Monday, December 10, 2012

Time for Geography

Clipart Of, LLC, used by license
As the holidays and the end of the calendar year rapidly approach, so also does our best chance of furthering the cause of geography education in Massachusetts. As explained in more detail below, after years of work on this effort, further progress at this point is dependent on action within the House Committee on Ways & Means. It is appropriate for any Massachusetts resident to contact committee leaders Dempsey, Kulik, or Walz. It is also appropriate for supporters of geography to discuss the bill with individual members if they happen to reside in their district (see list).

The bipartisan bill for geography education that was submitted by Senator Brewer and Representative Smola (an actual geographer in the legislature) passed the Joint Committee on Education (that is, both houses) and the Senate Committee on Ways & Means (which rightly determined that the bill has no economic implications).

As many readers of this blog know, the original bill suggested by the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance would have imposed a number of statewide changes in geography frameworks and licensure. During the legislative process, MGA worked with the bill sponsors to craft a more modest approach that would simply call for the creation of a Commission on Geography Education.

The bill language is on the MGA site (under its earlier number, S2194) and on the Massachusetts Senate page under the revised number 2361. The Senate site includes a complete history of the bill's passage through various committees, with links to the membership of each committee.

The bill did not make the deadline for an up-or-down vote during the formal session last summer. If no legislators object, it can still be passed. It currently awaits a recommendation from the House Committee on Ways & Means, where a budget committee is studying its potential impact. Vernon Domingo and James Hayes-Bohanan will be visiting members of the committee and the bill's sponsors in a last-minute effort to get the bill to a vote. Calls to the offices of legislators throughout the state -- and in particular to members of this committee -- would provide welcome support for this effort.

This bill is the culmination of more than a decade of work, much of it in the Department of Education. If the bill passes, we will then be able to have a serious discussion about the teaching of geography and the preparation of geography teachers in the Commonwealth. If the bill fails, it may be another decade before the discussion takes place.

Apt gear worn by an EarthView participant at
North Andover Middle School.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What about organizing a Family Geography Night at your school? This is very effective way to get the focus on geography, to get some community involvement, and to let people know about the good work taking place in your school. 
Robert Poirier a geography teacher in North Andover and a board member of the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance has presented very successful Family Geography Nights in his school. These have been held on a week night, 5:30-7:30 and they have attracted hundreds of attendees  - students, parents, and community members. Robert has now published a how-to-book. The attractive and informative 32 page booklet contains helpful details such as finding volunteers, setting up geography activities in different classrooms, and publicizing the event.
The book is now available for sale ($20). Contact Robert Poirier at to buy one.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In July, members of each of the six New England state geography alliances met in Chicopee, Massachusetts in a leadership institute with much planning and discussion of how we can ensure that geography education and the Alliances continue to grow and become sustainable in our region. It was very productive and reassuring institute, spanning generations - geography education is alive and well in New England and we have strong leadership to take it forward.
Here is a photo of attendees with the EarthView, a 20ft inflatable globe, a veritable geography classroom - 24 students can go inside at a time and learn about planet Earth. EarthView is based at Bridgewater State University.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

SB 182 Redraft

The legislation introduced by Sen. Brewer (D-Barre) and Rep. Smola (R-Palmer) has been reported favorably from the Joint Committee on Education. Thanks to the many members of the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance and other advocates of geography who have brought us to the point.

Over the course of the winter, the bill was modified (in consultation with the sponsors) so that its main impact would be the creation of a formal Commission to study the status of geographic education in the Commonwealth. The bill is currently being reviewed in the Ways and Means Committee, and we expect it to be debated in both houses soon.

An Act relative to geography education in Massachusetts.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1.  Section 1G of Chapter 15 of the Massachusetts General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 official addition, is hereby amended in striking out the seventh paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:-
“The council on global education shall include the directors of each of the bay state centers for global education and a representative from the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance.”

SECTION 2. (a)  There is hereby established a commission on geography education, to consist of 8 members: a member of the council on global education, to be appointed by the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, who shall serve as chair; a representative from the department of elementary and secondary education to be appointed by the commissioner of elementary and secondary education; 2 members to be appointed by the secretary of labor and workforce development, 1 of whom shall be a representative of the alternative energy industry and 1 of whom shall be a representative of the geo-technology industry; and 4 members to be appointed by the Governor: 1 of whom shall be a public university professor or administrator in the Commonwealth to be selected from a group of 3 nominees submitted by the New England and St. Lawrence Valley Geographical Society, 1 of whom shall be a teacher with expertise in geography education to be selected from a list of three nominees submitted by the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, 1 of whom shall be a teacher with expertise in geography education to be selected from a list of three nominees submitted by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and 1 of whom shall be a representative from the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance to be selected from a group of 3 nominees to be submitted by the executive committee of the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance.

(b)  The commission shall be convened by the chair not later than 60 days after the effective date of this act whether or not all of the designees have been appointed.

(c)  The commission shall make an investigation and study of the status of geography education including, but not limited to:
1) an assessment of the status of geography education from kindergarten through grade 12 in the Massachusetts history and social science frameworks; (2) an investigation of the status of programs that promote geography education and whether the curriculum frameworks and overall educational goals of the commonwealth could be cost-effectively enhanced through cooperation among public educational entities and those programs; (3) an assessment of best practices in geography education in the United States, including the national geography standards, that could serve as models for improving geography education in the Commonwealth; and (4) any other matters that the commission considers relevant to the fulfillment of its mission and purpose. 
(d)  The Massachusetts Geographic Alliance, under the oversight of the commission co-chairs, shall provide staff and other resources as the commission considers appropriate. The commission shall report to the general court the results of its investigation and study and its recommendations, if any, together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry out such recommendations, by filing the same with the clerks of the senate and the house and who shall forward the same to the chairs of the joint committee on education and the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means not later than December 31, 2012.

SECTION 3.  The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the first week of April as Massachusetts Geography Education week.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Clean Food Clean Water

The Southeast Massachusetts Geographic Network (SEMAGNET) hosts a Geography Fair at Bridgewater State University each autumn, and in recent years has designed a t-shirt related to the theme established by National Geographic for each year's event. Among the most popular of these shirts has been the 2010 shirt about the importance of Clean Water.

BSU geography professor Dr. Sandra Clark was sporting the shirt this week as a participant in the university's first Sustainability Chef Cook-off. (Congratulations to Sandy on her silver-medal finish for a scrumptious asparagus dish.) Leading the judges was Terry Walters, who is the author of Clean Food and Clean Start and champion of local, sustainable food.

Because she was so enthusiastic about the message of the shirt, we found one for her in the MGA vault. She proudly wore it the very next day at Urban Oaks Farm in New Britain, Connecticut. Thanks to Terry for support of sustainable food and geographic education.

Monday, March 26, 2012

GeoSpatial Magic

It looks like magic, but it is really geography!

Thanks to Penn State Geospatial Revolution Project for tying it all together. We've been working toward this for a few thousand years.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Geography Coach

From George Mason University in Virginia comes an encouraging and inspiring story of a partnership to promote geography literacy. Basketball Coach Jim Larranga was already incorporating geography in his middle-school summer camps when Geography Department Chair Allen Falconer worked with him to develop the Mason World Ball. Both educators agree that geography literacy is important, and that it can be made fun.

They worked with National Geographic and ESRI to produce globes that are also regulation basketballs. This creativity is part of a renaissance in geography at George Mason.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jane Goodall, Geographer

Several members of the Massachusetts Geographic Alliance were delighted to be in attendance at the 2010 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, when Dr. Jane Goodall was the inaugural recipient of the AAG's Atlas Award. In the video below, AAG Executive Director Bill Richardson explains why she was selected to be the first recipient of this, our most prestigious award. More importantly, the video includes Dr. Goodall's delightful acceptance speech, which she begins with a chimpanzee greeting.

As Dr. Richardson mentions, the Gombe Reserve in Tanzania is a fascinating place where geographers are now working with the Goodall Institute to better understand human-environment interactions and to protect both human livelihoods and natural environments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Geography Education: The Video

The widely-acclaimed Family Geography Night at North Andover Middle School was the venue for this brief video that encourages Massachusetts residents to speak up for geography education!