UNA RECEIVES NATIONOAL GEOGRAPHIC GRANT, HOSTS STATE GEOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE
June 9, 2008
By Eric Hanback
UNA Student Writer
FLORENCE, Ala. — The University of North Alabama’s geography department and the Alabama Geographic Alliance are hosting a four-day institute this week aimed at promoting the inclusion of geography lessons in K-12 classrooms.
The event is sponsored by a $35,000 grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation and is taking place in Wesleyan Hall and the Florence area.
“We’re pleased to have received this grant, and we’re pleased to have the number we have of teachers attending,” said Dr. Bill Strong, chair of the geography department and coordinator of the Alabama Geographic Alliance. “We look forward to disseminating more geographic lessons and techniques through the teachers and the faculty.”
Twenty-three teachers from Alabama are participating in the conference, which is taking place June 8-12.
“This is the first one we’ve had in five years,” said Pamela Bishop, geography department academic secretary. “It really benefits the state teachers.”
“We teach them how to ask geographic questions,” Strong said, “how to analyze and report information in a geographic context, especially with the use of maps.”
The most important function of the institute and a requirement of the participants is to spread the importance of geography, Strong said.
“They have to take the information back to their schools,” Bishop said.
Bishop said the workshop is offered to anyone who wants to participate but is mostly geared toward social science teachers.
“Typically, most people come from out of town,” Strong said. “Not to say we don’t have any from inside the city, but we do advertise statewide.”
Special guest presenters at the event include Dr. Mark Bockenhauer, former president of the National Council for Geographic Education, Allison Newton, a UNA graduate and liaison between the National Geographic Society and Alabama and other states, Fred Walk, teacher consultant, and Bo Garret, former intern at National Geographic Society and Birmingham teacher.
The institute will include presentations, classroom work, hands-on activities and ready-made lessons. There will also be a field trip June 11 to teach them how to read cities using their “geographic eye.”
“The easiest and closest one to do is to learn how to read the urban area of Florence,” Strong said. “We’ve got some great eye candy. We’ve got such great history here. You can see the interplay of history and geography by observing the landscape, speculating about its usage past and present, analyzing the situation and evaluating its significance using the geographic context.”
Strong said the skills that will be taught at the institute can be used anywhere.
“Reading a landscape is like reading a book,” Strong said. “It deals with where things are, why they’re there and what difference does it make.”
Strong said another fascinating aspect of learning how to analyze geography is that it isn’t strictly rooted to the past or the present.
“You can predict what it might look like in the future,” he said.