Educator Spotlight: Cultivating Geographic Curiosity

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Charles Dabritz, this week’s Educator of the Week and a 2013 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, inspires students to ask questions and follow their curiosity. His students don’t only read and interpret maps. They also make inferences about why the places represented are the way they are. Charles is a library media specialist at Lyman C. Hunt Middle School in Burlington, Vermont. 

Grosvenor Teacher Fellows Matt Eddy (left) and author Charles Dabritz traveled to Iceland in 2013.Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins
Grosvenor Teacher Fellows Matt Eddy (left) and Charles Dabritz traveled to Iceland in 2013.
Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins

Grade Level: 6-8 

Time Commitment: 1-2 hours

Why There? Why Care?

To get students thinking about what geographers really do, we taught them the definition of geography coined by Charles F. Gritzner. He explained geography as the study of “what is where, why there, and why care?”

We also talked about some tools that geographers might use, such as a geographic information system (GIS). We had previously created data layers with maps using overhead projector sheets, and I explained that GIS is basically a digital version of similar data layers.

I taught the students to use National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive by sharing a sample map that showed my journey to Iceland as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. As a full class, we practiced adding layers to maps to explore how and why elements such as precipitation may differ in different locations.

The students then worked in partners to ask “what is where, why there, and why care?” in relation to volcanoes, earthquakes, and tectonic plates.

Finally—and most importantly—I let the students use their own curiosity to investigate any type of information that they wanted to. For example, some students compared lights at night with population density and were able to observe patterns as well as outliers.

Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in thought process, behavior, or perspective?

Students learned to use their own questions to investigate the world. They started to understand how different systems (human and natural) interact. They then began to ask questions about the data they collected. Students began to see, for example, relationships between human activity and environmental impact.

Are there specific teaching methods or technologies you use to help students connect with the outside world?

Once a month, I try to have a webinar or “connect with an expert” class. For example, we did a video chat with a woman from the Cleveland Museum of Art around Halloween. They were hosting a program with a scary Halloween theme and she was able to bring that to our Vermont school.

What has been one of your most memorable “teachable moments”?

When I did my student teaching, I remember telling my mentor teacher how much I had been learning from a student named George. I was a little bashful that I had accepted advice from a 12-year-old on how to teach a concept differently, but my mentor teacher validated that impulse. He said, “If you’re going to be a middle school teacher, you have to be able to learn from middle schoolers. Honor what they have to say. Treat them like they are people.”

green nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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