Develop Geographic Literacy

Geographic literacy is interdisciplinary, helps to bridge gaps in understanding, and ignites further curiosity in students.

Photo of Dessie Olson
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Geographic literate students begin to understand the interactions, interconnections, and implications facing people and places.  According to National Geographic,  geographic literacy "is the ability to use geographic understanding and geographic reasoning to make far-reaching decisions." If we want students to exercise their voice in a well reasoned, evidence based, and informed way, we must support students in explicitly developing geographic literacy in conjunction with history and civics.

[Optional] Synthesize a little! What's one take away or insight to leave people with?

It’s not enough for students to just learn about issues facing them and their communities. Students must understand why issues, patterns, and processes exist in the world, which is why geographic literacy is so critical. When students understand better, they are more inspired to exercise their voice and become more civically engaged.


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Photo of Brett Brownell

Hi Dessie, geography is definitely an interesting way for students to become inspired. Check out the post by Moss Pike called Get to know your community! where he describes how he uses L.A.'s geography with students to help learn about their communities. And feel free to update your post if this inspires new thinking!

Photo of Dessie Olson

Thanks, Brett, and kudos to Moss Pike for his great work with students.  That's a fantastic example of what I'm talking about!  Unfortunately, with all the focus on STEM, it seems geography has been compromised in many schools and districts, which I fear has contributed to some of the civic apathy experienced today.  Though STEM has it's place, I'm concerned that if we forget about the significance and attraction of other disciplines, we not only risk turning kids off from school, we risk feeding apathy as well. Of course, we want students to be well balanced, but I often wonder, what if students had more say in determining what course of study to follow in order to graduate from high school?  What if we listened more to what students want to learn about?  How would that impact their depth of learning?

Photo of Moss Pike

Thanks, Dessie Olson — happy to share! I agree that geography is important, and with the proliferation of GIS technologies, I see no reason why we shouldn't be doing more with it in schools. Looking forward to chatting more, especially about the excellent questions you've asked here!