Powerful Geography


Geography in American education has
benefited from over thirty years of reform efforts,
from The Guidelines for Geographic Education (Five Themes)
and Geography for Life: National Geography Standards to a state-based
network of Geographic Alliances and an Advanced Placement Human Geography
course. This foundation of prior work provides an excellent infrastructure for developing innovative solutions to the many challenges the nation’s schools presently face in providing K-12 geography instruction: a pronounced shortage of teachers with geography backgrounds, poor public perceptions of geography, uneven access to geographic technologies and quality educational materials, and limited support from the federal government and private sector stakeholders.

Inspired by recent work on GeoCapabilities, Powerful Geography emphasizes the role of teachers as curriculum leaders who help young people develop greater potential to lead a life informed by geography’s powerful knowledge.

The Powerful Geography process is intended to build teacher leadership and capacity to use data as a guide to providing students with a clearer understanding of the relevance of school geography. By relating geography to students’ aspirations, beliefs, and life goals, teachers can help students become more engaged in their learning experiences.

Geography Standards and Powerful Geography Project

You may have heard about the possibility of a third edition of national geography standards. This endeavor should not be taken lightly. We also believe it should be approached with a new vision. It has been almost 30 years from the first edition in 1994 and 10 years since the second edition, and in that time, school geography has been on a slow and steady decline. The Grosvenor Center has conducted state of the standards surveys biannually from 2009 to 2021, and only three states require geography as a high school requirement down from six (Zadrozny, 2021). The value of our discipline has not penetrated state social studies standards as we hoped for back in 1994. And the fight is getting more difficult in social studies as history and civics have taken a new life of their own. Just as an example this past year Texas was set to revise its social studies standards and, in the process, a committee proposed the continuous study of history from grades 3-8, greatly reducing the role of geography.

We need to do better for our students and for our society. Geography has the ability to make a case for its value in addressing real world issues, like climate change, infrastructure renewal, migration, geopolitics, trade, and energy to name a few. That is why we have been working hard on Powerful Geography since 2016. Powerful Geography showcases geographic knowledge, skills, and technology utilized in jobs and careers across all sectors of modern life. We have curated various resources on the powerful geography website (www.powerfulgeography.org) that teachers can use in their classroom. With 42,000 views this year so far, the website has effectively shown students how valuable their geography is and how it can be used in jobs/careers that interest them.

We now need your help. We have put together a Powerful Geography project that has three phases. The first phase is to revise national geography standards by focusing on critical geography content. The second phase is to encourage state-based geographers to apply the data-driven Powerful Geography logic model in each state to identify and recommend geography standards that link student interests and aspirations to real world geography in 2023 and beyond. There is, in fact, a geography of state geographies! Michigan is quite different from Florida, Massachusetts from New Mexico. Phase 2 work will be of great value to curriculum writers in each state and will automatically increase interest in geography by teachers and their students. The third phase is to create state-specific Powerful Geography curriculum resources and teaching guides. These resources would help teachers in your state teach geography, students to be invested in their geography studies, and increase geography's value in the public eye.

We will need your help and the help of your geography teachers. Review the bibliography for Powerful Geography.

We are seriously committed to:

  1. An acknowledgement of student diversity in geography and social studies classes.
  2. State-based geography.
  3. A data-driven link between geography content, skills, and technology and state/regional jobs/careers.
  4. Attention being paid to student aspirations and interests in jobs/careers.
  5. The highly important role that geography now plays in virtually all aspects of modern life.

A project like this will require widespread support and involvement. Hopefully we will hear from you with your willingness to join in this new and valuable direction for geography education.

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