November 14, 2016

#GeoWeek – Celebrate Geography Awareness Week

Posted by Laura Guertin

Each year, during the third week of November, students, educators, and citizens nationwide celebrate Geography Awareness Week. Why have an entire week dedicated to geography? Below is the mission and history of Geography Awareness Week, as described by National Geographic Society, and see if you agree that there is a need and value to doing a better job addressing geography with our students:

Too many young Americans are unable to make effective decisions, understand geo-spatial issues, or even recognize their impacts as global citizens. National Geographic created Geography Awareness Week to raise awareness to this dangerous deficiency in American education and excite people about geography as both a discipline and as a part of everyday life.

Each year more than 100,000 Americans actively participate in Geography Awareness Week (GeoWeek). Established by presidential proclamation more than 25 years ago, this annual public awareness program organized by National Geographic Education Programs (NGEP) encourages citizens young and old to think and learn about the significance of place and how we affect and are affected by it. Each third week of November, students, families and community members focus on the importance of geography by hosting events; using lessons, games, and challenges in the classroom; and often meeting with policymakers and business leaders as part of that year’s activities. Geography Awareness Week is supported by year-long access to materials and resources for teachers, parents, community activists and all geographically minded global citizens.

National Geographic also addresses the “need” for GeoWeek and how it helps:

Unfortunately, geography is neither widely taught nor well-taught in our schools today. Social sciences as a whole have been de-emphasized in schools in the last decade. Within the subject of geography, there is a disproportionate focus on dates, events and individuals, while little to no attention is paid to the functioning of human-environment systems or geographic reasoning. In fact, the United States lags behind the rest of the world in both the quality and quantity of every aspect of geography education.

GeoWeek hopes to not only raise awareness of this deficiency and attempt to reverse the trend in schools but to provide materials to support better geography education in the United States… GeoWeek is also an opportunity to bring attention to the need for educational policies that will increase geographic literacy.

For those of us that teach Earth Science courses and not courses with a “Geography” course code, we can all agree the importance of geoliteracy, which National Geographic defines as “the ability to use geographic understanding and geographic reasoning to make far-reaching decisions (the three components of interactions, interconnections and implications). View this video below and check out the National Geographic What is Geo-Literacy? webpage to learn more (the webpage also has a copy of the video available for download, if it does not successfully appear and play here).

There are many ways to get involved! The National Geographic GAW website has suggestions for utilizing social media, for writing a letter to the editor, for hosting a geography quiz night, for issuing a Proclamation for GAW, and more. My own campus library created a book display with geography-themed books and issued a GAW Proclamation, and my students generated their own GAW PSA’s and social media postings that they shared with K-12 teachers to help them celebrate the week. It’s easy, it’s fun – and most of all, it is important to recognize the importance of geography.

If you are on Twitter, you may want to check out the #GAWchat that the American Association of Geographers (AAG) is hosting on Thursday, November 17, 2016, from 3-4 PM (ET). Follow the hashtag and follow @theAAG on Twitter. Note that you don’t need a Twitter account to follow the chat or to see what AAG is tweeting about.

Each year, Geography Awareness Week has a different theme. For 2016, the theme is “Explore the Power of Parks.” Here is a listing of the recent annual themes, although everyone is encouraged to celebrate GeoWeek in their own way and is not required to tap in to the theme:

  • 2016 – Explore the Power of Parks
  • 2015 – Explore the Power of Maps
  • 2014 – The Future of Food
  • 2013 – The New Age of Exploration
  • 2012 – Declare Your Interdependence
  • 2011 – The Adventure in Your Community
  • 2010 – Freshwater

Below is an interesting op-ed from AAG on a suggested future theme. I wonder if I asked my students this week to suggest future themes for GAW what they would come up with…

Feel free to share below how you and/or your students are celebrating Geography Awareness Week!