Every year, around the second or third week in November, National Geographic Society celebrates Geography Awareness Week (GAW). As a National Geographic Society Explorer, I have made it one of my missions to promote the study of geography in the class room. In the U.S., the study of geography is not mandatory. This sad reality means that many young people, mostly our Anglo students in the U.S. have no idea that they possess culture or are part of the human continuum that we call, “diversity.” Geography teaches us that our respective cultures become part of us as we mature from infants to adulthood, gathering preferences, inter-sectional identities, belief systems, and ways-of-knowing, depending on what part of the world we call home.
It’s a great honor to be part of National Geographic Society as an explorer. While I don’t get to travel to the far reaches of the globe, I help students look at the world with geo-spatial lenses. I teach them to ask questions, which we call, “geo-inquiry.” I have an example:
- Ask: Framed question from a location-based perspective so that you understand the challenge
- Acquire: the resources needed to study the question further, such as research data
- Examine your data, and watch for patterns that begin to emerge
- Analyze the data to see which factors influence other factors
- Act on your knowledge to determine a problem-solving approach
–Develop your message for your intended audience to create visuals to communicate information
Let me break this down even further. Suppose I parachute out of a plane, and I don’t know where I am.
- Where is this place? (Ask)
- What is the topography? What is the climate? Am I surrounded by mountains? Can I see snow on those mountains? Why am I surrounded by a treeless sandy plain but I can see mountains about 25 miles (40.2 km) in every direction? What else can my surrounding tell me? Have I been to a place like this previously? (Acquire data)
- After I take in all this data, I can begin to examine it to create a hypothesis on my location. (Examine)
- Analyzing my data, I begin to realize that I am somewhat familiar with the surroundings. About 25 years ago, I remember that I climbed Blanca Peak, a 14,000 Feet (4267.2 meters) peak at my 11:00 o’clock as I face south.
- I can now act on my knowledge to find my way to the nearest town in this valley. Where am I? I am at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, United States.
Geography asks us to consider all our surroundings and to recognize how we humans interact with our environments. It asks us to consider place and what makes place important to us. Here are some other questions we ask through geography:
“What is? or Which is?
“What has changed?” “Since when”?
“How has it changed?”
“Which spatial patterns exist?”
Here are some other geography “tid-bits.”
- Did you know that Geography is considered the “Mother of Sciences”? Geography’s study field embraced the entire universe and later bore many children, among them astronomy, botany, geology, and anthropology.
- Did you know that Climatology is the study of how climates are created and what they do the environment? Climatology is a long-term study of the geographic world.
- Did you know that Human Ecology, the study of humans in their environments, is a unique field of Geography? This form of geographic inquiry aims to clarify the relationships between natural environments and varying activities of humans.
- Did you know that geography explores human systems, which include culture, economics, migration, and politics?
- Did you know that geography explores physical systems such as land forms, climate, and rivers?
Geography is wonderful! Some people think that technology, such as map programs, will do away with maps and atlases. I hope not. The joy of exploring the world through maps remains a great excitement for those of us who grew up with maps.
If you would like to hear geography linked with music, listen to High Plains Public Radio, online at hppr.org. Silver Rails: Music of the World in the Folk Tradition airs Saturday, November 9, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Central Time. Lynn Boitano and I will be your host for music, geography trivia call-in, and lots of geography information. We will be celebrating Geography Awareness!
Thank you for reading!