“Geography is for life in every sense of that expression: lifelong, life-sustaining, and life-enhancing.”

National Geographic Standards
Photograph courtesy Bridgewater State University/Ashley Costa

“The world facing the high school graduates of 2025 will be even more crowded than the world of today. The physical environment will be even more threatened. The global economy will be even more competitive and interconnected.

Understanding and responding to the challenges and opportunities of the world in the twenty-first century will require many skills; the capacities to think and communicate mathematically and scientifically will remain at a premium. Geographic literacy will also be necessary for reasons of enhancing economic competitiveness, preserving quality of life, sustaining the environment, and ensuring national security. As individuals and as members of society, humans face decisions on where to live, what to build where, how and where to travel, how to conserve energy, how to wisely manage scarce resources, and how to cooperate or compete with others.

Making all of these decisions, personal and collective, requires a geographically informed person—someone who sees meaning in the arrangement of things on Earth’s surface, who sees relations between people, places, and environments, who uses geographic skills, and who applies spatial and ecological perspectives to life situations. Geographic skills enable a person to understand the connections between patterns of rivers and the physical processes that create them, between patterns of cities and the human processes that create them, and between what happens in the places in which we live and what happens in places throughout the world, near and far.

The goal of the National Geography Standards is to enable students to become geographically informed through knowledge and mastery of three things: (1) factual knowledge; (2) mental maps and tools; (3) and ways of thinking.”

Geography For Life: National Geography Standards, Second Edition

Standard Description Essential Element

How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information

The World in Spatial Terms

How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context

The World in Spatial Terms

How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface

The World in Spatial Terms

The physical and human characteristics of places

Places and Regions

That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity

Places and Regions

How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

Places and Regions

The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface

Physical Systems

The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems and biomes on Earth's surface

Physical Systems

The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

Human Systems

The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Human Systems

The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface

Human Systems

The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement

Human Systems

How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface

Human Systems

How human actions modify the physical environment

Environment and Society

How physical systems affect human systems

Environment and Society

The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources

Environment and Society

How to apply geography to interpret the past

The Uses of Geography

How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future

The Uses of Geography


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GENIP Member Organizations

American Geographical Society
Association of American Geographers
National Council for Geographic Education
National Geographic Society

Standards Content Committee

Roger M. Downs, Chair
Sarah Witham Bednarz
Judith K. Bock
Charlie Fitzpatrick
Paul T. Gray, Jr.
Susan Gallagher Heffron, Project Manager
Susan E. Hume
Lydia J. Lewis
James F. Marran
Joseph P. Stoltman


Susan Gallagher Heffron
Roger M. Downs

Reviewing Editors

Susan W. Hardwick
James F. Marran
Audrey M. Mohan
Robert W. Morrill

Content Reviewers

Philip J. Gersmehl, Co-Director of the New York Center for Geographic Learning, Research Professor at Central Michigan University
Carol Harden, University of Tennessee
Susan W. Hardwick, University of Oregon
David Lanegran, Macalester College
Robert W. Morrill, Virginia Tech
Cynthia Pope, Central Connecticut State University

Learning Sciences
Richard Duschl, The Pennsylvania State University
Roy Pea, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Tony Petrosino, University of Texas
Joshua Radinsky, University of Illinois-Chicago
David Uttal, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

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Geography Education National Implementation Project Geography Education National Implementation Project