As a key sponsor of the Cabrillo Urban Island BioBlitz in San Diego, the CGA helped bring 250 High Tech High elementary school children to the park for a 24-hour BioBlitz on May 21st. This very successful event was organized in coordination with National Geographic, the National Parks Service and 119 other participating parks across the United States.
Kids had a wonderful time at the event. There were 68 exhibitors set up at the BioBlitz headquarters, offering an array of hands-on activities for kids. At the CGA exhibit, children had the opportunity to go on a BioBlitz scavenger hunt to help them with their map reading skills. Thanks to our SDSU Department of Geography cartographer, Harry Johnson, visitors were also able to examine an amazing air photograph and topographical map of Cabrillo National Park.
Participants in the Cabrillo BioBlitz collected an incredible array of species observations. In fact, over the park’s 166 acres, citizen scientists logged 1,551 observations of 405 different species. This placed the Cabrillo BioBlitz as #3 in the nation for iNaturalist BioBlitz observations!
On April 12th the CGA co-hosted a BioBlitz on the Sacramento Capitol grounds with 240 elementary school children from Bowling Green Elementary School. At this event, educators, naturalists, and students came together to learn about, and celebrate biodiversity in one of California’s most recognizable urban parks. The CGA collaborated with the Education and the Environment Initiative of CalRecyle to organize this hugely successful day. We all had a wonderful time, and students came to appreciate the importance of geographic, environmental, and outdoor education.
A BioBlitz is an intensive study of biodiversity carried out in a specific area over the course of a day. At our event, students from 3rd through 6th grade at Bowling Green Elementary observed and documented as many plants, birds, insects, mammals, fungi, and other organisms as possible. This gave them a great opportunity to become citizen scientists in their own backyard. They learned how scientists collect observational data, explored the diversity of life that exists even in an urban environment, and came to appreciate how humans influence biodiversity. Experienced naturalists were also on hand to help students identify local plants and animals. Additionally, the event hosted information booths on biodiversity, agriculture, recycling.
The Capitol Park BioBlitz is one of over 150 BioBlitz events being held around the country this year as part of a National Geographic Initiative marking the National Park Service Centennial. The California Geographic Alliance has joined with a wide range of partners in the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition to support over 25 BioBlitzes in California parks and schoolyards.
“Outdoor learning is an incredible opportunity available to any student,” said Tom Herman, Director of the California Geographic Alliance. “Geography education is about connecting students to the world and helping them understand their place in it, and engage in a meaningful way. Examining what is happening right outside your home or school is a great place to start, and biodiversity is an important issue.”
Good news: This week is Geography Awareness Week! Why do we need Geography Awareness Week? Because in order to become well-informed global citizens, American students need geography education. As the world becomes more interconnected through globalization, geography education can help us make sense of rapid global change. This is essential, particularly in light of political and military interventions abroad. For instance, when Russia moved into the Crimea in March 2014, a survey revealed that only 1 out of 6 Americans could locate Ukraine on a map. The further Americans believed Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they supported US military intervention (Washington Post, 2014). This is a problem.
Geography as a discipline has changed substantially over the last several decades. We do a lot more than maps! In our department at San Diego State University, our research spans the social and physical sciences. We study everything from vegetation, climate, hydrology, and soils to urbanization, migration, sustainability, and globalization. Many also specialize in Geographic Information Science (GIS) to develop applied solutions for real world problems.
For this year’s Geography Awareness Week, the theme is ‘The Future of Food’. By exploring the geographies of food, we gain a better sense of how the food we eat is part of a global commodity chain linking people, places and environments around the world.
The California Geographic Alliance, along with National Geographic, invite students, teachers, and community members to participate in GeoWeek 2014. GeoWeek is an opportunity to learn more about geography, while drawing attention to the need for policies to improve American students’ access to geography education. Get started by going to GeographyAwarenessWeek.org, where you can discover ways to participate in GeoWeek and find ideas and free resources to organize your own GeoWeek celebration.
Celebrate GeoWeek and spread the word about the importance of geography education!
How OLP students, in partnership with the California Geographic Alliance, became global citizens
By Laura Rodriguez and Katie Turner
As 10th grade English teachers at the all girls high school, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (OLP) in San Diego, this year’s World Literature class was an exciting new venture in education for us. Our core curriculum-aligned, backward design gave us an opportunity to think about the overall course, including what texts we could use and what skills we needed our students to develop. More central and critical questions then arose: what learning acquisition do we really want our students to achieve from literature around the world? What do we want our students to know about themselves and their own abilities? With these guiding and essential questions, we were able to design a very unique set of learning opportunities in project-based learning, edu-tech applications, and, most profoundly, the cross-curricular integration of geo-literacy. In earlier newsletters, the CGA has already described aspects of our collaboration in more detail. In this issue, we will speak more directly to our curriculum design.
We designed our World Literature curriculum around the idea of ‘the hero’ and ‘the journey.’ Our fall semester was dedicated to the antihero (Fahrenheit 451), the tragic hero (Oedipus Rex), the romantic hero (Arthurian quest narratives and the epic medium), and the hero as pilgrim (Dante’s Inferno). While it established credibility in a traditional approach to world literature, it incidentally laid groundwork for the second semester: the female hero and her journey in global literature.
During our spring semester, our students read and viewed texts and films about the rise of the modern woman in society (A Doll’s House, Norway), the struggles of gender traditions and expectations in a 20th Century setting (Nervous Conditions, Zimbabwe), and the role of strict political and fundamentalist religion on these expectations (Persepolis, Iran and Water, India). In doing so, we prepared them for what they would learn, in a project-based context, emphasizing geo-literacy.
Using Social Media
One of the most innovative ways in which our students expanded their study of the female hero in literature was through the integration of Pinterest as a learning tool. Students chose symbolic and metaphorical images to pin on their boards, simultaneously utilizing text to foster innovative approaches to interpretation, composition, and critical thinking. The two ongoing Pinterest assignments included the creation of a superhero board and a country board.
For their Pinterest country board, each student was given one country to follow for the entire semester. We assigned most students to the 50 poorest countries in the world (cross-referenced by the countries with the most egregious disparities in female literacy rates), with the objective of motivating their deeper understanding of a real place with real people. What they discovered was that heroes exist almost everywhere we look! For example, a student assigned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo became interested in the DRC’s history. She independently researched Leopold’s rule, the consequences of Lumumba’s death, and the ripple effect created by Mobutu’s dictatorship. She then began to use the work of journalists like Nicholas Kristof to learn about the humanitarian efforts made in the DRC today. She, just one of 120 sophomores, independently developed an intrinsically motivated inquiry about the past wrongs and the present efforts to bring education, human rights, and peace to that region.
Another example of self-motivated discovery came from a student who lives in Mexico and travels to OLP across the international border every day. She was assigned a country in Central Asia about which she knew nothing. She was initially apprehensive because she bears daily witness to poverty and a lack of services in her own city of Tijuana – why study a faraway place when the problem confronts you everyday? Through her own determination and curiosity, she developed a relationship with a distant culture, language, and set of beliefs only to better understandthe complexity of issues in her own hometown. Teenagers often feel helpless when confronted by global problems, but this geo-literacy project gave them a sense of independent choice that ultimately led to activism in San Diego and Northern Baja; a deeper understanding of Kyrgyzstan offered the tools she needs to understand her community and culture.
For their superhero board on Pinterest, each student developed an alter ego who is not limited to this place or time. Throughout the semester the development of personal superheroes allowed for very flexible and expandable learning modalities. For example, one week we engaged in a discussion about gender-based wage disparity that peaked their interest in the number of women currently holding leadership positions around the world; inspired by the conversation in class, the girls went home, researched current statistics, and added findings to their country boards based on the types of justice issues they care about most. The culmination of this superhero “alter ego” became a collaborative music video project in which students combined the traits of their own superheroes into a 21st Century woman.
Beyond the Classroom
We were awarded a very unique opportunity this year when the California Geographic Alliance chose OLP as a model for geo-literacy in the English classroom. In sending our 10th grade Pilots on an historical, political, geographic, and personal journey through the study of language and literature, our students learned so much about how their lives are integrally connected to the lives of girls around the world. Beyond this, our students were presented with an opportunity to experience a college-level conference, watch a CGA-sponsored screening of Girl Rising, andlisten to and engage with three exciting guest speakers. Along with this symposium, the CGA sponsored an essay contest among the World Literature students, the results of which were published in last month’s newsletter.
This was an amazing and collaborative experience for us as teachers, and we ultimately we attained the goals we built into the 10th grade curriculum; we observed our students become creative, independent, critical thinkers and writers, while analyzing texts that challenge them with real world situations and issues. By expanding our curriculum to include a focus on specific geographical issues, students were able to complement literary texts with real world knowledge on important social and political issues. In doing so, our students have been truly inspired to strive for change. Or in the words of essay winner, Mariana Fernandez, they are inspired to “create commotion,” or small ripples of change as they work to make the world a better place.
As a follow up to last month’s newsletter, we’re very pleased to share the award-winning student essay written by Mariana Fernandez, a sophomore in the World Literature program at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace in San Diego. The prompt for Mariana’s essay was: How does our study of girls around the world help us better understand the true meaning of the word hero? Next month, teachers Katie Turner and Laura Rodriguez will share their World Literature curriculum and describe how they incorporated geo-literacy into their classrooms. Congratulations again to Mariana Fernandez for her inspiring essay!
Change the World Literature
by Mariana Fernandez
On the first day of sophomore year, I walked into my World Literature classroom with the mindset of a girl who just wanted an A in the class in order to have a solid application for college. I came in and mentally prepared myself for the mindless note taking and quizzes about plot and character that I would probably have to endure. I sat down and looked up at the front of the room as I slumped in my seat. Right there, in the middle of the whiteboard, were the words “change the world literature”. Back then, I had no clue that those words were true and that I would walk out of the classroom with a completely different perspective about the world. I did not realize that this would be one of the classes I can say changed my life. This year, I am leaving World Literature as a girl who will do all she can to change the world.
Throughout the year, I was taught to understand different characters, from around the world that came to life for me as a result of each author’s harmonious placement of words on paper. I was also given an opportunity to use that knowledge and understanding of heroic characters to develop my own idea of a hero, who I named Anna. To summarize, I was given the opportunity to actually use the things I learned in class in order to form the girl who will walk out of my high school in two years, ready to change the world.
If I had to choose a few characters who, through literature, changed my perspective about the world, they would include Guy Montag, created by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, Liesel Meminger, given life by Marcus Zusak in The Book Thief, and Marji, formed from personal memory by Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis: The Story of A Childhood. Montag lives in an American dystopian society that is opposed to any sort of intellect; Liesel is a girl living in Nazi Germany, a time when certain books were banned and questioning the Nazi’s methods was dangerous; Marji lives in Iran, during the time of the Islamic Revolution. Similar to Montag and Liesel, Marji’s curiosity and will to learn is suppressed by seemingly irrepressible forces. When placed apart these are just ordinary heroes who can only teach a girl like me so much. In other words, I can discover as much by just focussing on one of these heroes as I would if I tried to learn about World War II using only my country’s perspective. However, when I place them together, I am able to gain a real understanding of what it actually means to be a hero. I understood this definition of heroism when I took a step back and looked at the big picture: three characters who come from completely different parts of the world become heroes against all social, political, and cultural odds. These characters have different cultures, which makes them approach their challenges differently, but the fact that three different paths lead to the same destination, shows that a certain language or the color of one’s skin isn’t what makes someone a hero. A person becomes a hero because of the courage she has to take a step onto the rocky path that leads to change.
One of the biggest struggles shared by each hero is finding her voice amongst a society that is constantly trying to quiet her. They have trouble accepting that no one is going to speak up and say that what their society is doing is wrong. However, in the end all of these ordinary people somehow find the courage they need to act out against injustices. In The Book Thief, Liesel has “twenty seconds of insane courage” as Benjamin Mee said in We Bought a Zoo, directed by Cameron Crowe. She literally crosses her own threshold and grabs a book from the fiery flames of a famous Nazi book burning, in order to learn to read. In Persepolis, Marji also musters up this same courage when she raises her hand in class to contradict the unfair teacher, and fundamentalist practices as a whole. She stands out among the other students who simply agree with the status quo, like mindless drones who fear thinking a single independent thought (Satrapi 144). In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag does not have super strength, or any other superpower like Superman. Instead, he is an average person who chooses to become an outlaw instead of living in a place where education is banned. I admire the courage he must have in order to do what is right, even when he knows that the consequences will be horrible.
All of these characters change the common definition of the word hero. They are not magical beings with preposterous powers; none of their actions result in a huge revolution; but, in my opinion, what makes them heroes is the fact that they have that insane courage to question what they are led to believe and to take leaps of faith. This new idea about what it means to be a hero inspired the creation of Anna, my own hero, who I developed throughout the semester as a class Pinterest project on geo-literacy.
Anna is the result of every character, every conflict, every idea (even every homework assignment!) I encountered during World Literature. She is the person who I hope I will become in the future. Anna is a girl who is not afraid to speak out against injustices that occur in her society. Injustices such as bullying occur all around her. Of course, stopping the bullies would mean that Anna may not be “popular” or well-liked. However she does not fear the persecution that will follow her attempts to be true to herself and true to her beliefs. The fact that she doesn’t care about the consequences of choosing what is just over what is wrong is what makes her a superhero and motivates me to become a hero in my own society. In a letter written to high schoolers just like me, e.e. cummings once said, “to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” My superhero alter ego may not have saved a million lives yet, but she is a hero because she has the courage to be herself.
After learning about Marji in Iran, Montag from a dystopian future in the United States, and Liesel in Nazi Germany, it is now my turn to adapt their courage and bring Anna to life. I used to think that changing the world meant creating a huge revolution that completely erases the current structure, much like the systems that try to stop people like Marji, Montag, and Liesel from growing. I now know that all I need to do to change the world is create a tiny ripple that will change at least one life. This tiny change causes people to question the rules and realize when there is something wrong. Basically, in order to be a hero, I must find the courage to create commotion. This commotion will probably result in people being perplexed that I dared to question the “norm”, because after commotion, people try to fix things and go back to “normal” life. My commotion will help them realize there are things that need fixing for the better. The heroes I met, not only from Germany or Iran, but from Nepal, India, Peru, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan as well, cause a commotion in me which inspires me to create waves. I have decided to create commotion, and though I may not be the one who changes the whole world, I will be a part of those who inspire this change.
Your new CGA leadership team has been working hard to build exciting and innovative collaborations to help promote geography education in California’s schools. We recently had an opportunity to collaborate with the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (OLP), a high school that has been teaching girls in San Diego since 1882. Working with English teachers Katie Turner and Laura Rodriguez, we helped develop an exciting sophomore World Literature curriculum that focused on geo-literacy and girls’ global education and empowerment.
Today I’m going to give an overview of this collaboration. In next month’s newsletter, you’ll hear from one of the school’s World Literature students as she gives her thoughts on how the curriculum fostered her desire to change the world for the better! The following month, we’ll hear from teachers Katie and Laura as they describe their World Literature curriculum in more detail. We hope their curriculum might serve as a model for how to incorporate geography education into the classroom in engaging ways.
World literature, states Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is “the one great heart that beats for the cares and misfortunes of our world, even though each corner sees and experiences them in a different way.” This quote, taken from the OLP World Literature syllabus, captures a major goal of the curriculum – to help girls step outside of their comfort zones in order to help them understand global social and environmental issues through a different lens. The books they read and the films they watched spanned Norway (Ibsen’s A Doll’s House), Zimbabwe (Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions), Iran (Satrapi’s Persepoli), India (Mehta’s Water), and New Zealand (Caro’s Whale Rider). Each student in the class was also assigned a country to profile. Their task was to explore national level geography, culture, politics, and economics in order to explore factors affecting women’s and girls’ literacy levels in each of their assigned countries.
To help further their understanding of girls’ struggles around the world, the CGA purchased and screened the film Girl Rising. This film shares girls’ struggles through powerful story telling. By focusing on stories from Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Peru, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, it demonstrates how educating girls can have formidable impacts across families, communities, nations, and the world (http://girlrising.com/).
We then helped bring three keynote speakers to create a speaker symposium for the 120 girls enrolled in the World Literature program. All of the speakers were invited to share their own personal journeys, as well as their work. The first speaker was yours truly. I shared my story on how I became a geographer, and also spoke about some of my work with migrant youth. We then invited Kenton Hundley, an award-winning spoken word poet, who works at a safe house for unaccompanied minors. Kenton blew the girls away by sharing his powerful poetry about the Latin American youth who risk their lives to journey to America. Our final speaker was Professor Doreen Mattingly an outstanding geographer and feminist scholar who is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. Professor Mattingly’s words inspired the girls to pursue their goals and strive to make the world a better place.
Finally, we sponsored a geo-literacy essay contest. The prompt was: How does our study of girls around the world help us better understand the true meaning of the world hero? There were many excellent essays (we had 7 honorable mentions!), demonstrating the power of this curriculum to inspire. The winning essay, written by Mariana Fernandez, will be featured in next month’s newsletter. We presented the award to Mariana at a large sophomore awards ceremony attended by students, parents and teachers. Congratulations, Mariana! I hope you all enjoy her excellent essay next month.
For teachers out there who are incorporating geography into their classrooms in innovative ways, we encourage you to get in touch with us. We hope to profile the work of other teachers on our website (www.calgeography.sdsu.edu) and in this newsletter. By doing so, we can help spread geo-literacy around the state!