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Make a Difference During Geography Awareness Week

"Geo Learning"

National Geographic Society logoA column by Daniel C. Edelson,
Vice President for Education, National Geographic Society

photo of Daniel EdelsonLooking for a chance to share your enthusiasm for geography and GIS with your community? Here's your chance!

In the United States, the geography education community celebrates Geography Awareness Week in the third week of November. Established by presidential proclamation in 1987, Geography Awareness Week is an opportunity to build awareness of the importance of geography education for our modern world. On Wednesday of that week is GIS Day, which has been celebrated around the world since 1998.

This year, Geography Awareness Week will be November 14–20. Its theme, "Geography: The Adventure in Your Community," invites participants to see their communities through a geographic lens, discovering new things about the places where they live.

Geography Awareness Week has five interconnected components:

It is vitally important that GIS professionals participate in Geography Awareness Week because your work exemplifies the value of geography for society. There are many ways to do so.

Virginia's George Mason University hosted Family Geography night

Virginia's George Mason University hosted Family Geography night (photo: National Geographic Society).

The easiest thing for most of us is to visit a local school, scout troop, or community group and do an activity with them that shows the power of geography. You can find ideas for activities in several places, including online at,, and All these sites have guides and materials for easy-to-do activities for a variety of settings and age groups.

If you want to do something a little bigger, every state has Geography Awareness Week coordinators who are looking for volunteers to help them organize events. You can contact them through your state Alliance for Geographic Education.

If communications is your thing, then you should consider doing your own media outreach. If you are involved in a GIS project that is an exciting demonstration of technology or is providing benefit to the community, contact your local newspaper or TV and radio news departments to let them know about it and encourage them to do an item as part of Geography Awareness Week coverage. It is also a great time to send a letter to the editor.

Finally, consider doing some advocacy on behalf of geography education. In many states, educational requirements are being revised, and the emphasis on reading and math is squeezing geography and the subjects that are core to geographic understanding, such as environmental and earth science, out of the curriculum. The voices of professionals are very influential in state and local debates over education policy—particularly those representing a high-tech field like GIS. If you want to know about the issues in your state and how you can help, contact your state Alliance for Geographic Education.

At the national level, many organizations, including National Geographic and the Association of American Geographers, are advocating federal programs to improve geographic education. In just a couple of minutes, you can send messages to your senators and house representatives through the Speak Up for Geography. Find out more.

It takes some initiative, but participating in Geography Awareness Week is the kind of activity where you end up feeling like you got back more than you gave.

If you are not able to do something during Geography Awareness Week, do not despair. You do not have to wait a year for another chance. All the elements of the week can be done at any time of year.

You can follow Daniel Edelson on Twitter at NatGeoEdelson.

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