solve major issues in order to avoid coping with their environmentally and politically catastrophic effects. Though she claims she could write a book of all the reasons why geography education is important, she sums it up nicely in one sentence: “It is extremely important for us to understand the world that we live in, the planet that we live on, and the people that we live with.”


Read the full interview here.

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Geography Educators of Maryland: Daniel Whalen

Our next interviewee for the Geography Educators of Maryland series is Daniel Whalen. We recently talked with him about his recent visit to South Korea for the 7th International Conference on Geographic Naming and Education, his experience as a geography educator, and the importance of a geographic education.

Mr. Whalen’s experience in geography stems from his expertise in history. Before arriving to university, he generally viewed geography through an historical lens. He remembers a particular class assignment, however, that helped broaden his scope on the geography discipline. He recalls riding through downtown Albany, New York in the comfort of a ’95 Ford Escort, observing the distribution of low income communities across the neighborhoods. The changes in the human landscape helped him understand his own cultural identity and relative privilege.

From then on, Mr. Whalen has been very involved in the realm of geography education. During his first teaching assignment, he taught three seventh grade classes of Geography of the Western Hemisphere. In a few years, he was writing AP Human Geography curriculum for Prince George’s County Public Schools, eventually going on to be a Reader for the ETS and College Board.

Mr. Whalen has also taken part in many different geography education conferences and institutes. In the summer of 2015, he attended the NCGE Conference, where he volunteered and networked with the presenters. The Virginia Geographic Alliance sponsored Mr. Whalen in an introductory, five week long ArcGIS online course called “Putting Social Studies in its Place.”

The most recent conference he attended, the 7th International Conference on Geographic Naming and Education, was held in Seoul, South Korea.Displaying 20160628_043110.jpg The Northeast Asian History Foundation graciously sponsored his trip. While there, Mr. Whalen gave a presentation on geographic connections between Southern Maryland and South Korea. He was also able to visit the Seonunsa Korean Buddhist Temple, where a monk led the group in morning prayers and meditation.  Take a look below for some photos from his visit. You can check out more posts about Mr. Whalen’s trip here.


APHG Korea 2016


All photos courtesy of Daniel Whalen.

All photos courtesy of Daniel Whalen.

In an ever-globalizing world, people have more opportunities to participate in international and cross-cultural events like this. Mr. Whalen explains that the impact from globalization along with social media means K-12 students and interconnected more than ever. With that, geography education should be more prevalent within K-12 curricula as it would allow students to realize the importance of “global thinking for a world that’s shrinking.”

Read the entire interview here.

Check out Daniel Whalen’s blog at

Geography Educators of Maryland: Nia Edwards

On this blog, we want to celebrate the work done by educators throughout the state of Maryland who promote geographic literacy in any of its forms. Our first educator is Nia Edwards, who shared her experience promoting environmental literacy as the Latino Community Outreach Liaison at Masonville Cove. Masonville Cove was an industrial area left abandoned after decades of industrialization. Now, the Cove has been cleaned up and the former industrial area has been replaced by a wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary. This serene area has created an opportunity for the local residents and schoolchildren (from Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, and Cherry Hill) to connect with their natural environment and participate in meaningful stewardship projects at Masonville Cove.

As a Latino Community Outreach Liaison at Masonville Cove, Nia has learned to wear various hats. One morning she might have on a teacher hat with a room full of kindergartners and the next she’ll be taking water samples while wearing her “scientist” hat. Still another hat is working toward restoring monarch butterfly habitats. At the recent BioBlitz, Nia informed visitors about the declining monarch butterfly population and passed out bags of milkweed seeds to plant in gardens. She found that describing the journey of the monarch from the east coast back to Mexico was a good way to relate to the Latino Community.

Nia, whose family is from Latin America, studied Spanish, Latin American Studies, and International Studies at Towson University.  She also interned for the Environmental Protection Agency for two summers. She also studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she was able to develop her skills as a native Spanish speaker and become part of a new culture of Latin America. These experiences contributed to her current job because she was able to see how much Spanish communities connect their lifestyles to the land and agriculture. It also made her realize that there aren’t many environmental resources that Spanish communities have access to.

Nia states that the land is something very important in Latin American culture because it is their livelihood; therefore it is important that we bring awareness to those communities even in urban spaces. In addition to providing them with environmental education, it is also important that we take into account their basic needs as citizens (food, security, education, shelter) when trying to provide them with resources.

Environmental literacy is important to underserved communities because every human has the right to be able to have access to a clean open environment. Latino communities are often overlooked or criticized because of their lack of involvement in environmental efforts. However, through her work as a community outreach liaison, Nia has found that this “lack of involvement” is actually perpetuated because few take the time to invest in these communities to build relationships and foster awareness. Because of her passion and commitment to building environmental awareness among Latino communities, the Maryland Geographic Alliance congratulates Nia Edwards.

Check out the full interview with Nia here.

For more information about Masonville Cove, visit

The Maryland Geographic Alliance: Who we are, what we do, and how you can help!

The Maryland Geographic Alliance has been at its new home at Towson for about six months. Since that time, we have launched this website and a companion Facebook page (Maryland Geographic Alliance) and put together a steering committee. We are planning professional development, workshops, summer institutes, and student programs centered on four major foci: AP Human Geography, middle school World Cultures, geospatial thinking and technology, and environmental literacy.


So far, we have held a number of events across Maryland geared toward these four foci. At the Baltimore Kid’s Mapping Project Workshop, twelve public school teachers came to Towson to develop their GIS skills through ArcGIS Online. These teachers constructed neighborhood story maps to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray. We also helped support the week-long BioBlitz in Howard County that turned over three hundred HCPS students into citizen scientists.  Last weekend, we helped support the National Aquarium’s BioBlitz out at Masonville Cove.


Let me tell you about the Masonville Cove BioBlitz. It was fantastic! Students, educators, and other community members were able to learn about the biodiversity of the area thanks to the coordination of the National Aquarium and Masonville Cove. There were six well-planned stations that covered mammals, reptiles and amphibians, plants, insects, birds, and aquatic species. Seasoned experts and young newcomers worked together through thoughtful and engaging activities. To top it off, it was a gorgeous day just to be outside and enjoy nature.


So what was the issue?


The issue was that there weren’t enough people taking advantage of the beautiful weather and fascinating activities to increase their environmental literacy. Similar issues arose at the Baltimore Kid’s Mapping Project; though it was a thoughtful event, it could have greatly benefitted from more teachers. How do we get the word out to get more people to participate?


That is where you come in! Choose to get involved by sending your ideas or telling us what kind of support you need. Attend an event; suggest an event. Consider applying for Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (a workshop every summer held by ESRI) or the American Geographical Society Teaching Fellowship. (For more information about those, check out our Facebook page). Spread the word to your friends and colleagues. Are there non-profit organizations or professional groups who are natural fits? Could we work with Scouting groups or 4-H? What about private schools? And how can we reach these groups?


As you can see, I have a lot of questions – but I know that you have the answers!

Guide to Masonville Cove BioBlitz. Participants received stamps from each station they visited.

Guide to Masonville Cove BioBlitz. Participants received stamps from each station they visited.

Welcome to Our Blog

Welcome to the inaugural blog of the Maryland Geographic Alliance. Late Fall 2015, Towson University became host of the MGA. Todd Kenreich (Department of Secondary Education) and I (Department of Geography) became co-coordinators. We are eager to build a network of teachers and institutions to help spread geographic education across the state. We hope to work across multiple colleges and universities as well as education organizations, science centers and museums to turn the MGA into one of the most vibrant alliances in the country. To do that, we will need your ideas and energy. Please consider joining the MGA today. We look forward to hearing from you.