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  • Make a Difference: Geography Awareness Week

    Daniel C. Edelson, Ph.D.

    Executive Director of the Education Foundation and Vice President of Education Programs, National Geographic Society

    Illustration by Mary Crooks

    What is Geo-Literacy?
    Read more about what it means to be geo-literate, and follow the geo-literacy movement in social media: Twitter, ArcNews, and Facebook.

    By Daniel C. Edelson, Ph.D.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Looking for a chance to share your enthusiasm for geography and GIS with your community? Here’s your chance!

    In the United States, the geography education community celebrates Geography Awareness Week in the third week of November. Established by presidential proclamation in 1987, Geography Awareness Week is an opportunity to build awareness of the importance of geography education for our modern world. On Wednesday of that week is GIS Day, which has been celebrated around the world since 1998.

    This year, Geography Awareness Week will be November 13–19. Its theme, “Geography: The Adventure in Your Community,” invites participants to see their communities through a geographic lens, discovering new things about the places where they live.

    Geography Awareness Week has five interconnected components:

      • Activities—Each year, organizers and participants design activities tied to the theme of that year’s Geography Awareness Week that demonstrate the importance of geography. There are activities that can be done by individuals, classes, families, and community groups.

     

      • Events—Throughout the country, individuals and organizations hold events that celebrate geography. Held at schools, workplaces, government offices, shopping malls, and even sporting events, they provide opportunities for people to see geography in action and learn while having fun.

     

      • Media outreach—Geography Awareness Week is an opportunity to get the word out about the importance of geography through the media. In addition to a long-standing partnership with the Newspapers in Education project, the outreach efforts for Geography Awareness Week extend to radio, TV, and digital media organizations.

     

      • Activism—Geography Awareness Week provides an occasion for individuals to show their support for geography education. Many individuals visit or contact their elected officials during Geography Awareness Week to advocate increased attention to geography education.

     

    • Volunteerism—Geography Awareness Week is largely the product of volunteer effort. Volunteers create activities, organize events, mobilize advocates, and reach out to the media.


    It is vitally important that GIS professionals participate in Geography Awareness Week because your work exemplifies the value of geography for society. There are many ways to do so.

    The easiest thing for most of us is to visit a local school, scout troop, or community group and do an activity with them that shows the power of geography. You can find ideas for activities in several places, including online at www.geographyawarenessweek.org, geomentor.org, and gisday.com. All these sites have guides and materials for easy-to-do activities for a variety of settings and age groups.

    If you want to do something a little bigger, every state has Geography Awareness Week coordinators who are looking for volunteers to help them organize events. You can contact them through your state Alliance for Geographic Education, listed at education.nationalgeographic.com/education/program/geography-alliances.

    If communications is your thing, then you should consider doing your own media outreach.

    If you are involved in a GIS project that is an exciting demonstration of technology or is providing benefit to the community, contact your local newspaper or TV and radio news departments to let them know about it and encourage them to do an item as part of Geography Awareness Week coverage. It is also a great time to send a letter to the editor.

    Finally, consider doing some advocacy on behalf of geography education. In many states, educational requirements are being revised, and the emphasis on reading and math is squeezing geography and the subjects that are core to geographic understanding, such as environmental and earth science, out of the curriculum. The voices of professionals are very influential in state and local debates over education policy—particularly those representing a high-tech field like GIS. If you want to know about the issues in your state and how you can help, contact your state Alliance for Geographic Education.

    At the national level, many organizations, including National Geographic and the Association of American Geographers, are advocating federal programs to improve geographic education. In just a couple of minutes, you can send messages to your senators and house representatives through the Speak Up for Geography website
    at speakupforgeography.org. Find out more at education.nationalgeographic.com/education/program/policy-initiative.

    It takes some initiative, but participating in Geography Awareness Week is the kind of activity where you end up feeling like you got back more than you gave.

    If you are not able to do something during Geography Awareness Week, do not despair. You do not have to wait a year for another chance. All the elements of the week can be done at any time of year.

    You can follow Daniel Edelson on Twitter at NatGeoEdelson.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    geo-literacy Noun

    the understanding of human and natural systems, geographic reasoning, and systematic decision-making.

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