Daniel Whalen Q&A

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?

During my first teaching assignment in DCPS I had three classes of seventh graders taking Geography of the Western Hemisphere.  As I taught the class I realized that Geography Education starts with ‘what is’ in the world at present and begs questions of ‘what was?’ The DC Geographic Alliance sponsored me to a one week summer institute on Geographic Literacy by National Geographic. Within a few years I was writing the AP Human Geography curriculum for Prince George’s County Public Schools. After teaching AP Human Geography for three years I became a Reader for ETS/College Board. The Chief Reader at the time, Professor Dave Lanegran, welcomed the readers and explained that the reading was the largest annual gathering of Geography Educators in the world, that AP Human Geography was the most widely taken geography class in the world, and that our contributions were changing both the world and the discipline. For me that was the tipping point when I found my calling as a Geography Educator.



Could you tell me a little about your experience at the International Conference on Geographic Naming and Education in South Korea? What did you learn? How can it contribute to your personal/academic/professional life?

First I want to thank the Northeast Asian Historical Foundation (https://www.nahf.or.kr/) for sponsoring the trip.  I have never been treated with such care and courtesy and it was completely amazing how they anticipated and made provision for our needs.  Someday I want to return the favor or pay it forward if I can.  

The issue of geographic naming is important in South Korea because of the Dokdo Islands and the East Sea. Japan’s imperial history came at the the expense of many neighbors in different eras. The East Sea is named the Sea of Japan on many maps published around the world and it is a relic of that imperialist era. The Dokdo Islands were seized by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese war and formally returned during the Japanese surrender during World War II.  

Dual naming of regions that have been historically contested spaces could help change points of view and increase cooperation between societies. Imagine if Israel integrated the colors of the Palestinian flag into their own and began changing signage and place names for dual naming how that might reframe the convictions and deliberations of the populations within their borders?   

While I was there I took about 1,300 photos and made about twelve videos of Seoul and other historical sites we visited. I’m planning to continue to create google photo albums of each day to incorporate into a day by day blog of my trip (www.metaman.edublogs.org). After organizing the data in this fashion I will start to integrate what I’ve documented into specific lessons. In addition to these making these instructional materials I hope to network with Korean-American communities in Maryland and continue to foster connections between South Korea and the United States.  

The personal highlight of the trip was visiting Seonunsa Korean Buddhist Temple on the in western Jeollabuk-do province near the Yellow Sea. We had instruction from a monk of the Joyge Order who was very welcoming. The monk led us in morning prayers just before dawn at the main buddha hall and then in a smaller hall our group made 108 prostrations (which really hurt and took about 25 minutes of bowing and rising) followed by meditation as we watched the sunrise bath the mountain in the new day’s light. Learning Buddhism from a book is not impossible, yet observing with those who have committed their lives too it was personally rewarding and deeply affirmational. I feel like I now know “what it’s supposed to feel like” to achieve a beneficial meditative state.



You’ve participated in many other geography education workshops and institutes. Did any of them in particular leave a lasting impression on you?

I attended my first NCGE Conference in the Summer of 2015. I worked as a volunteer to cover my costs and networked with many of the presenters. When I wasn’t working a table I was on a steady rotation between presentations that stoked my imagination and inspired me to innovate in the classroom. Also I was sponsored by the Virginia Geographic Alliance in a 5 week online course called “Putting Social Studies In Its Place” which was a very well supported introduction to ArcGIS. The VGA annually hosts amazing geography workshops and I hope to attend more of them in the future. The Maryland Geographic Alliance will be offering institutes for educators on par with these endeavours soon as we continue to grow our interdisciplinary and network of educators and industry partners.  



I enrolled in my first geography course the second semester of my freshman year in college. In middle school, all social studies were lumped into one course. World History, government, and American Studies (or the AP equivalents) were the only required social studies courses in high school. Did you have similar experiences in your geography educational background? What was your first geography course?

As an Undergraduate student I took AGOG125 Geography of the American City my first semester Sophomore year AND AGOG101 Introduction to the Physical Environment the next semester. I had dual minor in General Education and English while majoring in History with a concentration in Western Civilization.  Because of the way I learned Geography previous to that (as a lens of various History classes in High School) I didn’t really grasp the scope or potential of Geography as a field of study as an Undergraduate. The most memorable aspect of my geography education was an assignment to drive between the downtown of Albany, NY and into the low income communities (such as Arbor Hill) and observe transitions in the human landscape. In addition to changes in services, architecture, and populations that were observable from the back seat of a 95 Ford Escort it helped me become  aware of my cultural identity and relative privilege. A lesson I would learn even better while living in the suburbs of Maryland and driving into a neighborhood around RFK stadium to teach just a few years later. My interest in Geography was cemented when I had to conduct an indepth study of the AP Human Geography course outline and Rubenstein’s 8th The Cultural Landscape in order to co-author a Curriculum for Prince George’s County Public Schools in 2007.  



Can you explain why geography needs to be more prevalent in K-12 curricula?
The impact of Social Media and Globalization means that our K-12 learners are more interconnected at scale than any previous generation. Geography integrates quantitative and qualitative data into visually accessible information: Geographic literacy illuminates the Sciences, Business, and Government improving methods, markets, and policy. Geography Education should be more prevalent in K-12 Education because it promises to elevate student’s world view to a level of  “Global Thinking for a World That’s Shrinking.” For that reason you can expect to see more of it in Science and Social Studies in the future.