Il Geo Conference

This past Saturday I made the trek from the suburbs of Chicago to Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal to attend the 2017 Geography in the 21st Century Conference. I made this 2 hour journey across the cold, flat, farm fields of central Illinois, with my friend and fellow #worldgeochat moderator Chris Heffernan. (@cheffernan75 ) Neither of us had attended this conference before so we didn’t quite know what to expect. Although we found the conference was small in the number of attendees it was big on learning. It checked off the biggest box for a successful conference… walking out with strategies, resources, and ideas you could use in your classroom that next day! All of those new ideas and resources made it definitely worth the 2 hour drive and giving up watching a big slate of college football games.

I attended 4 sessions: “The National Geographic Geo-Inquiry Process”,  “Bringing the World to your Classroom”, “Geographical Thinking in Action” and “Using Historical Maps to Examine Historical Thinking and Geographic Thinking.” I learned something new at all 4 sessions which is always a win! The remainder of this post will recap my big take aways from each session.

The National Geographic Geo-Inquiry Process

This session was delivered by Zack Gilbert (@EdGamer ) and his friend and colleague Mike Jones (@StemNinja ). Zack and Mike gave a dynamic, funny and engaging presentation that focused on the National Geographic Inquiry Process (@NatGeoEducation). You can find out all about this process on the National Geographic Geo Inquiry Process at their website linked here. They shared their own stories of how their students generated questions, refined their questions, researched their answers, examined multiple sides of the issue, shared their learning and finally taking action. Some of the examples they shared pertained to starting an outdoor education program, the effects of local wind farms, funding for state parks and my favorite, why do fish jump along the Illinois River. 

Hooking your students with an engaging story, image, activity, or video is key to generating student interest. My favorite example they shared of how they did this was this video:

I know I couldn’t believe this footage and my mind was racing with questions that I had to find answers to such as: Why are the fish doing this? Was this a one time deal? Is this only 1 type of fish that does this? How frequently does this occur? Does this just happen along the Illinois River? These are just a few. This was a fantastic example of how to get students generating their own inquiry questions.

Two other take aways from their session was that they explained that infographics are a great way to have students share what they learned from their inquiry. They recommended Piktochart as an easy to use website for students to create their own inforgraphics. My last takeawy from their fantastic session was this awesome video “The 4th Second”

If that doesn’t get my students motivated to tackle their upcoming Global Goals project, I don’t know what will! Mike also recommended playing the video 1st with the sound muted and have students make inferences as to what the video was about and its’ message and then play it a second time, with the sound on, to increase engagement even more as students then will want to see if their inferences were correct.

Bringing the World to Your Classroom

This session was delivered by 6th grade social studies teacher Mike Middleton ( ). I can tell you I want to be in Mike’s class because they are doing awesome stuff it seems every day! He is connecting his class with classrooms across the globe. His favorite strategy is Mystery Skype. He shared the roles he assigns his students to perform during the Mystery Skype such as greeter, mapper, think tank (create questions for the questioner and approve answers for the responder), runner, questioner, tracker (Records all questions asked and answers received), responder, photographer, and Tweeter. If you are looking for more role information Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp ) has an excellent post “Mystery Skype Jobs Created by My Students”. Mike also shared possible questions your students could ask such as: Are you in the ____ time zone? Do you have snowy winters? Does your state border any major body of water? and Does your state have any cities with a population greater than 1 million people?

In addition to Mystery Skype, Mike recommended using Skype or Google Hangouts for virtual book clubs, collaborative projects, bringing in guest speakers, and collaborative professional development. He highlighted virtual field trips with Learn Around the World (@learnATW ) Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants, SeaTrek.TV, and National Geographic Explorer Classroom. My favorite example of how Mike has connected his classroom was the Global Monster Project. This project had his students collaborating with students from across the globe to assemble a monster. What is even scarier than the monster is that your students will have to learn the metric system! 

Geographic Thinking in Action

This session was facilitated by Professor Judy Bee and Professor Amy Wilkinson. They highlighted all the amazing resources that the Library of Congress (@librarycongress ) has for both teachers and students. They highlighted the primary source analysis tools on the LOC website. They also mentioned the professional development videos and activities that they have on their website and on their YouTube channel.

Some of the strategies that they mentioned was a quadrant viewing of photographs. Jessica Walsh (@storiestoldinsf ) who also attended this session mentioned that she uses a paper copy of the photo and cuts it into quarters as opposed to just covering up a quarter of the image and projecting it with the data projector. She said she then has the students rotate around the room close reading each quadrant in isolation. Then they assemble the photo together as a class. I liked this approach as it gets students up and moving too. Other strategies mentioned were a primary source pass. Have the students sit in small groups. Give each person in the group a primary source. They read or view it, annotate it, and write out their connections, reactions, and questions. After a few minutes, the students pass their primary source and the student that receives it not only adds their new annotations but can respond to the previous students questions or reactions. They also highlighted the strategies of gallery walk and silent discussions too. 

Finally, Judy and Amy mentioned . This was a website that I wasn’t familiar with that pairs stories to primary sources and photographs. They have a wide variety of historical topics as well as current events on this website. It reminds me a lot of CommonLit (@CommonLit ).  Both Awesome Stories and Common Lit are two great sites that you should check out!

Using Historical Maps to Examine Historical Thinking and Geographical Thinking

This final session was run by Professor Richard Hughes and Professor John Kostelnick. In this session Richard and John used 1 image, a map of Naperville from 1869, to walk us through how we can read a map like a historian as well as read a map like a geographer. They mentioned numerous questions to ask such as:

Sourcing: Who made this? When? Why? and Who paid to have the map made?

Contextualization: What was happening in society at this time?

Corroboration: How does this compare to other maps of this area from this era?

Some strategies they recommended was to give a map to students removing the title and have them use their detective skills to try and determine what location the map is showing. Another approach to viewing a map is to look to see what changes humans have made to the environment illustrated in the map/photo. Have students make inferences as to why. If they can’t determine why, have them investigate further. Finally, use an older historical map from your home town and compare it to a present day map, then look at it through The has thousands of older maps you could use to do this type of activity. Students should note the changes and ask why.

This was an incredible day of learning. I’m so thankful to all the presenters, to the Illinois Geographic Alliance (@ILGeogAlliance ) for putting together such a fantastic conference, and to ISU for being a great host. I can’t wait to share all of these great ideas and resources with the teachers at my school. I also can’t wait for next year’s conference!


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